Downton Abbey the Movie

Downton Abbey the movie is a beautifully filmed 2-hour bit of escapism. Gorgeous English landscapes, a magnificent mansion of a house bathed in history, fabulous costumes and loads of accents to feast your ears on. It’s 1927 and they’ve been expecting me.

Is it possible to follow the film if you haven’t watched the show? I’d say yes. The story is very neatly wrapped up, without getting tangled in itself. Otherwise a bit of Wikipedia reading and some wonderful behind-the-scenes interviews on the Downton Abbey YouTube channel are both very helpful if you want to know more about the characters and their backgrounds. The Internet has your back.

Dame Maggie Smith is unforgettable as ever, playing Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. I bow. She both scared and surprised me way back in the day in The Secret Garden, delighted as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, just to name a few examples, and she’s given us an array of quotable zingers from Lady Violet.

I’m not a die-hard fan and I haven’t seen all the seasons of the show, but I have a lot of respect for the many examples of impressive acting in there. Step aside from the inevitable (and, of course, necessary) discussions about what life in England was like back then in terms of class, society, British aristocracy, women’s rights, equality, and it’s still a vast collection of stories about people and family.

The Woman in Black

October is a great month for ghost stories. The leaves change color and then start to fall, bare tree branches stand out against the sky, cloudy weather sets in, the days become shorter and it gets dark earlier – a perfect set for a mysterious, even spooky atmosphere. You just want to either curl up with a scary book or watch a movie with plenty of suspense in it. The Woman in Black, originally a novel by Susan Mill published in 1983, is a great example of a story with spine-tingling thrills of terror that don’t leave you for at least two weeks (speaking from personal experience).

This blog post isn’t about the book, though, which I have yet to read. One Friday evening I was sitting in the audience of the English Theatre of Hamburg with two friends. The lights went out, two actors appeared and the stage adaptation of The Woman in Black began.

I had managed to stay away from spoilers and had only read snippets from a few reviews which all repeated the play was terrifying, chilling, scared audiences everywhere etc. To be honest, for the first half hour I was a bit sceptical and wondered whether I’d manage to get at all absorbed in the story, since there was quite a lot of narration going on. But there was no need to worry.

The moment of transition to the action unfolding, rather than being remembered or talked about, was hard to pinpoint later, and I was on the edge of my seat (at times also shrinking back into it), waiting with everyone else when the woman in black would appear next. This play is also yet another good example of the impact of a well-crafted, well-played wordless role. The story becomes increasingly spooky and atmospheric, using lights and sound to their fullest advantage, coiling tension like a rope. We’re told at the beginning about an audience using their imagination, but I don’t need to. I’m completely drawn in.

What many might remember when seeing the title, and which I did as well, is the 2012 movie adapation with a very telegenic, fresh after Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe.

Which is scarier? The play or the movie? Or the book? Take your pick. Don’t forget the 1989 film version as well.