Returning to Downton
The opening scenes of Downton Abbey: A New Era offer the comfort fans have come to expect from the English period drama: an anticipated wedding; a shot of the Downton estate in its full glory; the thematic melody of piano and violin. In Julian Fellowes’ newest Downton project, directed by Simon Curtis, the stakes are never too high and the fan service is unrestricted. As such, the film doesn’t stand up on its own, but functions as an enjoyable extension of the Downton Abbey series. A New Era is perfect, then, for the most enthusiastic of the series’ fans–for the movie sequel delivers a sense of fulfillment for the show’s unfinished storylines as well as a comforting familiarity for long-time admirers of Downton Abbey.
It’s 1928 at Downton when Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) receives some shocking news. The Marquis de Montmirail–an old flame of hers, unsurprisingly–has died and left her a villa in the South of France. Lady Grantham decides to leave the villa to her granddaughter Sybbie, leading Robert, Cora, and several other members of the family to meet the new Marquis in France for a discussion of the will. While the Marquis is compliant with his father’s wishes, his mother won’t give up the villa so easily.
Back at Downton, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the servants prepare to usher in a so-called “new era.” Filmmaker Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) arrives with actors Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) to direct his new silent film, The Gambler, right there at Downton. While Jack’s interest in Mary tests her faithfulness to her absent husband, the film’s production experiences several challenges of its own.
Everything ties up beautifully in the end for Downton’s beloved individual characters. It’s the film’s two significant plotlines, however, that fail to compel. In one, the conflict is not even carried through to its natural end. In the other, it’s acceptable to rip off the plot of Singin’ in the Rain. And in both, it’s apparently fine to proudly display derogatory comments regarding cultural differences–about the “inferior” French way of doing things, and “ghastly” American regional accents.
But we’d be kidding ourselves if we held that the hope for Downton Abbey: A New Era was ground-breaking storylines and social commentary. The English period drama has long fulfilled its place in fans’ hearts as a diverting comfort watch, providing an inside look into the more glamorous challenges of the upper class and the drama among the people who serve them–all within a context of contained, quickly-resolved conflict. Fellowes not only seamlessly captures beloved qualities of the franchise; he even makes improvements by tying up loose threads and correcting the series’ old mistakes (i.e. its formerly repeated mistreatment of show’s only gay character).
Ultimately, the new Downton Abbey film doesn’t accomplish anything profound. It hardly ushers in a new era, apart from what such a statement always means at Downton. The upper class meets the modern world (in this case, moving pictures!) and has to adapt.
Still, the movie is idyllic, charming, and fun–in short, nearly everything fans could have hoped for. Downton Abbey: A New Era is the ultimate comfort watch–but a previous affinity for the TV characters and melodramatic plotlines is almost certainly required for that to be the case.
Read More: Downton Abbey: A New Era Ending Explained
Verdict - 6.5/10