Downton Abbey: A New Era, 2022.
Directed by Simon Curtis.
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, Robert James-Collier, Lesley Nicol, Allen Leech, Laura Carmichael, Phyllis Logan, Dominic West, Harry Hadden-Paton, Hugh Dancy, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt, Raquel Cassidy, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, Fifi Hart, Jonathan Coy, Samantha Bond, Rodrigo Saavedra, Matthew Goode, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Reith, Oliver Barker, Zac Barker, Eva Samms, Megan Barker, Joanne Frogatt, Sophie McShera, Jeremy Swift, Sue Johnston, and Jonathan Zaccaï.
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.
While there are pockets of critics worldwide disinterested in reviewing cinematic sequels to television shows they have not seen, I admit to not finding it much different than watching a movie based on some other existing source material from a different entertainment medium that I’m not familiar with, or even a follow-up to a movie series I’m not caught up with. I’m also convinced that Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes (also the screenwriter for both of these sequel movies) is aware that transference of medium is not just about catering to the franchise diehards but allowing entryways for newcomers to swiftly pick up on who these characters are, a vague notion of what they have been through so far, and what they are currently dealing with and trying to accomplish.
Perhaps the most substantial support for this argument is that both Downton Abbey and Downton Abbey: A New Era movies are driven by plot rather than a deep sense of character depth. That’s also not to say that these people are underexplored or one-dimensional, but rather that those elements are understood to be better left expanded on within an episodic structure, especially considering the humongous ensemble. As such, it’s easy to get a sense of character personality without feeling hindered by not knowing what has happened previously. Of course, a recap helps (before the screening, there was a video running down the noteworthy events of the first film), but at the end of the day, it’s an all-new plot and story that, while being a fan, certainly helps, is still enjoyable without prior knowledge. Yes, there are quips and dialogue exchanges here and there that are referencing something of the past, but it doesn’t service frustration or block an outsider from being charmed by the bigger picture.
Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (the treasured Maggie Smith), is still nearing death, and confident granddaughter Lady Mary Josephine Talbot (Michelle Dockery) will keep the family legacy and estate intact. Surprisingly, the Crawleys have also been summoned to meet with a lawyer about a French villa transferred over to Violet from a former secret flame decades ago. They had only spent a few days together, and she had thought the gifted land not to be serious. Nevertheless, the widow and her son have invited the Crawleys over to the villa to hash the dilemma out and settle matters outside a courtroom.
Simultaneously, a filmmaking crew would like to begin shooting at Downton, which invites wide-ranging opinions from the aristocrats and servants. Soon, it comes down to the simple fact that money is needed to usher the estate into the 1930s, meaning that the opportunity shouldn’t be passed up. The ones staunchly opposing this are amusingly distracted by being sent off to participate in matters at the French villa. New characters involve director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), handsome leading man Guy Dexter (Dominic West), and gorgeous but snobby actress Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), complete with the entire crew juxtaposed with the regular servants. Like the Royal help in the last movie, some of these hotshot celebrities are condescending. However, it’s also made apparent that this crew has a great deal of anxiety making a silent film when talkies are the new hotness. This results in a broad look at two different colliding worlds struggling to find their future footing, eventually assisting one another in unexpected ways. Characters from both sides discover hidden talents and new callings and potentially find true love (one character that especially deserves it).
There are far too many characters here to summarize what every one of them is up to in Downton Abbey: A New Era. What’s important is that the direction from Simon Curtis (overtaking duties from Michael Engler) keeps everyone’s arc clean and easy to follow with snappy editing and breezy pacing. The benefit of having two central shooting locations (not to mention one of them turned into the set of a gambling movie) offers up fresh visuals and an inviting, sunny atmosphere. Maggie Smith is also given a satisfying amount of crackling, zippy, sardonic retorts.
Naturally, some of these subplots are far more engaging than others, but it’s easy to smile through Downton Abbey: A New Era considering the key stories offer consistent laughs and crucial developments. There are assuredly one too many ending scenes here, but the final ending is sure to be remembered as it genuinely pushes these characters into a new era (with curiosity regarding where things go from here). For anyone that has been with Downton Abbey from the beginning, the closing 20 minutes should prove to be highly emotional and moving. Everyone else will still get sucked into the drama and have a good time watching Maggie Smith jokingly tear people down, film-within-a-film-hijinks, and twisty family matters.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com