Thanksgiving weekend brought, interspersed with the food, family visits and football games, my first round of holiday season film watching. In addition to the usual offerings from the Hallmark Channel, Netflix, and Amazon (which vary from quite good to stupid and silly), I began with a couple of films that are not exactly season-oriented, but that I’d been waiting to watch.

The first was not a feature film but a new TV show. We don’t have Disney Plus, but there has been a big buzz about The Mandalorian, the new Star Wars series centered around a bounty hunter from the planet Mandalore. So, when we visited my sister Audrey’s family for Thanksgiving morning breakfast, and they wanted me to watch the first episode, I readily agreed.

It put me to sleep. It shouldn’t have, because I’d just finished a good 9 and ½ hours in the rack. But I found that, despite having a well-known cast, the story was almost devoid of meaningful characterization. It was simply a series of action sequences like those I’d seen in various Star Wars films.

Now, I have no opposition to action scenes. They can be exciting to read or watch, and I appreciate the skill required to write, act and direct them. But a story has to have more to really get my attention. The reader or viewer has to care about the characters, or interest fades.

The special effects in the series are fine, and what we’ve come to expect from the Star Wars series. The aliens are appropriately cute or ugly. But why does every planet depicted in the “galaxy far, far away” have to be either a planetary mega-city or a bleak desert? Aren’t there any planets with forests, green fields, and sunny beaches?

Anyway, when we returned from the family Thanksgiving, I found a film much more to my liking. My Amazon pre-order of the Downton Abbey movie was finally available for viewing, and Friday night I settled in to watch it. The film did not disappoint.

The two-hour feature film is best thought of as an encore performance for the long-running BBC series, which ended in 2015 (2016 for replays in the United States). It’s unlikely that anyone who was not already a fan of the series will appreciate it watched “cold”, and those who are still making their way through downloaded or DVD episodes of the television series should finish the series before watching the feature film. The show’s cast returns intact, and only a couple of new characters are introduced.

Downton Abbey, as its fans know, is a fictitious estate in northern England owned by the Crowley family, headed by the Earl of Grantham. Its primary writer and producer, Julian Fellowes, has created a cast of characters, largely drawn from the extended Crowley family and the estate’s staff, about whom the viewer really cares.

The film centers around a visit to Downton by King George V and Queen Mary during the late 1920’s. The Downton staff are offended when the Royal family’s chef, housekeeper, butler and footmen show up to take over during the King’s visit. The greater portion of the plot centers around their conspiracy to take back their roles. But the sub-plots make the film.

Tom Branson is the Earl’s son-in-law, the widower of a daughter who died in childbirth. As viewers of the series know, he began at Downton as a chauffeur, eloped with a daughter, and following her death has elected to stay in Downton and become part of the family. As the TV series ends, he has become co-administrator of the Downton Estate with his sister-in-law Mary and a business partner of Mary’s husband.

Branson is Irish, and Republican in sentiment. This does not prevent him from saving the King’s life from an attempted assassination, or from making friends with Princess Mary, the Countess of Harewood, or from commencing a romance with the lovely heiress Lucy Smith. There are other good sub-plots, but this one is the most memorable.

In an important scene, Branson tells Princess Mary, who he has not recognized, that he has come to love the Crowley family, who are “good people at the core”, despite being silly and snobbish at times. His political differences with them are not important, because “you can love someone who is different from you.”

That’s a lesson we should all take to heart in these contentious times.


An earlier version of this column appeared in the Kingsport (TN) Times News.

Click here for a response from Jamie K. Wilson

Photo by VMonte13 (Pixabay)

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