Five Movies To Fill The Downton Abbey Gap

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Season three of Downton Abbey is over, taking with it our weekly dose of period shenanigans and Maggie Smith in a range of marvellous hats. But if Sunday evening felt strangely empty, fear not. Before anyone emits a despairing wail and scares off the grouse, we’ve put together a range of Downton substitutes to help fill the void. Here’s five flicks on Lord Grantham’s Netflix list (we think)

If you’re a Downer and you haven’t seen this regal slice of National Trust porn – and we know you’re out there – stop what you’re doing and get hold of Robert Altman’s period mystery right now. Thanks to an Oscar-winning script by Julian Fellowes, it shares blue blood with Downton Abbey, and, in a delightfully snippy Maggie Smith, a cast member too. If more excuse was needed to (re)visit Gosford Park, consider a cast list that boasts Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Bob Baliban, Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates and Stephen Fry. If there was an Oscar for having Twitter followers, this would have cleaned up.

While not quite in Gosford Park's class, Alan Bridges’ neglected Edwardian drama ought to tick a few boxes for Downton fans, not least for its cast of iconic British thesps (John Gielgud, James Mason, Robert Hardy) and pre-Great War setting. The characters divide their time between hunting small animals and repressing big emotions, those two hobbies of the English aristocracy, fuelling a melancholy story that sees Mason’s decent landowner Sir Randolph Nettleby (huzzah!) playing host to nasty arriviste Edward Fox (boo!) for a weekend of shooting. Things go horribly wrong – and not just for the animals – on the shoot, but it's a catastrophe that's nothing compared to the Somme-based cataclysm to come. Just ask Downton's Lieutenant Crawley about that one.

We’re not sure if anyone in Joseph Losey’s sun-soaked melodrama would be welcome to tea with the Earl and Countess of Grantham – all that cavorting with the lower classes and sex in the greenhouse would be considered a little gauche at the Abbey. But don’t let that put you off a majestic piece of work by screenwriter Harold Pinter and an American director whose feel for the British class system gave us that great horror film of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, The Servant. Here he turns L. P. Hartley’s novel into a sensual Edwardian tale whose influence can be felt in every frame of Atonement. You can hear the buzz of flies, feel the heat of the summer sun and sense the desire as Julie Christie’s Lady Marian risks 14 year-old Dominic Guard as a means to get messages to her lover, Alan Bates's rugged farmer. One question, though. Haven’t these people heard of Facebook?

See it because it’s one of the greatest films ever made (currently number four on the BFI list, donchaknow) or see it because it’s got a lot of terribly rich people hanging out in a Downton-like country house; either way, you should find a spot in your collection for Jean Renoir’s superlative-defying film – although be sure to only refer to it as ‘La Règle Du Jeu’ in company, preferably while puffing on an unlit pipe. Renoir packs in adultery, murder, class commentary, the death of the ancient nobility, more adultery (hey, this is France) and a lot of small mammals being blasted into the middle of next semaine. And we mean A LOT. It’s basically The Killing Fields for rabbits.

If you’re going Downton cold turkey, Merchant Ivory’s take on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winner is probably not the movie to have you skipping joyously around the living room. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed to break your heart, such is the moving, unexpressed current of emotion that passes between Anthony Hopkins’ butler, the stoical Mr. Stevens, and housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), an old acquaintance who comes back into his life. We’d still heartily recommend it as a neat snapshot of late ‘30s Britain and a beautiful not-quite-love-story. While Stevens is sacrificing love in the name of duty downstairs, upstairs, James Fox’s misguided lord is busy wooing the Nazis. It’s a recipe for disaster on so many levels that even the lookout on the Titanic could see it coming.