Tag Archives: Maggie Smith

Our Lady

The Miracle Club

by Hope Madden

Wasting an exceptional if oddly miscast ensemble, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s The Miracle Club has something important on its mind. It just can’t quite articulate it.

Two Americans and a Brit lead the cast as scrappy Irish folk. Chrissie (Laura Linney) is the prodigal daughter returned for her mother’s funeral. Eileen (Kathy Bates) is her childhood friend who cannot believe Chrissie had the gall to return after what she did. The deceased’s best friend Lily (Maggie Smith) is disappointed the girl didn’t come sooner to comfort her mother during her time of need.

Chrissie’s timing is actually amazing. The whole parish is taking part in a talent show in honor of her mother. The winners get a trip to Lourdes to ask for a miracle. One contrivance follows another and next thing you know, Chrissie, Eileen and Lily are all en route to the holy city in France, begrudgingly together.

The Miracle Club is frustratingly evasive when it comes to Chrissie’s backstory. We get a sense but no real clarity, but it seemed to have been something quite dire. And yet, all is forgiven without much a do.

What O’Sullivan – working from a script by Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager and Jimmy Smallhorne – tries to bring to the surface is an image of systemic oppression relieved only when women support each other.

There is one moment – a climactic confession – where the film’s themes resonate, thanks mostly to Linney’s quietly desperate performance. Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) is hoping that, with the help of the Blessed Virgin, her son will finally speak. But she has a secret, and she believes she’s to blame for whatever ails little Daniel (Eric D. Smith, adorable).

In this moment, O’Sullivan’s film seems to find its miracle, as four women recognize the burden their faith and the patriarchy have put on them. But we must rely on the weighty stares from one talented actor to the next because the film has no intention of pinpointing its deeper concerns.

Worse still, O’Sullivan’s film is so entirely forgiving of both the church and the patriarchy that these themes feel as artificial as the leads’ accents.

O’Sullivan’s tone is forever uplifting, sometimes comically so, but the underlying peril these women have faced and forced is anything but light. He and his writers (men, all) honor these put-upon women who manage. God bless them for managing. God forbid they revolt.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Downton Abbey: A New Era

by Hope Madden

The Crawleys exit the roaring 20s a bit cash-strapped (can’t fix the roof but can holiday en masse, butlers in tow). Fans of the long-running series, now unleashing its second feature film, can rest easy. Heads held high, the family is ready to face a new decade with new leadership and the same old posh spirit.

Elegant escapism of the breeziest order, Downton Abbey: A New Era follows the idle rich through the travails of trying to remain both idle and rich. Now about that attic.

It seems a film producer hopes to shoot a movie in Downton. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) wants no part of it, but Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is running the show now. She hates to seem common, but the fee will fix those leaks.

Of course, the servants are thrilled to have real-life movie stars in the building. All except Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), who can’t bear to see the family stoop so low. Why, the Queen of England sat right at that table!

Meanwhile, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith, scene-stealing, as is her way) is surprised to have inherited a French villa from a man she knew many wistful years ago. Mysterious? Or is it scandalous?!

So, off half the family goes to investigate, leaving Lady Mary and the servants to contend with the handsome director (Hugh Dancy), charming actor (Dominic West) and dour actress (Laura Haddock).

The old gang has fun stretching their familiar characters a bit for the big screen, although director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) has a tough time staging the interior conversations as anything more than expensive TV set pieces.

Still, the expansive grounds are gorgeous and Nice is gorgeous, and it can be restful to spend a full two hours where the stakes are no higher than whether or not the world will remember granny as a tramp.

Downton Abbey is a really well-dressed, well-acted, well-produced, uptight soap opera. Droll dialog, stunning locales and exquisite costuming elevate each scene to something more than a guilty pleasure, but the film’s sites never veer from its target audience.

The Glitter and the Gold

Downton Abbey

by Christie Robb

Like a proper English tea, the Downton Abbey movie delivers a little bit of everything with a light, elegant—sometimes even whimsical—touch.

A royal visit to the titular estate in 1927 provides the inciting incident that reunites fans of the popular TV series with the Crawley family and their domestic staff. The film starts with a lengthy show recap (for those who haven’t anticipated the film by binge-watching all six seasons). It then squeezes at least half a season’s worth of drama into a two-hour runtime.

No spoilers here, but expect familiar Downton themes delivered in unexpected ways: violence, illness, romance, jealousy, snobbery, inheritance issues, reputation anxiety, surprise Crawley cousins, and buffoonery provided by a certain sad-sack ex-valet.   

Unlike the excellent series finale that neatly wrapped up every character’s storyline, the film does not focus equally on all the main characters. Director Michael Engler returns from the TV version, and the film reads more as a continuation of the story than an extended epilogue, much like an extra-long Christmas special without the holiday bit.

Still, the Downton movie’s production values are a tad higher, providing extended drone shots of the impressive house and grounds. There are more sets, showing us previously unseen rooms inside the Abbey, a bit more of the village, and a neighboring, even fancier abode that hosts a ball.

The ensemble cast slips effortlessly back into their former roles, highlighted by the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Merton (née Crawley, Penelope Wilton) and their delicious repartee full of sniping and droll bon mots. 

This is definitely a film made for fans of the show, as a newbie would probably be completely lost even with the recap. But for those who spent 2011-2016 devouring the show like a warm scone fresh out of the oven, the movie is a delightfully unnecessary, but very welcome, treat.