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Mary McNamara: Is 'Downton Abbey's' shift from TV show to movie a dream date or dark ride?

Mary Mcnamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Last night I dreamt I went to Downton again.

Well, actually it wasn't a dream, it was a movie, a movie much like a dream in that I seemed always to be traveling through a series of overly appointed rooms in which ridiculous things happened and were said by people who seemed familiar and yet not.

Watching this movie that might have been a dream I found myself thinking things like: "Well, that makes no sense." "God, Maggie Smith must be sick of those hats." And, "why am I here?" Yet each time I made an attempt to extricate myself, something lovely and comforting would occur -- look, it's Imelda Staunton! -- and I would settle in once again, surrendering to the sweet oblivion of dancing women in dazzling dresses, handsome men with faces full of only love, ceilings that rose to exquisite heights, never darkened with the ghosts that so often haunt homes with a hundred watching windows and no soul.

"Downton Abbey" is nothing but soul. It is also a masterclass in the difference between good television writing and good film writing, the first being character driven and elastic (who knows how long this thing will last?), the other more plot driven and focused (we've only got two hours so kill that darling).

"Downton" illuminates this divide by being neither. It is instead a long, meandering, all but interactive experience for the many fans of the late, lamented PBS series who miss every little thing, from the sweeping lawns leading up to that edifice of golden majesty to the long, glimmering chains that hang just so down the dresses of the Crawley women.

Cynics among us may wonder, why? Why, in this age of cinematic television, and after such debacles as the "Sex and the City" movies, "The X Files" and (shudder) "The Powerpuff Girls," why do we keep tacking movies onto the end of perfectly good television shows?

 

Answer: Because the fans.

Also because "Star Trek," "Mission Impossible" and "21 Jump Street."

But mostly because the fans.

More homage than sequel, "Downton" does not bother itself with the pesky problems of plot (the King and Queen are coming is, for the record, not a plot) or character continuity (the Downton serving staff has apparently been replaced by the cast of "Gilligan's Island") because it really doesn't have to. The fans are not there to judge; they just want to know that Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still happy, that the Dowager Countess (Smith) remains acerbic and hilarious, and that neither of the Bateses (Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle) are back in jail.

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