'Downton Abbey' Movie Recap

Julia Maish
Downton Abbey the movie
The whole cast is back for the first 'Downton Abbey' movie!

All six seasons of Downton Abbey are available to stream by WTTW Passport members.

In case you need a refresher of the plot to this point, watch this lively 10-minute featurette that accompanied this film in theatres, narrated by actors Jim Carter (Carson) and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes).

On with the show!

There’s big news at breakfast in Downton: the King and Queen will be touring Yorkshire and stopping at Downton Abbey overnight. During their visit, they will review a military parade before moving on to a ball their daughter Princess Mary is hosting nearby at Harewood House. (The real Princess Mary lived in this actual house.) Mary worries about the work and expense involved, and also that her brother-in-law Tom, a former Irish radical, might make trouble.

Meanwhile, the newly arrived—and unknown to us—Major Chetwode rents a room overlooking the field where the military parade will culminate.

At Buckingham Palace, we meet Robert’s cousin Lady Maud Bagshaw, lady-in-waiting to the Queen. She asks to be excused from the Downton visit, as there might be unpleasantness with the formidable Violet, the Dowager Countess, who is dead-set on her son Robert inheriting the childless Maud’s estate. Violet is already scheming: her sparring partner Isabel will try to ferret out Maud’s story.

Down in the kitchen, we learn that footman Andy and assistant cook Daisy have been engaged for some time; Andy, frustrated, is ready to wed but Daisy is in no hurry; she thinks Andy lacks ambition. Later, former valet-now-schoolteacher Molesley rushes up from the village—a massive fan of the royals, he pleads with Thomas to be allowed to return as a footman for the big day.

Tom is opening up the auto shop he runs with Mary’s husband Henry when Chetwode wanders in, introduces himself, asks a few oddly intrusive questions, and leaves. Tom is immediately wary. Back at Downton, Mary thinks Thomas is too cowed to prepare for the royal visit. Her fears seem to be justified when the advance team from the Palace streamrolls over him. Mr. Wilson, the “King’s page of the backstairs,” snootily informs the disappointed household staff that during the visit his team will be taking over. Mary appeals to their retired butler Carson: will he come out of retirement to help them? Of course he will.

Thomas is chatting up the King’s good-looking dresser, Richard Ellis. After he learns to his fury that Carson is returning as butler for the duration of the visit, Richard suggests that the two of them hit a pub in a nearby town later. Thomas is amenable. Servants Anna and Bates are likewise getting acquainted with the Queen’s dresser Miss Lawton who, like Mr. Wilson, is an overbearing snob.

Edith and her husband Bertie arrive from their estate just in time for Mary, Edith, and their mother Cora to have tea with Princess Mary at Harewood House. We get a brief glimpse of Princess Mary’s delight in her small sons and the coldhearted behavior of her husband, Lord Lascelles, who harshly orders the children out and is barely civil to his wife’s guests. Princess Mary is humiliated.

Downton’s water boiler has taken an ill-timed dive, and a dashing new plumber, Tony Sellick, is there to fix it. When Tony successfully repairs the boiler, Daisy lavishes him with praise. Jealous, Andy strides down to the cellar and hits the boiler with a shovel. So, no hot water again.

Bertie and Tom are overseeing the installations at the parade ground when Chetwode invites Tom to meet him for a drink later. Privately, Tom confides to Bertie that he thinks Chetwode has been sent by the royals to keep an eye on him.

Mary mentions to Anna that a few small valuables are suddenly missing from around the house. Later, Anna encounters Miss Lawton snooping around the drawing room and warns her that she shouldn’t be there.

Another royal contingent arrives: the pompous French chef Monsieur Courbet and the scary housekeeper Mrs. Webb. Carson tries to steer them to the servants’ entrance but they and Mr. Wilson proceed to run roughshod over him and Downton’s servants.

That evening. Tom is reluctantly having that drink with Chetwode, who pumps him for information about the royal visit, telling him to meet him at the parade alone. Tom wonders what Chetwode is up to.

The next day, the family and staff assemble to meet the King and Queen. Violet and Maud greet each other civilly, with the promise of fireworks to come. A pretty young woman from the royal entourage, Lucy Smith, asks Tom for directions, introducing herself as Maud’s maid. Tom is intrigued.

After the luncheon, Tom hurries to meet up with Chetwode along the parade route; Mary pursues Tom. Chetwode is incensed that Mary is there. He ducks into a back courtyard with a perfect view of the parade’s staging area where the King waits on horseback. Chetwode draws a pistol and takes aim at the King. Before he can get a shot off, Tom tackles him. “Get the gun!” Tom shouts, and Mary grinds her heel into Chetwode’s wrist, kicking the gun away. At that moment, two plainclothes policemen appear and haul Chetwode away. Chetwode, another Irish radical, was just using Tom to get access to the King.

After a whispered argument between the Queen and Princess Mary over Mary’s troubled marriage, Tom and Lucy run into each other and commiserate about the challenges of being lower class among the elite.

Infuriated by their treatment by the royal entourage, Downton’s servants hold a secret meeting. Anna and Bates will spearhead a mutiny and ensure that Downton’s staff serve the King and Queen. Anna spikes Monsieur Courbet’s tea with sleeping pills – suddenly he needs a “nap.”

At tea upstairs, Violet pumps Maud for information about her maid Lucy, with whom Maud seems suspiciously chummy. Lucy is the orphaned daughter of friends, Maud says, and she took her in as her companion. Violet, sensing something is off, insists on talking again later.

