'Downton Abbey' is a heartfelt and funny love letter to fans

Brad Keefe

“Six seasons and a movie” was a recurring joke/rallying cry among fans of the TV comedy “Community.” Interestingly, that’s exactly what “Downton Abbey” achieved.

Somehow, a British period drama set on an early 20th century estate does not scream “tent-pole movie release,” but the fervency of the fans in attendance at a preview screening I attended early this week said otherwise.

Disclosure: I have never seen a single episode of “Downton Abbey.” Here we go!

Fortunately (I think), the screening begins with a very cheeky and unexpectedly hilarious recap of the entire TV series.

It’s an absolute whirlwind of characters and events that (spoiler alert) spoils the entire series. Against a backdrop of a shifting class system, it’s a parade of love stories, conflicts and tragedy. I had no idea “Downton Abbey” was such a soap opera.

And when I say the recap is hilarious, it’s because the whole thing is so rapid-fire that it’s impossible to keep up.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: I didn’t have to. I found the whole experience surprisingly delightful, even though I clearly didn’t have the background or love for these characters that most in attendance did.

It’s been five years since the TV finale of “Downton Abbey,” but the primary story here is easy to hop on board with. The Crawleys and their beloved staff are prepping for one of the biggest moments at the manor: The king and queen will be staying for a night.

Of course, there’s more intrigue and drama involved. I won’t spoil this for you, because I usually didn’t know exactly what was going on.

Director Michael Engler, working from a script by Julian Fellowes, bathes the whole movie in feel-good nostalgia that is aimed at fans but somehow accessible to a newbie like me.

The cast is a huge ensemble, including stalwarts of British acting such as Dame Maggie Rogers, and they are the glue that binds the film.

Across the board, I was watching actors revisiting characters that they loved. I could tell simply from interactions who had a past, who liked each other and who didn’t (which is no small feat in this staid world).

Of course, I did bring a friend along to get the fan perspective. She loved it, finding it to be more consistently funny than expected… and with much less abject tragedy and fewer terrible things happening to people.

It’s certainly got tear-jerker moments, but this is largely a feel-good farewell to fans. I can’t imagine there are many going in cold the way I did, but if you enjoy earnest British-ness, like me, this one’s a winner.

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3 stars out of 5

"Downton Abbey"