Ben’s Breakdown | “Downton Abbey: A New Era” is a Romantic and Posh Look at the Past

Several years have passed at Downton Abbey since their visit from the King of England. The downstairs staff is happily working away while Lady Mary has taken over the day-to-day operations managing Downton Abbey. Tom has been a widower since the passing of his wife and Lord Grantham’s daughter Sybil after giving birth to their daughter, whom he named Sybil after his late wife. When we last saw him, he became romantically interested in a young woman named Lucy, the daughter of Maude Bagshaw, the first cousin once removed from Lady Mary’s father, Robert Crawley. Now, Tom is married to Lucy Bagshaw (thereby securing Maude Bagshaw’s estate as part of the Crawley family. All is well until the Dowager learns that she has inherited a villa in France. Apparently, the Dowager (Lady Violet) knew a gentleman in the south of France. After his passing, he stated in his will that the villa would go to the Dowager, much to the objection of the gentleman’s widow. His son invites Robert Crawley and his wife to visit the estate. Tom and his new wife Lucy join them.

Allen Leech stars as Tom Branson and Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Smith in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Ben Blackall / ©2022 Focus Features LLC

Meanwhile, Lady Mary receives a request to use Downton Abbey as the setting for a movie, Mary objects at first until she sees how much money they would receive. Downton Abbey needs repair, and the money would bring it up to snuff.

The series Downton Abbey was created by Julian Fellowes and enjoyed such enormous popularity that there was a high demand to see theatrical features made once it ended. However, where the series had some serious issues (death from childbirth, grief, war, and even rape), these movies have tried to be lighter in tone. Where the first movie dealt with the Grantham Estate receiving a visit from the King of England, this sequel had two main storylines that added very little gravitas to the series. The question regarding the villa in France did create some emotional problems for both Lady Violet and her son, Robert Crawley. However, the more interesting story involves having a movie crew filming at Downton. There is something of a joke at play given that the setting for Downton Abbey is, in reality, Highclere Castle, which is the country seat for the Earls of Carnarvon. Much of the logistical issues in filming at Highclere most likely made up much of the same problems the story presented with this crew trying to film at Downton.

(l-r.) Hugh Dancy stars as Jack Barber, Kevin Doyle as Mr. Molesley, Alex MacQueen as Mr. Stubbins and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mar in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

However, the biggest gag is that Downton Abbey: A New Era is set in the 1930s when movies started to transition from silent to “talkies.” The movie then takes more than a coincidental parallel to the classic movie musical Singing In The Rain, only without the musical numbers. The film becomes quite predictable, yet I still found myself thoroughly engrossed in the movie. The places where the details between the two change rest solely on the presence of Lady Mary and the downstairs help of Downton Abbey. There are plenty of twists that deliver some surprises for many of the staff, especially for Mr. Molesley (who has a hidden artistic talent that no one knew about) and for Mr. Barrow, the Head Butler and who is a publicly closeted gay man. Again, the story’s turns are somewhat predictable, but their presentation makes them heartwarming and welcome to see. Another delightful element in the movie is the evolution of the characters who live in Downton Abbey. It was a very proper English home with a strong “upstairs, downstairs” culture when the series began. There was a sense of propriety. However, with all of the travails that most, if not all, of the people living and working within those walls have had to deal with, we see a closeness with everyone there. They have become one giant family, evidenced by a beautiful moment at the movie’s end. Fans of the series will find this enormously satisfying, given the popularity of each character.

4178_D039_01282_RC2 Penelope Wilton stars as Isobel Merton and Maggie Smith as Violet Grantham in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release. Credit: Ben Blackall / ©2022 Focus Features LLC

The movie isn’t without some tragedy. A plot point introduced in the first film comes to a sad but not entirely surprising conclusion. Still, writer/creator Julian Fellowes writes this scene in a way that gives it the perfect emotional resonance. The cast’s acting delivers it with the right amount of believability that will bring tears to the eyes of those in the audience. It was a genuinely poignant moment.

There are no standout acting performances here. However, that’s not to say that some of the acting isn’t good. In fact, ALL of the acting is quite good and very even throughout the entire cast, which makes sense given the familiarity these actors have with these characters. Everyone turns in a superb performance, including the always irascible Lady Dowager, played by always amazing Maggie Smith.

Penelope Wilton stars as Isobel Merton and Maggie Smith as Violet Grantham in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Ben Blackall / ©2022 Focus Features LLC

Fellowes had stated that when he created Downton Abbey, he wanted something fancy and posh, not only in terms of the fashion but also in how people lived. Here he has succeeded in giving us a movie that is beautiful to look at and amusingly self-referential. Downton Abbey: A New Era will not disappoint fans of the franchise!

I give Downton Abbey: A New Era 5 out of 5 Clapboards!

Official Website: Downton Abbey: A New Era | Official Website | May 20 2022
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Downton Abbey: A New Era

Genre: Drama/Romance

From award-winning creator Julian Fellowes comes the motion picture event DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA. The much-anticipated cinematic return of the global phenomenon reunites the beloved cast as they go on a grand journey to the South of France to uncover the mystery of the Dowager Countess’ newly inherited villa. DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA is in theaters on Friday, May 20, 2022.

ONE-LINER: Follow-up to the 2019 feature film in which the Crawley family and Downton staff received a royal visit from the King and Queen of Great Britain.

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