‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’: Celebrate the series with this light, pleasing affair

“Downton Abbey:  A New Era” (2022) – “Everyone is healthy and happy at Downton Abbey.  Let’s all hold our breaths.” – Mr. Carson (Jim Carter)

“Downton Abbey” (2011 – 2016), the English television drama, is a big deal.  Set in Yorkshire and one day after the Titanic sunk, “Downton” became a PBS megahit.  The series garnered 15 Primetime Emmys, including Maggie Smith winning three Outstanding Supporting Actress awards

“Breaking Bad” (2008 – 2013) and “Game of Thrones” (2011 – 2019) had to make room for this darling British small-screen saga because it was one of the most talked-about TV shows in the U.S. during the last decade. 

Writer Julian Fellowes’ scripted creation is not the absolute biggest British import to arrive stateside since The Beatles.  “Dr. Who” (1963 – 1989, 2005 – Present), “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969 – 1974), The Rolling Stones, and the “Harry Potter” novels and movies might lend convincing arguments for that title, but Fellowes’ tales of an affluent family and their servants attracted big audiences and won over critics.

Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith)

Unfortunately, this critic hasn’t watched the television series because, admittedly, theatrical and streaming movies usually collect my attention.  Although the show ended in 2015, Fellowes penned a “DA” feature film, and Michael Engler signed on to direct.  In the 2019 movie, the King and Queen visit Downton Abbey.

Needless to say, feather dusters worked overtime, and no one said, “I don’t do windows.”

Engler and Fellowes arranged for the fans’ favorites to return in this capable and entertaining story at the estate. 

Three years later, and fast forward to 1928 on-screen, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” arrives, and so does a film crew!  Instead of royalty stopping by the manor, a movie studio and director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) wish to film their silent picture on location at Abbey, and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and the rest will host new guests. 

Director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn” (2011)) – who doesn’t have a previous connection with the show or the 2019 film – and Fellowes introduce a tandem narrative in which a French aristocrat passes away and curiously leaves his estate to Violet (played by 87-years-young Maggie Smith).  

While flashy showbiz types and grounded hosts and hostesses vie for emotional and literal elbow room, Robert, Cora, Mr. Carson, and others sail for Marseille to step into the family’s new French villa, which will cause hurt feelings for the widow, Mme de Montmirail (Nathalie Baye). 

Fellowes gets playful with dueling tales because, in both instances, strangers are forced to share space.  The script delights in two light culture clashes between the pushy, entitled entertainment industry types versus refined, polite formalities and the ever-present battle between English and French lifestyles. 

Grey Poupon, anyone?

The “Abbey” stars get their big-screen spots to shine, as the film somehow finds room – during a 125-minute runtime – for just about everyone.  Just about, because Mary’s husband Henry (Matthew Goode) never appears, and his lonely wife frequently mentions that Mr. Talbot (Goode) is out racing cars, grabbing the tiger by the tail, or just enjoying life…somewhere other than home.

So, who delivers (or gets) the best moments?

In this “Downton Abbey” novice’s opinion:  Cora, Mr. Carson, Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), Violet, and Lady Mary.  Lady Mary, for sure, and her arc reaffirms the woman’s rightful majestic headship over the manor.

Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock)

As far as newcomers, a snotty actress Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) takes us on a gratifying journey, and Mr. Barber should be a welcome addition in a future movie.  It’s a shame that “Downton Abbey” devotees and new admirers might have to wait another three years to see their on-screen champions in a new feature, but another film may not ever come.

Who knows?

No question, with these resonant, likable characters, “Downton” could pick up a new season tomorrow, I say.  With television’s long-form storytelling, a typical season allows for several festive peaks and stressful valleys for the viewers.

However, fans haven’t seen their beloved characters in years.  Therefore, “Downton Abbey:  A New Era” doesn’t take chances or risks, but that’s okay.  This movie is a celebration and another golden opportunity to visit this Yorkshire County estate, admire domesticated luxuries, and fawn over posh threads, regal British formalities, and proper decorum. 

Don’t walk into this movie expecting taxing hairpin turns and a roller-coaster ride of high-stakes drama.  Instead, enjoy these old friends and memorable moments…without holding your breath…by and large.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Simon Curtis

Written by:  Julian Fellowes

Starring:  Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton, Kevin Doyle, and Maggie Smith

Runtime:  125 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: Focus Features

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