I found the experience of watching “Downton Abbey” the movie to be unique: On a giant screen, the castle was never more majestic, the grounds never more green.
And yet I couldn’t help but feel I should be curled up on the couch for my must-see British TV, perhaps with tea and biscuits beside me.
No matter how large we make “Downton Abbey” — and this PBS wonder’s success was massive — it still feels intimate and close to our hearts.
I watched with a constant smile, frequent laughter and occasional glances at my wife that could be interpreted as “Can you believe that just happened?” or “Can you believe she just said that?”
Speaking as a fan, these characters still feel like part of an extended family four years after we last visited the estate.
We love them. We know their joys, and we have suffered along with them through tragedies. So many tragedies.
We have laughed at their minor spats, from sisters being competitive and spiteful to household staff rebellions, and we have chuckled at every zinger loosed from Maggie Smith’s lips.
All of those things we love about the show return for the film except for the tragedies. This “Downton Abbey” is a pure pleasure-giving machine, and in this case, I’m OK with that.
The show’s creators perfected the British country estate drama with the show, creating a collection of interesting characters and adding enough soap-opera melodrama that we were hooked.
Hooked on watching the inner workings of an aristocratic family and their domestic servants, all while vicariously enjoying their lavish lifestyles of the early 20th century.
The film didn’t feel “bigger” than the TV show. It felt like something we could have experienced in a PBS return, because the show always featured gorgeous gowns, early automobiles and so many more swoon-worthy elements.
Of course, you will notice more scenes taking place outside the estate, and a few enhanced production values because of the main storyline: It’s 1927, and the king and queen of England are coming to Downton Abbey.
A royal visit certainly causes anxiety and excitement throughout the household; it does not, however, create a “Downton”-style atmosphere full of deep secrets, staff backstabbing, scandal and even death.
So “Downton Abbey” the movie is like the TV show, but also different.
Renowned writer Julian Fellowes revives the couple dozen characters that he created, and he’s only got two hours to tell their stories, and by the conclusion it feels like Oprah Winfrey is in the house, there are so many happy endings being handed out.
That means no more cliffhanger catastrophes in which we must watch the following season to see a family member mourn and slowly heal following something dreadful like, “Excuse me, Lady Mary, I have two things to tell you: Your newborn is perfectly healthy, and your husband has just been killed in a car accident.”
The fact is that the sheer number of subplots and the condensed storytelling makes “Downton Abbey” more of a comedy than it is a drama, and this is all in service to the fans.
The sold-out crowd I saw the film with laughed throughout, applauded heartily at the end, and when something fun-but-unresolved happened, I heard one person say, “Sequel!”
People were just short of squealing.
The pace is as furious as the house-cleaning and menu-making is in preparation for the visit, which includes not only the royal couple, but also their valets, footmen and even kitchen staff.
Can you see the Downton staff’s claws coming out? Bloody right, you can.
It’s all verbal jousting here, and no one is in finer form than Smith’s Lady Grantham and Penelope Wilton’s Isobel, scolding one another hilariously and with a new target: Imelda Staunton arrives as an estranged member of the family who has something to hide.
It’s not feasible to detail the many characters, but there are standouts as well as disappointments, like Fellowes giving the show’s original lead performers, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, almost nothing to do.
Given more room to work is Allen Leech as Tom, the former chauffeur-turned-family member, who wins the movie, and Kevin Doyle as Mr. Molesley, who returns to the house staff for a chance to serve the royals and to make a fanboy spectacle of himself.
There’s so much delicious comfort-food storytelling here that you might forgive the degree to which the melodrama overreaches.
When you add up an attempted murder, a theft, an imprisonment of people, a showdown of sexuality and more — so much more — and you realize it all happens over a few days’ time, it can make you laugh at the silliness.
But then I think back to those scenes, and silly or not, I realize that I just had the best time with old friends.
It’s not a remake, and it’s not a reboot, but a continuing story, and I want more.