‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ offers an enjoyable ride

The trailer for this second Downton movie may give one the impression of entering a patisserie filled with colourful macaroons with its delicious decor and the pastel colour of a French villa in the Riviera, with matching costume too. In that short clip, the stylish zeitgiest of the Jazz Age could spark one’s imagination of Gatsby-esque frivolity. I’m glad to find these notions misleading, for the movie is not a gratuitous show of glamour or a fancy facade.

Reprising the success of the original TV series, Julian Fellowes focuses on the characters and their stories; the setting is exactly as it is, a beautiful backdrop, which is always a plus. All the details of story development are the very essence of the movie, tiny bits of delicious morsels for fans of Downton to savour. Indeed, I’m afraid this is a movie for those who are familiar with the characters as Fellowes continues with their life at Downton, the twists and turns. Clever dialogues and funny scenes, all gratifying to watch.

Downton Abbey: A New Era reminds me why the original TV series back in 2011 could sustain six seasons and a feature movie three years after it wrapped, and now three years further, another one. Why, it’s all about the characters and their stories. We want to follow them and find out what’s going on in their lives as time goes by and how they would act given different scenarios… and in this newest offering, see them grow old in real time. Not just for the adults, the kids too; George and Sybbie are the same child actors now much taller.

In A New Era directed by Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn, 2011), two storylines intertwine seamlessly. First off, the Dowager Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) once had a short but juicy liaison d’amour in the south of France when she was young. Now decades later she learns that she has inherited a villa in the French Riviera as her one time beau had apparently took the love affair much more seriously than she did. Now she in turn bequeaths the property to Sybbie, Tom Branson’s (Allen Leech) daughter, a most kind and generous act. So, some of the Crawleys are going there to check it out and face up to a disgruntled widow.

Staying behind is Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) who has now taken over the helm of the property management at Downton. The year is 1928 heading towards 1929, while they can’t foresee the coming economic woes, Mary can see the leaky roof of Downton badly needing repairs. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) has never been up in the attic for years, but now looking at the buckets catching the dripping water, he agrees reluctantly to allow a film crew to shoot on location at Downton, all for the financial benefits that comes with it.

Both storylines are interesting subjects. While the expedition to the French villa is gorgeous visually—attracting an Architectural Digest article on the property––the filmmaking at Downton is no simple matter. At that time, silent movies are coming to the end replacing by the talkies. Fellowes has written not just an interesting scenario but informed viewers of the complexity of movie making at that time. No spoilers here, but the servants from downstairs have contributed effectively to this movie within a movie.

The storytelling is clear and enjoyable, kudos to some smooth editing and aptly paced scenes, some take longer to draw out the underlying significance of the dialogues, some faster just to pinpoint without dragging.

The smart opening is a succinct re-introducing of all the characters in one setting, at the church wedding of Tom and Lucy (Tuppence Middleton). Just about everyone is there. The camera follows the newlyweds as they walk down the aisle, greeted by all the Downton characters and related figures. Absent are Henry Talbot, who’s somewhere else in the world, ominous future for Mary. How I miss Matthew. And no mention of Rose.

New faces are the filmmakers at Downton, Hugh Dancy as director Jack Barber, Laura Haddock as the rude and insecure silent film star Myrna Dalgleish, and Dominic West (Prince Charles in The Crown S5) as co-star Guy Dexter. Three Downton figures play an important role in this segment, Mary, Molesley (Kevin Doyle), and surprisingly, Daisy (Sophie McShera).

Listening to the Downton theme music in the dark theatre––my first post-Covid movie viewing outside the home––via its state of the art sound system is a heart-stirring experience. What a difference it makes watching Highclere Castle on the big screen and hearing the theme music emerge. A New Era is a better movie than the first one three years ago. A must-see for Downton fans, and a fantastic prompt for those who have never watched the TV series… never too late to get on the ride.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ offers an enjoyable ride”

  1. I’ve yet to see it, not wanting to venture into the theatre or pay the huge online streaming rental ($20). I’ll probably wait for it to be on PBS — I’m sure it will show up there. But I’m glad it is a good one and lives up to expectations!

