There is just something wonderful and heartwarming about Downton Abbey that makes you smile and overwhelms you with all the feels. Something so few television series can do. But to continue that with not only one feature-length movie but two, is something wonderful in itself. Downton Abbey: A New Era has managed to deliver yet again all that has come to be expected from the splendour of the Crawley Family.
It’s circa 1927-1929 and the story picks up right where the 2019 film left. Tom Branson has married Lucy Smith, Isobel and Lord Merton have moved into the Dower House and Violet is now living at Downton.
Things haven’t changed much for Downton and the cost to keep it running is getting harder to manage. That is until by chance a movie is scouting a location and offers a very handsome sum to use Downton for an upcoming silent film. Enough to fix the roof and put the Crawleys back in front. Lady Mary makes the call and within days the movie set takes over the “big house”.
The timing couldn’t have worked out any better if they tried. As it turns out Violet’s past has caught up with her and she is now in the possession of a villa in the South of France. Cora and Robert take Lucy and Tom, Edith and Bertie and set sail for the South of France to finalise the agreement to give the villa to Sybbie Branson. Things aren’t as black and white once they arrive and put a very peculiar cloud over the Crawley’s history.
The silent movie is quickly on the way out and the “talkie” is what the people want. But the current actors have never had to remember their lines as it’s just been their mouth moving. Lead Actress Myrna Dalgleish has a very common accent and can’t quite deliver the lines as they would expect her character to. So in steps Lady Mary to be her voice.
The movie is in the end a success, the villa is signed over to Sybbie making Tom a very happy father. And as expected, there’s another marriage and a baby on the way.
It’s hard to fault Downton Abbey: A New Era. It very subtly moves with the times rather accurately as the television series did for its six seasons. For anything shunned or not discussed in those times such as Barrow’s homosexuality, the movie manages to gently accept and subtly deny the idea. There isn’t any aspect of the period piece that hasn’t been considered and the options weighed.
The characters haven’t changed after all these years with the actors managing to remember the background of their characters. Lady Mary’s mannerisms like an eye roll here or a subtle “I told you so” look there are as strong as ever. Maggie Smith’s delivery of her quick-witted remarks will continue to make you snigger and laugh The ultimate awkwardness of Molesley will have you laughing and cringing at the same time.
But what A New Era feels like is it’s one big happy reunion for these actors and they’re just having fun. All the characters seem to be more confident and relaxed and up for a laugh. A conscious decision of the times and the character development, or the actors having fun with their characters, it’s not clear. But it works.
The story of A New Era very much attempts to close out a lot of unfinished storylines, either set up from the series or the 2019 film itself. Romance, marriage, babies and death each close a storyline and put any question or doubt to rest. This also gives the feeling that perhaps Downton Abbey may be very well closed as well. It is sad to think these characters may never grace our screens again but also wonderful in the thought that the world of Downton Abbey can’t end in a downturn.
Visually it’s quite splendid in all its grandeur. There is possibly an over use of wide shots showing the grand estates of the abbey and villa. The use of a greenscreen is a little too obvious especially when they are sailing. And when it comes to the editing, it did at times seem a little lazy. In one of the early scenes the scene ended at night inside the house to a glaring outside shot of the Crawleys walking along with the gardens of the Abbey. The transition was harsh and didn’t fit with what has come to be expected from a clean and gentle flow of the story.
Overall, Downton Abbey: A New Era is as you would expect from everything before it, wonderful in every way. The performances are on point with some great character growth for everyone, even Violet. The storyline is fun and doesn’t come with anything complicated to follow. It tidies up any loose ends and doesn’t attempt to set up anything new. As that score everyone knows all too well comes drifting in, you’re cast right back in there with the characters and all the things that have happened under the Abbey roof leaving you wanting more but knowing that this may very well be the last.
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