Out on the lawn, Tom is watching the children play when he spies a woman weeping on a bench. It’s Princess Mary, but he doesn’t know it. They talk about people being difficult to live with, but how marriage comes with priorities.

Down in the servants’ hall, Mr. Wilson takes a phone call: one of his superiors angrily orders him to send the royal footmen back to London immediately. Cut to the village telegraph office, where Richard Ellis, having imitated Wilson’s boss, hangs up the phone. Laughing, he and Thomas head off to the pub.

Monsieur Courbet is nowhere to be found, Mrs. Patmore tells Mr. Wilson, so she has started making the dinner herself. Outraged, Wilson screams at her, and she “accidentally” splatters red sauce on his shirt. When he goes upstairs to his room to change, Andy locks him in. No one can hear him yelling from the empty upper floor.

Upstairs in a bedroom, Edith is fretting over a just-delivered evening gown that is five sizes too large. Hers got mixed up with someone else’s at the dressmaker, Anna has learned. Edith asks if Anna has seen a valuable glass that is missing from her room. Anna suddenly realizes what is happening. “Leave it, and the dress, to me,” she tells Edith. Later in the servants’ hall, she icily informs Miss Lawton that she will be altering Edith’s evening gown that night. If she refuses, Anna will tell everyone the truth: that it was Miss Lawton who has been stealing the valuables from around the house. And Anna wants them back.

That evening, Bertie tells Edith that that King has asked him to accompany the wayward Prince of Wales on an upcoming three-month tour of the colonies. (The Prince of Wales is the future Edward VIII, a notorious playboy who later abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson.) Edith isn’t happy, revealing that she might be pregnant. Bertie, overjoyed about the baby but disappointed to miss the trip, promises to get out of it. Later, he tries to explain to the King, who doesn’t understand. There isn’t much Bertie can do.

Lucy encounters Tom in the upstairs hallway, upset about the coming showdown between Maud and Violet, which she correctly guesses is about her. Kindly, Tom tells her not to worry. Later that night, she and Tom discuss her situation and admit they are attracted to each other. They kiss, and agree to write.

At a local pub, Thomas is waiting for Richard. Eyeing him, a man named Chris Webster introduces himself. Would Thomas like to go with him to another bar? Thomas (gay but closeted because homosexuality is illegal) would. In a back alley, Webster knocks furtively on a warehouse door. A raucous party is underway inside, with plenty of liquor, a jazz band, and people dancing and canoodling. All of the guests are men. Thomas is amazed and euphoric.

Back at the house, the dinner, cooked by Mrs. Patmore and Daisy and served by Downton’s own footmen, is going swimmingly. The King remarks that the food is excellent—“Well done to old Courbet!” Molesley, in a huge breach of protocol, interrupts to say that it was Mrs. Patmore who cooked the meal and the house’s own staff who are serving them. While everyone else looks away in mortification, the Queen graciously laughs it off.

Thomas is having the time of his life at the party with his new friend Webster. Suddenly the police burst through the door. Everyone is herded into a paddy wagon and taken to the police station. Later, Thomas dejectedly emerges alone and sees Richard, who has used his royal connections to get Thomas’s charges dismissed. Smiling, Richard advises more discretion in the future.

In a showdown with Violet, Maud explains that Lucy will be her heir, to pay her back for her care. Violet sputters with anger; Isabel is intrigued. Later, when Maud returns to her room, Isabel is waiting for her with a simple question: does Lucy know you’re her mother? After Maud gets over her shock, she says yes, and tells Isabel the whole story: she had a love affair with Lucy’s father and got pregnant; he died, and Maud has been passing Lucy off as her companion. Isabel urges her to tell Violet the truth.

Downstairs, Andy confesses to Daisy that it was he who destroyed the boiler out of jealousy. Daisy, as usual not the brightest bulb, declares that Andy has ambition after all. Their wedding can go ahead.

The next morning, Miss Lawton quietly hands over Edith’s expertly altered gown and the items she stole. Under bitter interrogation by the palace staff, Downton’s servants play dumb and Carson coolly advises the visitors to pretend nothing happened.

As the royal entourage departs for Harewood, Richard slips Thomas a token; they will keep in touch. Everyone waves off the royals and their entourage, and then an open car pulls up—it’s Mary’s husband Henry, returned from a car show in Chicago. Mary is overjoyed.

That night at the ball, Princess Mary tells her parents that she’s keeping her marriage together because of Tom’s advice. The King approaches Tom to express his appreciation for that, and also implies that he knows Tom foiled Chetwode’s assassination attempt. As Bertie and Edith pay their respects, it’s clear the Queen has explained their pregnancy dilemma to her husband (after talking to Cora); the King tells Bertie he won’t need to accompany the Prince on his trip. Edith is thrilled.

Violet, having learned the truth about Maud and Lucy, begins plotting to keep the inheritance in the family in another way—by pushing Tom and Lucy together. Later, Violet pulls Mary aside to reveal that she had medical tests in London and may not have long to live. She is passing the torch to Mary. Tearfully, Mary doubts she has the will to carry on, but Violet assures her that she will be “the frightening old lady keeping everyone up to the mark.” As everyone waltzes in the grand ballroom, we cut to the terrace in the moonlight—Tom and Lucy are dancing there. They might not need Violet’s help.

And at Downton, Carson and Mrs. Hughes are leaving for the night. A hundred years from now, he assures her, Downton will still be standing and the Crawleys will still be there. “We’ll see, Charlie,” she replies. “We’ll see.”