I’ve seen a lot of discourse over what cinema looks like post-pandemic (if there is such a thing) - many-site multiverse stories are the way we will go, exploring the timelines of those we thought we would have experience over the last two years, a la 'Everything Everywhere All at Once', and while we are going that route, I think as 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' more so proved, nostalgia is key for audiences (and box office success). After all, over the past two years, what did most of us do? Dive back into the worlds of film and television we loved - and with 2019 cinema, nostalgia was already the way the industry was leaning (remakes like 'Aladdin' and 'The Lion King' both crossed the billion-dollar USD mark)... and with a successful film adaption in 2019, a return to Downton Abbey wasn’t too far on the horizon.
'Downton Abbey: A New Era' pick up right where things left off in the everyday life of Crawleys and their servants. We see the cast split in two this time with two plots. First, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) discovers she has gained ownership of a villa in France from a past lover. She, along with her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Rosamund (Samantha Bond), their daughter Edith (Laura Carmichael) and her husband Herbert (Harry Hadden-Paton), as well as former head butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter), Maud (Imelda Staunton) and newlyweds Tom (Robert James-Collier) and Lucy Branson (Tuppence Middleton) head to France to get the bottom of the mystery as to why it was handed to them. Back at Downton, Mary (Michelle Dockery) is in charge as a film crew comes to the Abbey to film a silent picture, with the wait staff dealing with the glitz and glam of filmmaking - but with silent films on the way out as the talkies take over, it's up to the Downton crew to turn this production around.
This film feels stronger than the first. Despite the two plot lines, it never feels like we have gone too long without seeing certain characters and, even with the new faces, it feels like everyone gets equal screen time.
Once again, the film is purely for the fans. it wastes no time catching the audience up on anyone’s connections to each other. If this is your first exposure to the Crawleys' drama, good luck - but for fans, it’s another joyous return. Another similarity to the first film is that this outing is much more of a comedy than the dramatic heights the show was known for. With the story split in two we get two re-occurring jokes; for the French plot line it’s a lot of Mr Carson stating how different the French are and how crazy it is to be holidaying... in the summer (gasp). For the subplot, it’s all "A film at Downton, who would want that?" (wink). They get tired fast, but are never painful.
This film feels stronger than the first. Despite the two plot lines, it never feels like we have gone too long without seeing certain characters and, even with the new faces, it feels like everyone gets equal screen time. The two subplots are also much more cinematically handled than the plot of the first offering, which felt very locked into its Downton walls. However, again like the original, the status quo remains fairly stationary yet again - it changes more than the first, but many of the secrets brought up in the film's run time are undone or reversed before the credits roll.
Maggie Smith is the heart of these films, and she once again steals every scene she's in. She is a national treasure, and we must protect her at all costs.
If you are ride or die with ‘Downton Abbey’, I fully understand the enjoyment of simply spending more time with these characters. ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ is unapologetically for the fans, and in this weird post-COVID(ish) world, if that’s what you need, by god, run out and enjoy every second of it.