Some Frothy Historical Fun: Our Review of ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 17, 2022
Some Frothy Historical Fun: Our Review of ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

Would you rather be a 1920s aristocrat in the British countryside or in the South of France? That’s the kind of hard-hitting question Downton Abbey: A New Era inspires. For the record, after watching the Downton crew head over to inspect the villa they mysteriously inherited in the Cote D’Azur, I’m Team South of France. The Riviera’s lush vegetation, sunny skies and excellent jazz singers make the Abbey’s epic grounds look downright dull!

For fans of the Downton Abbey TV series, A New Era will be a balm.  A show that started as period piece prestige TV, Downton evolved into a “happy endings-only” fairytale version of itself. The film, directed by Simon Curtis, retains the combination of stunning costumes, sexy actors, and aerial shots of gorgeous scenery that made the show delicious. 

In A New Era, Crawley family matriarch Violet (Maggie Smith), who announced a frightening health diagnosis at the end of the last film, is still alive and quipping. Perhaps her best line comes when her incredulous family asks why she accepted the gift of a villa bequeathed to her by a man she barely knew. Violet’s response? “Do I look as if I would turn down a villa in the South of France?” Indeed not! And so, the Earl and his wife, Edith and that Marquis she married, and Tom and his new wife head off to investigate the villa!

Not everyone gets to scurry off to the South of France, but have no fear! Those who stay get to watch a crew transform Downton into a film set. This includes Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary, whose husband has apparently been gallivanting around in his racing car since they got married. Oh, and the director, played by the dashing Hugh Dancy, is smoking hot! He also has a thing for our girl Mary. Ooh la la!

A New Era’s hijinks mostly make for a good time (especially on the movie set, where a haughty actress terrorizes Downton’s servants); however, the plot is over crowded.  Julian Fellowes, as we know, created the original series and wrote the script for A New Era. One gets the feeling that he crammed his ideas for an entire season of television into a single movie. As a consequence, everything feels rushed. Case in point: Lady Edith’s storyline is practically a ghost!

Played by the always dependable, if underutilized, Laura Carmichael, Edith resolves to start writing again. Edith decides to use her French sojourn to research the fashionable people, like Chanel and Hemingway, who’ve begun vacationing on The French Riviera in the summer (a place fancy people previously only visited in the winter). Does she succeed in finishing the article while balancing motherhood and marriage? Does the article relaunch her writing career? Your guess is as good as mine! 

Other rushed storylines include finding hasty love matches for basically all of the single servants. Having said that, we our good man Thomas Barrow, the former footman turned butler forced to live a semi-closeted life. It’s perhaps the only time has enjoyed a romantic storyline that’s worthy of him. But while some of our most beloved characters find the good fortune they deserve, none are given adequate screen time to truly grow. 

And what if you weren’t familiar with Downton’s cast of characters before screening A New Era? Well, you won’t have the foggiest clue what’s happening! 

Ultimately, If you enjoyed the original series, A New Era offers enough frothy fun to justify the cost of a ticket. However, if you weren’t a fan before, there is nothing for you here! This film, as comforting as it will be to devotees of the franchise, does not stand alone. 

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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