Downton Abbey: A New Era sees Dame Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery reprise their roles as the Crawley family face two escapades: a trip to the French Riviera and the enchantment of a cinematic experience taking place at Downton.
From the very first opening scene, the film takes us back to the charm of Downton, reminding us of all the interweaving characters’ storylines that emerged over the show’s six seasons.
Yet, while we’re re-introduced to the likes of Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech), one iconic character’s presence is missing for a moment, leaving viewers to ponder and worry over whether she’ll return.
But of course she does, and Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, marks her return with her usual wit and spark. The main arch of the film does revolve around the Dowager Countess, as her family embark on an adventure to visit a villa left to the matriarch from a former suitor from her past.
However, while the story may be about her, the Dowager remains at Downton as the rest of the family continue adapting to the modern world – from visiting France to learning about the magic of cinema.
In fact, throughout A New Era we’re reminded that this may be the end for the Dowager who, in the last film, revealed she didn’t have long to live. Despite this, she’s as sarcastic and comical as ever, with nearly every line she delivers in the film sparking laughter.
Just like the Dowager Countess, some characters never change, like Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Charles Carson (Jim Carter). While not as much of Mr Bates is seen in this film, Carson remains as traditional as ever, if anything, perhaps his proper Englishness is more hysterical than before.
Reminding us that despite time inevitably moving forward, there remains stability in a household, Carson resumes his original role as the family’s butler by the end of the film, reinstating him where he belongs just like the first episodes of the period drama.
With so many familiar faces returning and storylines weaving over each other, it’s no surprise the film requires so many scenes, each of which goes past relatively quickly. Although the scenes may seem short, viewers are reminded of everyone’s presence at Downton, continuing from where the last movie left.
The franchise’s first film, released in 2019, stood aptly as a standalone, whereas this one depends on the last for many of the narratives.
This film, like the last, continues with the theme of the Crawley’s embracing change – from Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) being encouraged to continue her work as a journalist along with being a mother, to the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) learning about cinematic experiences.
One aspect that makes Downton Abbey feel as nostalgic as ever is the music, which was as enchanting as ever, transporting us to the good ol’ days from the first series premiering more than a decade ago.
A character whose absence was brushed over, perhaps unsurprisingly considering his absence in the first film, was that of Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode). Fans may have been hoping for Lady Mary’s husband to return, however, while she remains a dutiful wife, and excuses her husband’s absence as a man in love with cars and adventures, hopefully as much as with his wife, a romantic interest does arrive for her in the form of a director.
As usual, the Downton drama includes various romances and we can trust the film to leave us with a hopeful ending, as relationships come to fruition, including one that fans have been awaiting.
The will-they-won’t-they between Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Joseph Moseley (Kevin Doyle) finally comes to a head as the pair get engaged, but they aren’t the only couple to have reached a new level in their relationship, as the film explores Mrs Patmore and Mr Mason (Paul Copley) debating whether to leave their loneliness for each other, and Thomas Barrow’s (Robert James-Collier) internal angst about following his heart.
While there never is a dull moment at Downton, the development of the two main storylines offers more potential for drama, but they didn’t both quite reach it.
If anything, while the trip to France brings back Lord Grantham’s internal angst and the worry surrounding Lady Grantham’s health, his moment of finding out that he really could be a fraud felt slightly underwhelming, as was any resistance put up by his potential half-brother.
It felt as though something more sinister could have been lurking, with the potential to lead to a more dramatic climax, rather than a casual return to Downton and a reinstated focus on the Dowager.
The second arch revolves around the cinema coming to Downton – with servants turning into stars, Hollywood stars revealed to be nothing more than the servants, and the enchantment of the new cinematic experience in film.
Typically, we’d witness a drama between the servants and one for the Downton family, however, this time the two crowds merge as the servants are just as involved in the trip to France and the cinematic experience as the family with the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ of the house uniting in the shared experience.
With a few new characters (including Dominic West) but mainly an old cast, the film offers a nostalgic and heart-warming return to the Downton Abbey fans miss and love. The series and first film were such a success and this one is likely to be too as we’re allowed to indulge once more in the romance and ease of the period drama.
Continuing the concern of the Downton family being stuck in the past and not moving to the modern time, the film ends with the reassurance that Lady Mary has taken the matriarchal throne left to her by her granny at the end of the first film. While her relationship with her absent-husband may be unclear, her role in the household has certainly landed her in an idyllic spot, as the film wraps up with a sense of completion for all the family members, including little Sybil.
At the end of the first Downton Abbey film, it felt as though all the members, servants and Grantham family alike, were at the cusp of historic changes. Now, with those changes leading way to a modern life, the characters have accepted the changes and progress, whilst being reassured that Downton’s glory would not diminish no matter how much time passes.
Downton Abbey: A New Era will be released in UK Cinemas April 29.