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Downton Abbey

Photo by Jaap Buitendijk / Focus Features

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s a time of transition. We can feel the weather changing and the seasons moving on. One day the temperature is 75 degrees, the next it might be 85 degrees, then in come the 60 degree days and the 50 degree nights. We live in a place where nature cycles through its daily gyrations to quarterly new worlds.

Those changes, if not on a daily basis, are nonetheless predictable from one year to the next. What aren’t predictable are the political gyrations we are witnessing from day to day. This makes for an uncertain outlook for the future, whether for our government, our economy or our society, and a certain ongoing anxiety for our citizenry.

Just look at the front page of any daily newspaper or listen to the top of the news on radio or television or read the blasts of news on your cellphone, and it’s enough to make for discomfort. There is undoubtedly a story about the latest bits of information seeping out from Republican President Donald Trump’s phone call to the Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked about former vice president Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter’s business dealings there. The story then quickly jumps to impeachment inquiries and who may question whom on the matter, along with polls purportedly measuring support for such action. The words “treason” and “civil war” have crept into the media reports.

There has also got to be something about North Korea’s missiles being recently launched toward Japan even though — or perhaps just because — talks between the United States officials and the North Koreans seem to be back on again. One of the latest projectiles actually landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, making the Japanese exceedingly nervous.

A story about the negative effects of the tariffs on the global economy is a given. Global growth is predicted to slow to half of what was expected six months ago, and the evidence of the slowdown can be seen in less production on the factory floors. This translates into fewer jobs, less pay and a reduced standard of living. That means less consumer expenditures, which causes the economy to slow further. We also know the consequences of a faltering economy can be significant social unrest.

The global picture is further complicated by Brexit, that almost comic yet deadly serious tug-of-war playing out in British politics, which threatens future commerce and trade across the English Channel and indeed the world. With uncertainty, money is flowing into the American dollar, seen as a safe haven. This in turn makes the dollar stronger, which makes exports more expensive, further depressing trade.

So is there still room on the front page and in our minds for news of Iran, Peru, Hong Kong and India with its onion crisis?

There is also immigration, possible bias in Harvard admissions, racist threats, more #MeToo, gun control and climate change to vie for space in the news roundup. And more on taxing the wealthy, the opioid crisis, breaking up big tech and, of course, the run-up to the 2020 election are regular offerings in the news.

No wonder “Downton Abbey” is proving to be so popular at the movies. What delightful escapism to a world of orderly households, elaborate dinners and table settings, gorgeous clothing, comforting etiquette, bucolic scenery and crises over whether or not to add a refrigerator in the kitchen. The biggest challenge in that world is preparing properly for a visit from the king and queen of England.

So here is the antidote to the frenzy of the news. Either take some time away, as I did this past weekend when I left town to visit family and friends. I completely shut down newscasts, even those on my cellphone. Or go to the movies and enter the polite world of 1927 and the Crawley family. Or read the local news in the hometown papers and on the web and social media. There you know that if it’s from TBR News Media it’s both trustworthy and sane.

Jim Carter returns as the Crawley’s retired butler. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk, Focus Features

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Downton Abbey was a television phenomenon. This upstairs-downstairs drama captured the attention and the hearts of millions of viewers. In its 52 episodes (2010 to 2015), it followed the aristocratic Crawley family, the heirs of Grantham. From opulent drawing rooms to the sparse maids’ quarters, we came to know the estate and its inhabitants. The series opened with the 1912 sinking of the Titanic and spanned through World War I and its aftermath, closing New Year’s Eve, 1925.

A scene from ‘Downton Abbey’

We watched everything from births to deaths; we witnessed engagements broken and fulfilled. Investments were made and newspapers ironed. Throughout, the Crawleys and their staff grew in depth and understanding, reflecting a changing world. Downton Abbey was television at its very best.

And now, we are treated to a feature film. It is 1927 and the Crawleys are preparing for the impending visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James).

Creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes has wisely chosen to celebrate the series rather than reinvent it. There is the usual intrigue, romance and drama, but it never tips the scales into some of the episodes’ darker corners. Instead, we see the house and village preparing for this momentous event. Threading through much of the film is the friction between the snobbish royal entourage who are sent ahead and the Downton staff. The result tips slightly toward sitcom but is forgivable in the overall jubilant spirit of the movie.

The majority of the residents are here. At the center is Hugh Bonneville’s charming Earl of Grantham and his American wife, Cora, played with great warmth by Elizabeth McGovern. Michelle Dockery, as Lady Mary, and Laura Carmichael, as Lady Edith (now Marchioness of Hexham), are true to their sibling bickering but there is an underlying respect – or at least acceptance – that grew throughout the series’ run. At Lady Mary’s request, retired butler Carson (the up-tightly lovable Jim Carter) is engaged to temporarily take over from an off-put Barrow (Robert James-Collier), who always manages to balance good and bad intentions. If Brendan Coyle’s Mr. Bates is less brooding, it is nice to see his happy marriage with lady’s maid Anna (lovely Joanne Froggatt). Perhaps this best describes the film: It rarely frets but embraces an inner brightness.

A scene from ‘Downtown Abbey

The entire cast is as wonderful as ever. Allen Leech’s Tom Branson maintains his moral compass and is given a good bit to do in the film, highlighting his transition from Irish rebel to staunch family supporter. Phyllis Logan’s housekeeper Mrs. Hughes still functions as the below-stairs mother hen. Her camaraderie with the put-upon cook, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), remains strong.

But, it is Maggie Smith as the wry-witted, never-wrong Violet Crawley, dowager countess of Grantham, who steals every moment she is on screen with her golden quips and sly asides. Smith’s perfect sparring with the reliable Penelope Wilton’s Isobel (now Lady Merton) make for some of the most delightful moments. Smith shows a beautiful contrast in a deeply moving scene with Lady Mary toward the end of the story.

There is the introduction of a Crawley cousin hereto not mentioned. Imelda Staunton is Lady Maud Bagshaw, and the issue of who shall inherit her fortune becomes a subplot.  There is also a romantic element connected to this legacy which will probably come to play in the much hoped-for sequel.

Yes, there some notably absent characters:  Cousin Lady Rose (Lily James) and Lord Grantham’s sister, Lady Rosamond (Samantha Bond), with the former not even mentioned. Sadly missing is David Robb’s stalwart Clarkson, the family doctor who bridged the world of castle and village.

It is an opulent film and the production values are dazzling. Never have the locations and the clothing looked so rich nor has the music been this lush. It is both a Christmas present and a Valentine.

Downton Abbey is a gift for the followers of the series. For newcomers, it would be a costume drama without the drama. For fans, it is a joyous and welcomed “Welcome home.”

Photos by Jaap Buitendijk, Focus Features

By Michael Tessler

History came to life this past weekend as the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy hosted an exquisite “Downton Abbey”-themed fashion show, complete with high tea, light snacks and beautiful costumes provided by Port Jefferson’s very own Nan Guzzetta.

This special event was the brainchild of former Port Jefferson mayor and Conservancy chairwoman, Jeanne Garant. This longtime local leader has a great record of bringing to life history in fun community-oriented ways. Having helped found the village’s beloved Charles Dickens Festival, it’s no surprise she’d dream up such a unique fundraiser.

Organized by Conservancy President Lisa Perry, her fellow board members and many volunteers, this event was one attendees won’t forget.

Nan Guzzetta, who provided the costumes for the event, is a true treasure in our community. Her passion for history, attention to detail and her ability to bring to life any bygone era is an extraordinary talent. Every piece of clothing she selects is so perfectly prepared, adorned with accessories that embellish without distracting, every ornate decoration on a hat so cleverly placed, every shoe properly fit and polished. She is a master of her art form, and what a splendid art it was to spectate.

Models from all across the country joined to be a part of this spectacular presentation of Edwardian era clothing. Each outfit appeared to outdo the next, so beautifully capturing not just the style but the stories of the early 20th century. Styling of suffragettes, elaborate evening gowns, feathered flappers and everything in-between showed what an exciting time it was to be alive. From the Titanic to the twenties, it was a beautiful demonstration and a roaring good time!