“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is the second movie based on the long-running British BBC series about the English Upper Crust family and the country home and servants who work there. It begins with the nuptials of two newlyweds in the Abbey at Downton. Then it ends with the death and final services of a beloved character in this BBC series, now turned into a ‘moving picture talkie’. They have missed the chance to call this movie “One Wedding and a Funeral”.
The Downton estate is chock full of people. Without a deep background of who is who and who is running what, it is sometimes tough to keep it all in mind. So, first a brief rundown on the fancy-pants crew. Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) is the elderly matron of the household. Her granddaughter Lady Mary Talbot (played by Michelle Dockery) is the one in charge of the estate. The Dowager’s son is Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham, (played by Hugh Bonneville) is married to (gasp!) an American Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern).
Also – there are some other titled higher-ups in the main group. These include Isobel Grey, who is Lady Merton, (played by Penelope Wilton), and her husband Dickie Grey, Lord Merton, (played by Douglas Reith). There is also Bertie Pelham, Marquess of Hexham,(played by Harry Hadden-Paton) and his wife Edith Pelham, Marchioness of Hexham, (played by Laura Carmichael). Oh yeah – don’t forget Lady Rosamund Painswick (played by Samantha Bond). Yikes – again there is Lady Maud Bagshaw (played by Imelda Staunton).
On the other hand, there is an almost as large assortment of servants. Starting off with the recently-retired Butler Charles Carson (played by Jim Carter). He still commands a great presence to the staff at Downton. He was replaced by Thomas Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier). John Bates (played by Brendan Coyle) is the Valet to Robert Crawley. Anna Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt) is John’s wife and lady’s maid to Lady Mary Talbot. There is Beryl Patmore (played by Lesley Nicol) who is the chief cook, and her assistant cook Daisy Parker (played by Sophie McShera).
Back to the start – there is a lavish wedding at the estate. Tom Branson (played by Allen Leech) marries Lucy Smith — now Branson (played by Tuppence Middleton). Tom’s earlier marriage made him a brother-in-law to Lady Mary Talbot. Lucy is the daughter of Lady Maud Bagshaw. It’s all a big event, and it is enjoyed by all. Soon after that Dowager Countess reveals a little fact. She had spent a week in the south of France around 50 years ago. She spent some time with a Marquis in France on the Riviera. This guy was so smitten her that he gifted the villa in France to her. She has no idea why, but is not one to turn it down!
A big group of the Downton Abbey hot-shots spend the time to visit this Southern France location. The deceased Marquis now has heirs who are wondering why the guy gave the villa to the Dowager Countess many years ago. The Marquis’ widow (played by Nathalie Baye) has no power to alter the will. The Executor is her son (played by Jonathan Zaccaï), and he sees no problem to honor his father’s long-ago gift. He feels that the Dowager Countess and his father, the Marquis might have had a fling that produced — Robert Crawley? It’s a question that cannot be answered right away.
While the one group is enjoying France, the remainder of the Abbey crew is back in England playing host to ‘moving picture’ company. A British studio wants to use the Crawley Manor as a backdrop for a new movie. This movie, it is late 1927 or so, is a typical silent movie. The Director is Jack Barber (played by Hugh Dancy). The male movie star is the dashing Guy Dexter (played by Dominic West), and the leading lady is Myrna Dalgleish (played by Laura Haddock). Lady Mary Talbot knows that the fee they will receive to use the house for a few weeks will pay for much-needed repairs.
The collection of people in France is still trying to figure out the situation. The reason that the villa was gifted to the Dowager Countess is a mystery. But it is assumed that in illicit romance might have been involved. But does that affect Robert Crawley, and make him ‘illegitimate’? The other group of people back in England is dealing with volatile nature of the movie business. The director Butler is very happy to make the movie. The actor Guy Dexter is a person who takes a distinct interest in the head Butler Barrow. Barrow has down-low secret in that he is gay. But Dexter says he does not have any issue with that. The leading lady Myrna is less gracious, and he could be her career is coming to an end.
The France brigade is convinced that there were some awkward shenanigans that went on around 50 years ago. But there is no prove to say one way or another. Robert Crawley is a nervous wreck, because he does not know the truth. The movie company tells director Butler to wrap it up and toss out the work. The public now wants only ‘talkies’, and not silent movies. Unless there is some way to change the movie being made at Crawley Manor into a ‘moving picture talkie’ – Lady Mary will not get paid, and the production would come to an end.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” does not break any new ground. It assumes that the viewer has more than just a casual background of knowing all the key players. Since there are so many of them, it can be a chore to keep up with all of them. There are the divided plot lines, one following the bread crumb trails in France, and the other staying with the Manor group as a ‘moving picture’ is being made. It is odd to see this many characters broken up into smaller groups for a minor storyline.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” delivers on the lavish display of excessive wealth that made the BBC series so delightful. But age is taking a toll on all the characters, and some may be wearing out their welcome.
Downton Abbey: A New Era
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by: Julian Fellowes
Based on: Downton Abbey (by Julian Fellowes)
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Edited by: Adam Recht
Music by: John Lunn
Distributed by: Focus Features
Release date: May 20 May 2022
Length: 125 minutes
MPAA rating: PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements
Genre: Upper Class Drama