Knee-jerk review: "Downton Abbey"

1. As expected for a feature film adaptation of a hit PBS television show, us forty-somethings were definitely on the younger end of the audience age range. 
2. Ms. Cheese Fry would never admit it, but she's a closet Anglophile. If there's a TV show or a book or a movie about a British king or queen, she's in. So while she devoured all 52 episodes of "Downton Abbey" the TV show, we only watched the last season. Which was more than enough for us to get the gist.
3. At its heart, it's an old-fashioned soap opera like the kind you used to see every weekday morning on the big three broadcast networks.  Which is surely why it proved to be so popular.
4. The plot-lines are all about securing inheritances and hiding secret pregnancies and enduring star-crossed love and suffering through unexpected tragedies and protecting reputations amid scandal (or threatened scandal) and planning big snobby social events, all of it dressed up in fancy clothes, opulent sets, and wicked, oh-so-dry British one-liners.  It looks like "Masterpiece Theater" but it's really a new spin on "The Young and the Restless." 
5. Bonus points to whoever had the idea of starting the movie with a fairly lengthy and detailed reminder rundown of who's who in the sprawling cast of characters.
6. We're seriously considering removing our electric front door bell and replacing it with a mechanical system that will pull a string and ring a silver bell on our kitchen wall.
7. The cast, obviously, is top notch.  The filmmakers have done a good job making sure just about everyone gets a moment or two to shine.
8. But there's also a quaint smallness to the action. While we do get some big (if fleeting) drama involving an assassination attempt and a gay speakeasy raid, most of the movie's tension involves some very low stakes. Who's stealing household knick-knacks from the Crawley family? Will the Downton staff find a way to avenge their honor that's been besmirched by the condescending staff from Buckingham Palace? What will happen when Andy sees Daisy flirt with the handsome plumber?  Who's going to unload a truck full of the party chairs that arrived late at night in the pouring rain?
9. Put another way, there's a bigger movie budget here which allows for bigger parties and horse parades and new characters, but it mostly feels like three TV episodes stitched together.
10. In a world where class is everything, notice how even in the world of working class servants there is a pecking order, with the Buckingham Palace staff looking down their nose at the Downton staff.  Fascinating.
11. We're still not sure what Henry Talbot sees in Lady Mary, to be honest.
12. Pro tip: don't reveal you're an anti-monarchist to a perfect stranger.
13. Wouldn't it be weird if you had to be formal with your co-workers and always call them "Mr. Jones" or "Miss Smith"?
14. There is something undeniably appealing about period films like this that immerse you in a world of affluence.  All those plush sets you'll never live in and stylish costumes you'll never wear.  This is an alien world where folks dress in formal wear to attend a four-course meal served by a staff of footmen (not butlers, we learned) and no one who lives "upstairs" really seems to have much of a job aside from sipping cocktails and wringing their hands over having to tour Africa with the royals or wait for custom-made ballgowns to arrive in time for a party.
15. If you're into this sort of thing, you'll be into it.