Downton Abbey: A New Era
Hollywood pays a visit to Downton in the second spin-off film of the much-loved TV series from Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). Starring Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and Elizabeth McGovern as the members of the aristocratic Crawley household, this latest instalment takes place in the early 1930s and features two storylines running side by side. Dominic West (The Wire), Hugh Dancy (Homeland) and Laura Haddock also star alongside show regulars Sophie McShera, Allen Leech and Jim Carter.
Opening on the lavish nuptials of the Crawleys’ widowed son-in-law Tom (Leech) and his new love Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), A New Era then transports half of Downton’s household to the south of France to explore a property left to them by a recently deceased aristocrat. Meanwhile, Lady Mary (Dockery) is talked into turning Downton into a film set by handsome producer Jack Barber (Dancy). Elsewhere head butler Thomas (Robert James-Collier) is made an offer he can’t refuse by ageing Hollywood lothario Guy (West), while the rest of the staff are alienated by uncouth starlet Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock).
On top of the usual familiar “upstairs, downstairs” dynamics, Fellowes and director Simon Curtis have opted for a more comedic tone this time around. As in the original series, Dame Maggie Smith as the Countess Dowager has all the best one-liners, but often the whole film feels like a parody of itself and for some completely incomprehensible reason, it somehow works.
Even with a subplot about turning a silent movie into a talkie directly lifted from Singin’ In The Rain, A New Eras still manages to feel fresh throughout. As we bid farewell to the Dowager towards the end, there is also time for Dame Maggie to give one last hilarious quip “ stop that noise, I can’t even hear myself die “ she utters a few seconds before doing just that.
Ignoring the clearly paper-thin screenplay and a totally convoluted plot line about a mysterious villa in the south of France - an excuse for a good old jolly for some of its cast - A New Era does exactly what’s on the tin and nothing more. Fellowes has undoubtedly managed to drag this stuffy old costume drama into the modern world by way of introducing new characters who remain unimpressed by wealth and breeding.
Overall, this is a funny, heartwarming and rather delightful offering from Fellowes et al. Having said all that, one wonders whether the franchise would still garner much attention without its most loved character, the infamous Dowager Countess who is undeniably the life and soul of the whole affair.