Downton Abbey just as classy on the big screen
The break has done the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their family, friends and loyal staff a world of good.
After six sumptuous seasons of charming costume-drama with the upstairs-downstairs adventures of the Crawley clan and their aristocratic entourage, the smash-hit TV series Downton Abbey bade farewell to viewers without much fanfare.
The general consensus was that, after weaving a slow and studious passage through the history books of the early 20th century - starting with the sinking of the Titanic, followed by the First World War and then the relative calm of the 1920s - the Downton Abbey phenomenon had run its race.
While there is not a lot riding on this feature-length movie reactivation of the franchise, it is a pleasure to report to the many fans of the series that it is just as much of a class act on the big screen as it was on the box.
Creator and chief writer Julian Fellowes, along with his popular cast of regulars and a smattering of new faces, are all in the motivated kind of form that ensures this lavish production never misses a beat throughout.
Fellowes has packed enough plots, subplots and side details into the movie to fill an entire season in its own right. If anything, some Abbey addicts will feel the whole stately procession trots past a mite too quickly.
A new stand-alone story kicks off in 1927, where word has just reached the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and Countess (Elizabeth McGovern) that Downton has been chosen to be the site of a royal visit.
King George V and Queen Mary aren't just swinging by for a leisurely tour of the estate and a quick bite to eat. They're staying for a sleepover!
Not surprisingly, the household - now under the administrative watch of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) - reacts to the news with the expected levels of pride and panic. Silver must be polished. Furniture must be dusted.
And just to make sure everything goes off without a hitch, Downton's esteemed former head butler Carson (Jim Carter) has been hauled from his well-earned retirement to keep a distracted staff's mind on the job at hand.
Remarkably, this is only the tip of a massive iceberg of plotting that must be melted down by the end of the movie.
In terms of genuine drama summoned by the tale, the stakes remain quite low throughout. Aside from a swiftly averted assassination attempt upon the King, and the temporary arrest of a featured character for frequenting a gay speak-easy, any prolonged turmoil amid the Crawleys is kept to a minimum.
Of course, if there is to be any trouble afoot, you can bet your bottom dollar that the mischievously meddling Dowager Countess (a magnificent Maggie Smith) will have started it, and will also have the withering last word on it.
Superbly filmed, shrewdly written and simply beautiful to look at, this welcome return to Downtown Abbey is as good a work of light entertainment as will be released this year.
DOWNTON ABBEY (PG)
Rating: Three and a half stars (3.5 out of 5)
Director: Michael Engler (The Chaperone)
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton.
A right royal reunion