Movie Review: Downton Abbey: A New Era

The aristocratic Crawleys and their lovable servants are back on the big screen with DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA. After six seasons on TV and two movies, creator Julian Fellowes’ wildly popular historical drama is finally coming to a close… or is it?  With TOP GUN returning after 36 years, anything is possible.

Though it’s been three years since we last saw them in DOWNTON ABBEY, barely a few months have passed at the stately mansion in the Yorkshire dales. Even so, plenty has happened in the interim. It’s now 1928, and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) have decided to tie the knot, thus further cementing the once-socialist Tom’s descent into upper class decadence as Lucy is the daughter of Maud Elliot, Dowager Baroness Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton, TV’s THE CROWN), a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary, and herself a Crawley. (She’s Robert’s first cousin once removed, which makes little Sybbie Lucy’s stepdaughter and second cousin once removed.) Meanwhile, the Crawley’s fortunes seem to have waned a bit (oh, just wait until the Great Depression hits!) and the roof at Downton Abbey is leaking like a sieve. Fortunately, help seems to arrive just in time, as it always does for the Crawleys, with news that director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy, TV’s LAW AND ORDER and HANNIBAL) wants to use the manor as a set for a film he’s making starring silent screen superstars Guy Dexter (Dominic West, TOMB RAIDER) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchise). Although the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) have nothing but disdain for “kinemascope” and the acting profession in general, the younger generation and even Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) are far more practical. They need the cash to fix the roof. And speaking of the Dowager Countess, though she’s on her last gasp of air, she learns that an old flame of hers from waaaay back has left her his villa in the south of France. Though the Dowager decides to leave it to Sybbie, as the poor child is at an economic disadvantage compared to her wealthier cousins, the children of Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael), the matter is not so cut and dried. The man’s widow (French actress Nathalie Baye, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD) doesn’t want to let the villa go without a fight. Her son (Belgian actor Jonathan Zaccaï, SINK OR SWIM), though, is far more accommodating than his mother is and he invites the Crawley clan down to the villa where they can all look glamorous in their summer whites.

I’ll start by saying I’ve been a fan of DOWNTON ABBEY from Day One. However, I found that DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA is not the franchise’s finest effort. Time seems to have done away with Mary and Edith’s bitchiness, and even the Dowager Countess barely has enough energy now to deliver her classic zingers, though she does save a real good one for the end of the movie. Instead, the story’s humour comes from a nice helping of French bashing and watching Carson huff and puff wherever he goes. There’s also a good scene where Carson and Lady Bagshaw encounter each other in a hat shop. In case you don’t know, the actors are husband and wife in real life. But as the 1930s approach, the staff don’t seem to have to polish silver or set tables anymore, and the Crawleys even have to endure a buffet dinner at one point. How common! Now the staff have plenty of time to be concerned with affairs of the heart, and there’s plenty of that going on in this story. By the time the film’s final credits roll, everyone gets their happy ending… and this is what’s wrong with this film. It’s too wrapped up in a treacly bow. What made the series so enjoyable, aside from the quips and the whole Upstairs, Downstairs vibe, was that the writers weren’t afraid to kill off some popular characters or give the characters some meaty issues to deal with. Of course, everyone expects the Dowager Countess to die – she’s got to be about 105 by now! – but couldn’t they have killed off someone like Mrs. Patmore or Mr. Carson? Even Mr. Carson must be in his mid-70s. That’s a long life for that time. No, DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA plays it very safe, giving audiences plenty of fan service but little else.

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (June 9th). Of course, fans will enjoy it but, like cotton candy, sometimes too much of a good thing isn’t so good after all.

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