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    1. It’s $25 rental for me, so I ventured out. A New Era is streaming on Peacock now. Not sure how long you’ll have to wait for it to go on PBS.

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  2. Just saw this over the weekend and while I very much enjoyed it, I thought they tried to cram in far too much with the two plotlines. Also was a bit disappointed in the turn the movie filming took from silent to talkie because there is an old Fred Astaire movie with almost the exact same plot.

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    1. It was probably an homage to that Stefanie? But also the transition from talkies to sound did bring this problem for so many actors that it’s not a surprising story anyhow?

      Arti, I enjoyed your review, but I think you liked it more than I did. I did enjoy it – how could I not with that setting and those characters. Love them. But I thought the south of France story was pretty weak and while it was “fun” to watch it didn’t excite me. The movie industry plot line thought was far more interesting, and I did enjoy that.

      BTW For me, Dominic West will always be “known for The Wire” though we’ve seen him in many shows since!

      I hope you are now going to get out to more films. We’ve seen a lot lately, including 6 German films, the new Maigret, and others, and I’d love to see your reporting on some!

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      1. WG,

        The French villa is a visually appealing diversion from Downton, for a broader cinematic offering instead of a TV show, opening up for more exterior shots and locations. You’re right about it’s kind of weak in terms of believability, but mind you, it’s consistent with Violet’s youthful past … remember Igor Kuragin? 🙂

        There weren’t many people in the theatre, definitely lots of social distance there. So, I just might be starting to go out to watch movies more. Unfortunately, the ones I’d like to see may not come here for a while. No German films here, nor the new Maigret. I’m hoping to see some of the Cannes 2022 winners, but that’s not likely though.

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        1. Yes, the French villa was a delightful attraction and the clothes are always fun. I was thoroughly entertained but that was it. I like your point about the 1928/9 setting. But don you feel this is the end?

          Oh, and I miss Matthew too, and Daisy has developed into such a great character. And I liked the outcome for Barrow. He’s been a good character too.

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          1. From what I’ve read or heard, there’s going to be a DA3 movie. Not sure how JF is going to deal with that with 1929 imminent. And yes, as I mentioned to Stefanie, JF sure has given Daisy some motivating words. I’m surprised it’s not Anna saying them. As for Barrow, finally a new page and looks like he won’t be in the next movie if there’s one. Same with Henry Talbot. Looks like he’s bowed out already.

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    2. Stefanie,

      That crammed feeling I got when I was watching the first Downton movie, but not here. I think here JF has placed his stories on a chosen few instead of spreading it all out like the last one. In A New Era, there are those who are just there with very few or no lines, like Bates, Bertie, Lord Merton, even Anna or Edith. Also, giving those important words to Daisy instead of Anna is an interesting idea… you’d think Anna is more likely to lecture and motivate. About the Fred Astaire film… I’m sure JF has done his research when writing. If not as an homage (as Whisperinggums suggested), I’d think he could be creating an alternative scenario just for the fun of it. 🙂

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  3. I still haven’t seen one episode of Downton Abbey, so I guess A New Era should wait, despite your appealing review. I do see that Season One is on Amazon Prime: my sole streaming service. Maybe the urge will overtake me!

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  4. One of the things I loved about this movie was how it stuck to morality. Neither the Dowager, nor Mary, compromised their positions, and it did my heart good. Although, how can we watch further films without the Dowager and her fabulous lines?! I actually cried at the end, and, I must admit, so did my father.

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    1. Yes, I think Julian Fellowes makes a wise decision in writing both Violet and Mary with their similar stand decades apart. It looks like Mary is going to take up the leadership in Downton, turning into some sort of matriarch like her grandmother. I don’t care much about Henry Talbot. If he’s more interested in cars than his wife, so be it. But of course, I wish Mary can have someone worthy to spend her life with. I hope there will be more sequels in the Downton movie franchise.

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