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Non-Review Review: Downton Abbey – The Movie

Like the television series from which it is derived, Downton Abbey: The Movie certainly has its charms.

Most of these charms are plain and self-evident, examples of why the British period drama has endured as a high-end guilty pleasure for so long. There is something inherently appealing about assembling a crowd of talented actors, dressing them in beautiful clothes, and asking them to have polite-but-wry conversations in luxuriant surroundings. Downton Abbey benefited from a combination of elements, but largely lavish production design, an idyllic setting and a winning cast. Naturally, all of those elements carry over to the feature film adaptation – give or take Dan Stevens and Lily James.

Motor sensational, Paris or maybe hell.
Clutches of sad remains.

In many ways, The Movie feels like an extension of the British tradition of the Christmas Special – those seasonal themed episodes of television institutions like Doctor Who or Only Fools and Horses or Call the Midwife. The goal is something approaching celebratory nostalgia for the object in question, a light story populated by familiar characters in comfortable surroundings designed to be consumed by an audience coalescing on the couch after a hearty dinner. The budget is typically larger. There’s typically some weight emotional import, but coupled with a sense that nothing too dangerous is happening.

The Movie commits to this aesthetic, leaving it particularly inert and unengaging. Downton Abbey was always exquisite television comfort food, a light cream desert of a Sunday evening. The Movie takes that lightness and wraps it in cotton wool, creating an eerie and uncanny level of insulation. Downton Abbey was always a story of nostalgia for an idealised early-twentieth-century Britain, but The Movie plays almost as nostalgia for that nostalgia.

Millions weep a fountain, just in case of sunrise.

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Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Unicorn and the Wasp originally aired in 2008.

Oh, it’s you… I was just doing a little research… I say, what are you doing with that lead piping? But that’s impossible. Oh, no!

– Professor Peach discovers the point of crossover between Agatha Christie and Doctor Who

The Unicorn and the Wasp is the most fun episode of the fourth season, by a significant margin. It’s a high-concept high-energy run-around that has a great deal of fun playing with a genre mash-up, as the Doctor intrudes on an Agatha Christie mystery (starring Agatha Christie!) to create curious horror/sci-fi/mystery/class drama hybrid of an episode. It’s an episode that really benefits from the lighter tone of the fourth season. Despite some of the darkness creeping in at the edge of the frame, especially towards the final scenes, it’s an astonishingly light-hearted and playful episode.

In spite of Christie’s stern admonishings, it’s hard not to seize on the story with same glee as the Doctor does.

A sting in the tale...

A sting in the tale…

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The House at the Abbey Theatre (Review)

Tom Murphy’s The House is big play with some clever ideas, but not quite enough to fill its somewhat extended run time. In fact, the first half of the play, as Murphy tries to settle into his groove, seems to run nearly forever – to the point where, sitting in my seat, I was starting to wonder if the actors had simply forgotten there was supposed to be an intermission. The second half, however, is much stronger and much more tightly focused. While the production itself is nothing less than impressive, one wonders if an editor might have been well-suited to take a hacksaw to Murphy’s script, or perhaps director Annabelle Comyn might have cut down on the staring into middle-distance.

House that now?

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