Latest film proves to be a treat for longtime fans and new viewers alike
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is an engaging movie for both longtime fans of the franchise and new viewers.
Funny and dramatic, the film succeeds because of actors who embrace their aristocratic and working class characters with sincerity and sheer joy. It’s obvious they are all having fun in their roles.
The film consists of two well-written stories happening at the same time: the family visiting a villa in the south of France, which comes with a mystery, and a company filming a silent movie at the family’s mansion in England. The presence of the two stories, set in the early 1930s, works for a film that made fans laugh like crazy at a recent screening.
And director Simon Curtis has done a great job with the pacing and making this narrative flow clearly for all viewers — even for people, like this writer, who aren’t familiar with “Downton Abbey.” You don’t have to be a fan of the TV series or the first “Downton Abbey” movie to enjoy the story.
A lot of the credit for that must go to Maggie Smith, who makes her character, Violet Crawley, witty, honest and wise. Her one-liners are fantastic and have prompted a lot of enthusiastic laughter from audiences.
The movie begins with Violet telling the Crawley family that a French man once interested in her has died and left her his villa. You can imagine the man’s widow is upset about that, but the man’s son has decided to be gracious and has invited the Crawleys to visit this big and luxurious country residence in France.
Violet decides not to go, but is represented by Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville); his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), the Countess of Grantham, and others from the family. Once there, Robert discovers evidence that his mother may have had an affair and his late father may not actually be his biological father. The scandal!
Back in England, the servants in the household are enjoying the presence of movie stars as the silent film “The Gambler” is shot at the estate. But the movie’s fate is uncertain because everyone is seeing the “talkies.” The Crawleys, who initially allowed the studio to shoot at their mansion to raise money for much needed repairs, manage to save the day for the movie studio in a plot involving Lady Mary (the talented Michelle Dockery).
“Downton Abbey” wrestles with moral questions in a direct way and finds answers, and it’s great to see characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. At the same time, “Downton Abbey” tackles the prejudices of its era and shows an open-mindedness that was ahead of the time in which the story is set.
And there’s a small, fun third story in the film about Tom and Lucy Branson (played by Allen Leech and Tuppence Middleton). Details won’t be spoiled here.
Much of the appeal of “Downton Abbey” is that it looks at the lives of both the aristocrats and the working class. It’s also intriguing to see how the two sides interact and where the employer/employee relationships approach the level of friendships. There’s a special treat in this film for fans of the servants, one of whom stands out throughout the film: Mr. Carson. Jim Carter is funny and insightful as him, and much of the character’s charm is that he’s unaware of his charm.
The “special treat” about the servants won’t be spoiled here. See the film.
But here’s one spoiler that will be given away, so you can get a fact not mentioned in the film’s credits.
There’s a scene in which Mr. Carson and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) are mistaken for a married couple.
Well, the actors playing them are married in real life.