TL;DR – While it does suffer from pacing issues when it finds its grove, it becomes a true delight
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film
Downton Abbey: A New Era Review –
As we said back in our review of the first Downton Abbey film, I have never watched any of the TV Show that is the basis for these films. It was a pop-culture phenomenon, so even without watching, you picked up things like one character’s untimely death via car crash after visiting his newborn son. With that in mind, I am approaching these films and these reviews as someone who has not seen the supporting show and thus present how it works or does not work for those who have not watched the show.
So to set the scene, we open with a wedding as Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) as the whole family comes to share in the nuptials. However, as they return to Downton, Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his daughter Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) are called into a meeting with Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) and her lawyer. For you see, Violet has inherited a villa in the south of France in a surprising and disputed way. Half the household makes the trip down south to work this all out. Meanwhile, those who stayed back at the Abbey must contend with the mansion being used as a location site for a film. It is a big imposition, but the appearance of Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and enough money to fix the roof help ease the pain.
One of the main strengths that Downton Abbey has is its wealth of cast and characters that it can draw from. Even if you have not seen the TV series that the films spawned from, you can feel that weight of relationships both with the narrative and in the cast’s strength to bounce off each other. Those connections are needed because, much like in the first film, there is not a lot of thematic depth to the narrative. That depth comes from the characters themselves, their joy and their loss.
On that front, we have two competing narratives that run the film’s length, the trip to France “the British are coming” moment from the trailer, and the movie coming to the Abby. Of the trip to France, this is where we get most of our fish-out-of-water jokes at the expense of Butler Charles Carson (Jim Carter), who is kind of shoe-horned into this narrative because they don’t have much else for him to do. I think this side of things is mostly fine, with some pleasant old-timey moments. Though they really do paint that mother in a bad light, frankly, I would be just as pissed off if my husband gave a villa to an ex-flame.
The more interesting story is back at the Abbey as we get the fun of the staff having to deal with a production crew in their midst and actors running amok. I think this part of the story would have been good enough with just the odd meta-references about how disruptive it is for production to film in a lived house. But they also have a running theme about the shift from silent films to talkies and how the entire industry shifted in one moment. There is a lot of meat on these particular narrative bones, with all the cast getting a moment or two to shine during the production, including some serious flirtation at points. I did like the sub-plot of would Mary have a dalliance with the director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) given her absent husband. With the climax of this story being one of the film’s best moments. Because of those connections, this becomes a delightfully funny film at times and a sombre one at others.
While I did have a lot of fun with my time at Downton Abbey, some issues did come to light during the runtime. The main problem for me was the pacing, especially in the first two acts. There were long stretches of the film where there was absolutely no room to breathe, with scenes moving forward with a well-laid efficiency of a regency dinner service. While it moves the story along at a pace, it also feels disjointed in places. As well as this, some moments clearly screamed ‘this was filmed during COVID,’ which I know can’t be helped, but they can be framed a little better.
In the end, do we recommend Downton Abbey: A New Era? Well, if you watched the TV show, then yes, absolutely. If you didn’t, well then, I think I would still recommend it. Sure, you do have to see and watch people richer than you will ever be complaining about not having enough money. But like, they are so charming when they do it that it almost covers up for it, almost. It is clear that they still have more power in these stories, though, with WW2 approaching, I am not sure if they can survive another war. If you liked Downton Abbey: A New Era, we would also recommend to you Ladies in Black.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Downton Abbey: A New Era
Directed by – Simon Curtis
Screenplay by – Julian Fellowes
Based on – Downton Abbey by Julian Fellowes
Music by – John Lunn
Cinematography by – Andrew Dunn
Edited by – Adam Recht
Production/Distribution Companies – Carnival Films, Focus Features & Universal Pictures
Starring – Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Tuppence Middleton, Hugh Dancy, Elizabeth McGovern, Dominic West, Laura Haddock, Allen Leech, Imelda Staunton, Joanne Froggatt, Samantha Bond, Laura Carmichael, Hugh Bonneville, Raquel Cassidy, Sophie McShera, Penelope Wilton, Robert James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Lesley Nicol, Jonathan Coy, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Sue Johnston, Harry Hadden-Paton, Nathalie Baye, David Robb, Dave Simon, Fifi Hart, Douglas Reith, Jonathan Zaccaï & Charlie Watson
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: G; Germany: 0; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG