I really enjoyed this and the two hours flew by in an instant.
When I first saw the trailer for it at the cinema about a month ago my partner and I thought we should really watch the entires series first. I've had the series on Blu Ray on my 'to watch' pile for a number of years now so a few weeks ago we began the process of watching it. We had originally planned to watch the show one or two nights a week and then catch the film toward the end of the cinema run. However, we become so engrossed in the show that we ended up watching the entire 6 seasons (and 'movie' specials) within 11 days. 2 days of hideous bad weather with wind and rain gave us a good excuse to spend those days in front of the TV for much of that time.
I found the series a remarkable achievement and clearly the person responsible for this is Julian Fellowes. For something clocking in around 55 to 56 hours there was not a minute wasted. Whilst I'm not going to pretend that at the end of the day its a soap opera, its A+ grade. The added bonus is that its perfectly cast and acted and it weaves the personal into the historical beautifully.
The film basically just picks up a year or so after the series finished. And though very enjoyable I suppose my only real complaint is there wasn't enough. Clocking in at two hours its simply impossible to give all the large principle cast the details they deserve. In fairness, the film is only set over about a week or so but I wanted more.
The downstairs cast have less to work with. Aside from Thomas (Robert James-Collier) who gets to venture out into uncharted territory, the other characters are really only caught up in the events unfolding in those few days so not that much time is spent with them, though Anna (Joanne Froggatt) has a great scene with Lady Mary that incapsulates what Downton Abbey means to everyone. Its also great to see Anna back to her old self as she (and Bates) were certainly put through the drama wringer in the series.
The upstairs cast fairs better as that is where a sizeable portion of the action takes place however Robert (Hugh Bonneville) & Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) are given very little to do but look on. The main characters that the focus of the film is on are daughters Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and son-in-law Tom (Allen Leech - who probably has the most screen time). Violet (a commanding Maggie Smith) is also a significant player and as per the series, gets most of the best comic lines of which my favourite is "I'll lick the stamps". Imelda Staunton is a welcome and important addition to the cast.
If this does indeed turn out to be the last of Downton Abbey, it does to a degree tie some things up but also leaves them upper for future instalments be it another film or better still another series.
As far as Oscar nominations go I'm included to agree with dws that being a TV spin-off will probably work against it but then again if enough Academy members are fans of the series than this could sneak into a couple of technical categories and/or a nomination for Maggie Smith and maybe even a Best Picture nomination. Must admit if I was Academy member I'd be placing this very high and part of that is my affection for the series. SAG ensemble is a maybe but than that group have already rewarded the cast on a number of occasions so they will probably pass.
At the end of the day I think this is pretty much strictly for fans of the show. I don't know what anybody who hasn't seen the series would make of it simply because they don't have the 12-13 years history colourful history of these great characters that despite what some critics have been saying don't all get a moment to shine (but its lovely to see them all again).
"I want cement covering every blade of grass in this nation! Don't we taxpayers have a voice anymore?" Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) in John Waters' Desperate Living (1977)