Big Doesn’t Always Mean Beautiful

Will it be a comfortable transition to the big screen for Lord Grantham and co?

So, discussions are under way about the possibility of Downton Abbey: The Movie.

Is this what David Cameron had in mind when he advocated the British film industry producing more blockbusters?  The two announcements came out in such quick succession that I couldn’t help but suspect something more than a coincidence.

For us to become a blockbuster factory would be nothing short of criminal.  We make such a variety of movies in this country, from the low-budget indie upwards and, while not all of them hit the heights, many of them are good or popular – and even that rarity, both!

Back to the Downton movie.  Given the series’ recent success at The Golden Globes, there’s every chance American audiences would love it.  British films don’t always travel well across The Pond, as the makers of Tinker, Tailor will tell you, but Downton has aristocracy and costumes by the bucketload: it’s what they expect and love in the USA.

But while it’s tempting to be carried away by the thought – and the thought of all those dollars – let’s stop for just a moment.  While series one of Downton Abbey was well-made entertainment, series two, like so many sequels, fell far short.  The script smacked of having been written in a hurry to capitalise on its success and get it on the screen pdq. Thankfully, the Christmas special was a return to form, but the series clearly isn’t infallible.

The transition from small screen to the big one isn’t always comfortable or critically successful.  Downton is produced in 60 and 90 minute episodes, so translating it into a film shouldn’t prove too challenging.  But its makers may like to look back at British television’s scramble to make films based on comedies like Dad’s Army and Porridge during the 60s and 70s.  Thirty minute shows were painfully stretched into 90 minute versions which, although their popularity on TV made for good box office, were pale shadows of their originals and frequently made uneasy viewing.

It’s a sobering lesson, and one that is perhaps more relevant to the makers of Doctor Who, also contemplating a move to the big screen.  They probably have their eyes on the potential audience – currently The Doctor reaches some 60 million people in 50 countries – but its episodes only last 45 minutes, so 90 would be a sizeable leap.  And it is undeniably British, but in a more eccentric way than Downton: there’ll be queues to see it here, but elsewhere?

However, the omens aren’t all bad.  Last year’s Inbetweeners movie went down surprisingly well with audiences and critics alike. And past Muppet films have been very popular so their latest big screen outing next month, this time from the Disney stable, is hotly anticipated.

So I could be worrying unnecessarily.  There is one TV series I think would make a fantastic movie, and that’s the BBC’s Sherlock.  But – and here I go, being pessimistic again – I think the chances are slim.  CBS has just announced plans to make its own Sherlock Holmes series called Elementary, so clearly they don’t think our version would appeal to US audiences.  And I also have a sneaky suspicion that the thought of Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman making the move to the big screen could provoke an interesting reaction from a certain Mr Guy Richie!

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