REVIEW: ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ movie sequel gives fans of the hugely popular TV series more of what they want
SALT LAKE CITY — I finally know what it must be like when for my wife when we watch an Avengers or Star Wars movie.
Watching Downton Abbey: A New Era, the second movie following a successful multi-season run television, and trying to keep track of a multitude of characters and their relationships to each other without having watched the series, was a mental juggling act that required me to ask many questions of my sister (who is a fan) during the movie.
Meanwhile, there were audible moments of recognition, knowing nods, and the occasional laugh among the other members of the audience–including my sister–that just went right past me and forced me to pepper her with many questions after the screening too.
The original principal cast of “Downton Abbey” is all back for this second film. In addition, Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, Dominic West, and Jonathan Zaccaï join up for A New Era.
As the 1920’s come to a close, life as usual goes on for the residents and staff at Downton Abbey following the visit from the King and Queen. Former widower Tom (Allen Leech) and the recently-revealed heiress Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) have married, as have downstairs help Andy and Daisy (Michael Fox and Sophie McShera). But their lives are shaken up by a couple pieces of news.
First, the family puzzles over word from their lawyer that a man who the Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) knew years ago has died and bequeathed his villa in the south of France to her.
So, half of the family, including Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern), Tom and Lucy, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), and their butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) head out for a very awkward visit with the surviving family members of the current villa owner before they are required to turn it over.
Meanwhile, the downstairs staff is excited by the news that a Hollywood studio wants to film a silent movie at Downton, which means movie stars like Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) will be staying with them!
Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), whose husband is away racing cars, stays behind to supervise the house during production and deal with its handsome and flirtatious director (Hugh Dancy). Violet, who is disgusted by the very idea of something as vulgar as a movie being made at her family’s mansion, nevertheless must deal with it as she is unable to go to the villa in France because of poor health.
THINGS I LIKED
For me, I think what I liked best was the feeling of familiarity among the characters and obviously, the familiarity of the actors in the roles with most having played them for over a decade now. That undoubtedly made things easier for director Simon Curtis.
The banter, written as always by Downton scribe Julian Fellowes, is as sharp and witty as ever–especially the lines given to Violet. But it was also meaningful at times and occasionally profound.
I was also impressed that for a cast with so many characters, nearly all of them had at least one or two moments of relevance, certainly not an easy feat.
It probably won’t be a surprise that for story centered around a wealthy family in the early 20th century, the costuming was as gorgeous as the locations where the movie was shot. Roaring Twenties fashion and movie stars in the English countryside and villas in the south of France look every bit as grandiose as you imagine them to be.
I also found myself caught up in some of the more emotional moments. Even as someone who hasn’t been a long-time fan of the series, I could appreciate the significance of some of the situations in which characters find themselves, though fans will no doubt be that much more invested.
Content-wise, there was nothing offensive in Downton Abbey: A New Era. It’s rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements. The run time is 2 hours 4 minutes.
Probably the biggest warning is for those, like me, who are not well-versed in the history of the Downton Abbey-verse. There are a LOT of people to keep track of and a lot of conversations and moments between characters that obviously have significance for those who are familiar with the history, but for you might be less meaningful or impactful.
Also, long-time fans of the show might want to bring a handkerchief or some tissues, you know, just in case.
Despite my own lack of familiarity going into the picture, I still found Downton Abbey: A New Era to be an enjoyable watch. Honestly, with everything going on in the world today, it was kind of refreshing to watch a movie where the stakes were not earth-shattering.
Obviously, the movie draws its strength and much of its charm from the interactions between the characters. At the same time, fans of Singin’ In the Rain will notice some obvious similarities, and some of the dialogue and scenarios were a little too meta and on-the-nose to ignore, (“Make a movie at Downton? How dreadful!” “I’m not sure I’m ready to leave Downton behind.”)
But, for those of you who dragged a less-than-enthusiastic partner to see Doctor Strange or The Batman recently, this is where you show your gratitude. When they tell you they want to see this, you say “Yes, of course I’ll go.”
Andy’s final rating: THREE out of FOUR stars
WHERE TO WATCH
Downton Abbey: A New Era is playing exclusively in theaters. No streaming options available for now.
Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth does a weekly “What To Watch” segment for the KSL 5 Today morning news show and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on KSLTV.com.
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