Downton Abbey returns to theatres in this sequel to both the TV series and the last movie. Does the story continue well? Read on for my review of A New Era.
The Crawley family’s lives are thrown into disarray once more with two major events. Firstly, The Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) mysteriously inherits a French villa from a man she met decades ago; secondly, Mary (Michelle Dockery) invites a film crew to shoot at Downton. The later event causes much of the family to flee England for France, so they might investigate the villa.
I hadn’t realized how much I missed Downton Abbey ’till its theme music blared over the speakers and I saw the familiar visage of Highclere Castle. My emotions bubbled up and brought me a sense of ease. It was like coming home.
That feeling is simultaneously the best and worst part of this film. But I’ll get into why that is later on… It’s one of those double-edged sword sort of deals.
I ought to warn you upfront: Downton Abbey 2 isn’t something one should watch without having seen the first movie (at least). Otherwise you’re sure get lost in this sea of characters.
Maybe I underestimate you though. My brother understood the film just fine. And he’s only watched the first movie, plus a few episodes of the series. But I reiterate that not even he went in completely blind.
I’m shocked how many subplots writer Julian Fellowes fit into A New Era! All your favourite characters maintain some level of personal drama. But that’s both an asset and a detriment: there’s never a shortage of events, yet Fellowes’ juggling of plots in abundance means some are inevitably fumbled.
I’m afraid many of the subplots, while technically complete (with varying degrees of payoff), came across as half-baked and rushed. Edith (Laura Carmichael), Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and Branson (Allen Leech) all suffered. And it’s not that they lacked compelling drama. But I don’t think Fellowes wanted to explore their problems more deeply than surface-level in this movie. If he did, it would either take up too much time, or shake up the characters’ mostly happy new status quos.
The Downton Abbey fan in me understands the above-mentioned mindset. ‘Cause I would have been upset if anyone’s story was torn to shreds at this point. But the critic in me must still remark on what I witnessed– that being, A New Era feared to commit to bold choices.
My favourite plot of the film bounced back and forth as it went. At first I was more intrigued by Violet’s backstory, and the French excursion. But Mary’s movie plot snagged my interest in the second half (both because it progressed more plot-lines, and because I’m a biased amateur film-maker).
I find the concept of a movie shoot at Downton hilariously meta! The film laments how nobility are forced to sell out their ancestral homes to afford repairs on them… which is exactly what the real owners of Highclere Castle do. Although, from what I’ve read, the home’s modern owners are more enthusiastic about film productions than the Crawley family.
The “film-making” plot highlights A New Era’s main theme of “transition.” For context: Films and their actors were forced to adapt from silent pictures to sound or else face obscurity. So to did Downton Abbey‘s characters all face similar struggles (metaphorically). Everyone’s story boiled down to fighting or embracing their next phases of life.
While the “film” plot concerned Downton’s metaphorical future, the South of France plot concerned its past. What misadventures of the family matriarch’s youth impact the family in its present? Do there exist old scandals to be uncovered? Before the characters (especially Robert– Hugh Bonneville) can transition to the next stage of life, they must first discover who they are and who they’ve always been.
My only complaint about this theme of transition is that nobody ever transitioned to an objectively worse era of life. I didn’t wish any of the characters ill. But statistically speaking, someone had to make a terrible life choice, right? Except Downton Abbey 2, like I said, is afraid to shake up the status quo in negative fashion.
I appreciate Downton Abbey’s dry sense of humor, maybe now more than ever. I feel like the majority of modern entertainment writes comedy with the same quippy snark as Marvel (which they arguably aped from Joss Whedon). Downton Abbey is more subtle, less laugh out loud. But I love the writing and delivery! The comedy is well-timed and most of it lands. Dame Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, and Jim Carter over-shadow the others with their abilities. But all the actors are all excellent,to be clear– especially where dramatic delivery is concerned.
Besides the melodrama and sharp dialogue, you’re probably here for the gorgeous period settings and costumes. This franchise oozes class! Downton Abbey‘s set and costume designers are as integral to the overall effect of this world than the writing and actors! And they continue to amaze (especially the costume designers).
A New Era‘s film-making feels more like high class TV than cinema. Though they’ve obviously got a bigger budget. Is this a criticism per se? I don’t especially care. But it might be off-putting to film snobs.
I genuinely hope they keep making these films! I’d love to see the continuing adventures of the Crawley’s and their servants, even if it’s only a couple times per decade. They’re just coming up on The Great Depression and World War 2, so there’s still tonnes of dramatic potential to be mined from this franchise.
But I’m enjoying Julian Fellowes’ new series: The Gilded Age, in the meantime, so I can wait a bit longer for new Downton Abbey.
A New Era‘s main problem is its fear to shake up the characters’ status quo across the board. It felt too safe (even though it made multiple good choices). But its stability is comfortable. I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy that feeling. This Downton Abbey fan was moved, but his inner critic must recognize A New Era‘s flaws.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is Worth a Watch if you like these sorts of period drama.
How many of these Downton movies do you think there ought to be? What did you think of Downton Abbey: A New Era? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,