Loitering with Intent

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Yes, it’s a real thing: The Parliament of 1891 passed a law not just forbidding loitering but also targeting an unsavory group of people who might do something, well, unsavory: not just unlicensed salesmen but also palm readers, not just obscenity mongers but also fraudulent charity gatherers. “And others besides.” It’s also the title of a novel by Muriel Spark, more famous for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and a reportedly bad film with Marisa Tomei who was great in My Cousin Vinny. I heard the phrase first on a podcast from BYU’s Maxwell Institute featuring a Church of England priest and professor, Dr. Andrew Teal. It was a short episode, rather British, and quite lovely. But back to the movie. It seems to me there was a bit too much loitering, if not quite panhandling, and without much more than sleight-of-hand emotionally in a long-awaited small-to-large screen event.

For all its joys, the Downton Abbey portrayed in the recent movie takes us among those loitering with intent, and the result does not exult. Reviews have agreed. Michael O’Sullivan at The Washington Post calls the movie “an overstuffed guilty pleasure” and “eye and ear candy of the highest order: rich and delicious, but not especially nutritious. Zingers but not terribly clever. Ryan Vogt, writing more recently also at TWP, tries a little harder. He chides the very moral order of the Abbey, wondering why the staff’s shenanigans have declined into disobedience following six seasons of a higher moral order. He recounts all the bad ends of the bad apples from the series and reminds us that good triumphs, eventually. The badness really was bad in the past: not just a banged up water heater but a soap sliver on a bathroom floor that caused a miscarriage; not just some stolen trinkets but schemed-out engagement breaking; not just an elderly woman announcing her impending death but the totally unexpected deaths of a young mother in childbirth and a new father in a car accident in final season episode. (Frankly, I was so stunned and upset by that last example that I vowed to boycott the series, which I succeeded in doing until the next season came out.)

Everyone generally loved the movie. RottenTomatoes has it at 85% with audience approval at 95%. Few movies get that positive a response. And yet, I was disappointed. One does get caught up in the plot, which takes many turns. Our dear Tom thinks he is being followed by a government agent because of his Republican (as in Irish; don’t get excited) views. He foils an assassination plot, of course. The staff—stunned that they don’t get to cook and serve their Majesties—have their own plot which involves locking the invading staff in their rooms and dosing the presumptuous French chef with a sleeping potion. Many other twists as well. All in all, no stiff upper lip here. Just accomplished bliss.

I’ll not comment on the obviously PC gay-themed dust-up of a previous schemer and general curmudgeon, Barrow the butler, other than to say we are somehow expected to forget that we knew he was gay and that it had already been an issue in the past. And a settled one at that.

My complaint involves a feeling that, if this is to be a fairy tale, then there ought to be some magic. Tom looks like he will find love, but there is a bit of taint in that the Dowager Countess is somehow involved. There’s money to be had, you see, and she is keen for it to stay in the family, which it will once her cousin dies and her maid/daughter inherits. A little too smooth. Our Cinderella is but a pawn, though her mother/employer plans to elevate her station to companion though the truth of her birth will not come out. Big of her, we’d say in Texas.

The bottom line, of course, is whether I will see it again. I’ll give it a maybe. Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is quite nice to look at. The women’s clothes are stunningly beautiful. When the dress for Lady Edith arrives in a mistaken tent-size, we know it will be ready in time, though I think it could have been more special for all that effort. Just as we know Lady Mary’s husband will arrive in time for the festivities. Indeed, it is quite nice to see so many happy people, the good ones finally having good marriages and darling children. We will hope that the next film (yes, please, let there be one!) comes off better. No loitering allowed.

3 thoughts on “Loitering with Intent”

  1. I hope it was left open for a sequel. I enjoyed it very much as the continuity with the show was on point. Of course the scenery, costumes, beautiful men and women certainly help make the movie. I think I will see it again, if only because there is so little else I am interested in.

    As to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Maggie Smith was exceptional when she did the role, as she always is. I can’t imagine Marisa Tomei in the part.

    A couple of years ago I went to New York to visit my daughter and we went to the Downton Abbey Exhibit. Costumes, set replicas, holograms on the walls. It was wonderful. If it comes to Texas or anywhere your heart hopes to travel, see it.

  2. I have always liked Dame Maggie Smith mainly from her Harry Potter role. Your review was very interesting. I am woefully uninformed about the well-known and popular Downton Abbey.

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