Tag Archives: Simon Curtis

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.

Behind the Bear

Goodbye Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Even a story born to combat sadness can have a dark side, and Goodbye Christopher Robin explores one in a film that is perfectly acceptable without ever becoming truly memorable.

The story at its heart, of course, is Winnie the Pooh, the fantasy world A.A. Milne created for his young son which became a cultural touchstone that still thrives today.

Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returned from service in WWI with recurring flashbacks and an ambition to move beyond writing light entertainment and produce a work that would persuade readers to fully appreciate the horror and folly of war.

Retreating from the bustle of London to the solitude of the English countryside with this wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher (Will Tilston in an incredibly cute debut), Milne finds no inspiration until the boy (known to the family as “Billy Moon”) asks his dad to write him a story.

Extravagant wealth soon follows, along with intrusive fame, bringing confusion and heartache to a little boy who doesn’t understand why he has to share his life with the world, or why a father would write about his son instead of for him. Comfort often comes not from his parents, but from the emotional closeness of his relationship with nanny Olive aka “Nou” (Kelly Macdonald).

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold, My Week with Marilyn) wraps it all in a wondrous, often childlike sheen, but juggles too many contrasting themes to find a truly resonate focus. The script, from Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, offers fly-by attention to war, childhood, celebrity infatuation and those stereotypically British stiff upper lips.

The entire cast is game, the execution workmanlike and the story endearing. But Goodbye Christopher Robin, much like the family it spotlights, too often settles for safety over emotional connection.