There is something oddly soothing about dropping into Julian Fellowes’ period world of Downton Abbey, and in their new adventure the modern world arrives and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is the second film version of the popular series.
The new era is circa 1930s England, and everyone at Downton seems happy. We attend the wedding of once-chauffeur, widowed Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) which makes you smile.
In the first film after the royal visit, all of the storylines were neatly wrapped up, so the move to take the characters and story to the South of France was inspired. And what would make them journey to the South of France? An unexpected inheritance given to Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith).
And in England, Hollywood comes to Downton with the arrival of the British Lion studio, director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), and movie star Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock). Most of the families are excited by the concept of having a movie filmed in their homes and receiving the money, and it’s a big step but they are determined to enter the 1930s with their heads held high.
It’s interesting to see the history of films being played out in this film, examining the awkwardness of movies moving from silent films to talkies, and the discussion of whose face can sell movie tickets but whose vocal talents might not. Myrna Dalgleish is the actress in question and when she enters a room, she brings the much-needed laughter. And it’s fun watching how talkies were made using real-time foley and voice-over work performed live.
Naturally, moving forward in time has never been something the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) has embraced, and having the future in her space drives her to distraction.
In “Downton Abbey: A New Era” we see the rise of Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) who will be running Downton. The feud between her and her sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) seems to have stopped, and Mary’s husband is absent (again) but motherhood seems to agree with her.
But what makes “Downton Abbey: A New Era” interesting (and enjoyable) is how it paints pure fantasy. There is very little passion in this film. It’s frustrating how we don’t get to see the gay butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) and film star Guy Dexter (Dominic West) move into something more interesting. But if you are a fan of the series then this film “Downton Abbey: A New Era” is a strong closing of the chapter of these beloved characters.