The peak of early 2010’s television elegance was PBS’ Downton Abbey. This period piece from creator Julian Fellowes, provided a glimpse into the life of a British aristocratic family while navigating the ever-changing world of the early 20th Century. Following the show’s end after a massively successful run in 2015, Fellowes was eager to continue the story by releasing the first film in what has become a new series in 2019 with the aptly titled Downton Abbey and now Downton Abbey: A New Era has merely whetted the appetites for those hungry for more aristocratic adventures.
Downton Abbey: A New Era captures all of the elements the show was well-known for; extravagant costumes, the house staff gossiping about the goings on of the well-to-do family and the interpersonal drama that seems to have been brewing for decades. All of the previous film’s cast return for this second outing to uncover the mystery behind an elaborate villa gifted to the aging Dowager Countess. Eager to see the villa, several family members journey to the French Riviera while others stay behind at Downton to oversee a film production which has offered a large payment for permission to film there.
A recurring theme for the show and films has been how the world has been rapidly evolving from Downton being fitted for electricity or receiving a telephone, the sinking of the Titanic to the events of The Great War (during which the house was transformed into a convalescent home for injured soldiers) and the Flu Epidemic of 1919 which afflicted several family members as well as the house staff. A New Era offers its own challenge, the introduction of “talkies”. The film shooting at Downton is originally conceived as a silent film but after realizing the popularity and profitability of “talkies”, the film is quickly reformatted thanks in part to Lady Mary and several staff member into a “talkie”. This film and the hard work of Lady May bring her into close contact with the film’s director who is taken in by her intelligence, beauty and openness and winds up mirroring an idyllic interlude her grandmother found herself in decades ago that led to the gifting of the magnificent villa.
Amidst this happiness and facing down of new obstacles is love and the fear of loss. The Dowager Countess is slowly dying which was revealed at the end of the previous film and her son, Robert, is hearing rumors that her mother had an inappropriate dalliance with a French aristocrat and is beginning to believe that the man who raised is not in fact his real father. These rumors are fueled thanks in part to an engraving found of a younger Countess and numerous love letters that were sent to her by a now deceased Marquis. Robert also has to remain strong as his wife is facing an unknown illness. Robert has long been the pillar of strength for his family and it is heartbreaking to see him falter at the prospect of losing his name, his mother and his wife all in a short period.
Because this is a Downton Abbey film, all of the film’s events tie up in as saccharine if sad bow; Robert understands that his mother never committed any impropriety and his wife will make a full recovery, the house staff actually appearing as extras in the film and they all find happiness either through staying at Downton or realizing their dreams elsewhere. The film ends with the passing of the Dowager Countess which truly marks the end of holding on to the old ways at Downton. The Countess was much loved and well-respected and she passes as anyone would like; to be surrounded by loved one and say one final farewell.
Downton Abbey: A New Era offers the same characters with a new story in familiar outcomes but manages to feel seamless with the show. It will be interesting if Fellowes and his fellow filmmakers will attempt to move the story forward in time rather than only a year at a time. While fans of the show and the first film will love A New Era, this is not for the first-time viewer but thankfully, there are 52 episodes to watch and enjoy.
VERDICT: 4 engravings out of 5
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