Saturday, July 16, 2022

Review: DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era" Celebrates the New with the Old

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 43 of 2022 (No. 1855) by Leroy Douresseaux

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022)
Running time: 124 minutes (2 hours, four minutes)
MPAA – PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements
DIRECTOR:  Simon Curtis
WRITER: Julian Fellowes (based on the television series created by Julian Fellowes)
PRODUCERS:  Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, and Liz Trubridge
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Andrew Dunn (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Adam Recht
COMPOSER:  John Lunn


Starring:  Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Joanne Froggatt, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Lesley Nicol, Harry Hadden-Paton, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, and Penelope Wilton with Dominic West, Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Jonathan Coy, Jonathan Zaccai, and Nathalie Baye

Downton Abbey: A New Era is a 2022 historical drama film directed by Simon Curtis.  It is based on the British television series, “Downton Abbey” (ITV, 2010-15), which was created by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the screenplay for this film.  A New Era is also a direct sequel to the 2019 film, Downton Abbey.  In A New Era, the Crawley family go on a grand journey to uncover the mysteries behind the dowager countess' recent inheritance, a villa in the south of France.

Downton Abbey: A New Era opens in 1928.  Tom Branson (Alan Leech), the son-in-law of Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham and 7th Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), is marrying Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton).  Lucy is the former maid and the recently-revealed daughter of Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), and she will become the heiress to Lady Bagshaw's extensive estate.

Returning from the wedding, the Crawley family experience two big surprises.  First, they learn that Lord Grantham's mother, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), has inherited a villa near Toulon, in the south of France, from a gentleman she knew in the 1860s, the Marquis de Montmirail.  He has recently died, and his son, the new Marquis (Jonathan Zaccai), has invited the Crawleys to visit the villa, named “La Villa des Colombes” (the Villa of the Doves).

Violet is not well enough to travel, but she is particularly anxious for Tom and Lucy to go, because she has decided to transfer ownership of the villa to Sybbie, Tom's daughter with the late Lady Sybil Crawley.  So Lord Grantham and his wife, Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), lead a small group of family and servants to the south of France, where the late Maquis' wife, La Marquise, Madame Montmirail (Nathalie Baye), awaits them with a mind to challenge her late husband's will.

The second surprise is that a studio, British Lion, wishes to use Downton as a filming location for a silent film entitled, The Gambler.  Although Robert, Lord Grantham is initially opposed to the idea, his eldest daughter, Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), convinces him that the money from the film could be used to replace Downton Abbey's leaky roof.

So the film crew arrives.  The members of the staff at Downton Abbey are intrigued by the chance to see the stars of the film, the leading man, Guy Dexter (Dominic West), and the leading lady, Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock).  Lady Mary appears to make an impression on the film's director, Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), and he soon needs her help.  The Gambler is being made just as a great change is occurring in the world of cinema, one that could prematurely end production of the film.

These are just a few of the dramas and melodramas, both large and small, that threaten to upend the lives of those upstairs and downstairs at Downton Abbey.

The original television series, Downton Abbey, began airing on the British television network, ITV, in 2010 and ended in 2015, after six seasons and 52 episodes.  It aired on the American broadcast network, PBS, as part of its “Masterpiece” series from 2011-20, before moving onto streaming services, Peacock and Netflix.  The final episode of “Downton Abbey” was set on New Year's Eve, 1925.  The first film, 2019's Downton Abbey, is set in 1927, 18 months after the TV series finale.  Downton Abbey: A New Era opens in the following year and picks up on some of the plot lines from the first film.

As I wrote in my review of the first film, when I first heard of “Downton Abbey,” I mostly ignored it, although I watched a few minutes here and there.  One Sunday afternoon, however, while channel surfing, I came across the show and recognized an actor (maybe American actress Elizabeth McGovern).  I decided to see what she was doing on the show and within a few minutes I was hooked.  It wasn't until two hours later I realized that I still had chores to do, but it was hard to pull myself away from the TV.  I found myself in the thrall of “Downton Abbey's” hypnotic powers.

I also found Downton Abbey the movie hypnotic, and a New Era was no less hypnotic, in large part because director Simon Curtis seems to have a grasp of all elements of the film, down to the details.  Both films offer many of the same ingredients of the television series that made it so popular and have since made it an enduring favorite.

One thing that A New Era does that the first film did not is offer a lot of change, including one monumental change.  Much of that change directly or indirectly involves the ailing dowager countess, Violet Crawley, as she settles her affairs and prepares the family for her eventual passing.  Series creator and screenwriter of both films, Julian Fellowes, specializes in historical ensemble dramas, such as Gosford Park (2001), and historical costume dramas, such as The Young Victoria (2009).  Fellowes spends much of this film introducing a sense of newness or of renewal in the lives of the denizens of Downton Abbey and of those connected to them.

There are new relationships and changes in employment, including the promise of another wedding and of two acquaintances becoming a couple.  Individuals assume new positions in the Crawley family, and even members of the film crew get new leases on their careers and in their personal relationships.  Downton Abbey: A New Era is truly the dawning of a new era in this world, and while this film does indeed have two primary settings, its story feels a bit more focused than the first film's story.

If you liked the television series, you will like this second film, to some degree, because it is more Downton Abbey.  Honestly, as with the first film, I love it and want more.  Downton Abbey: A New Era makes me happy, and I look forward to what is next...

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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