Similarly, this week Downton Abbey: A New Era – the second film spinoff of the long-running soap opera about the romantic and otherwise ups and downs of a family of British aristocrats and their servants – begins with a double wedding scene that sets the tone for indicates several crowd favorites that will soon follow. We’re up to date on the marriage of former chauffeur and widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech) to maid Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) and the marriage of valet Andy Parker (Michael Fox) to assistant chef Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera). .
Downton Abbey is back. The film based on the British soap opera is an overflowing guilt treat.
These unions between sentimental favorite characters will not surprise anyone who has seen the last film. And for those who haven’t, there’s a helpful prologue to accompany A New Era, courtesy of Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle)-turned-teacher and efficiently recaps the events of 2019’s turbulent drama A visit from the King and Queen of England caused quite a stir in the eponymous Downton, both up and down. (All sequels should be – there is no other word for it – considerate of their audience.)
But those opening love stories are just appetizers to the main course of romantic intrigue on the menu at this savory 1928 soufflé, which explores the possibility of a week-long passion between matriarch Violet Crawley, aka the Dowager Countess of Grantham, some 60 years earlier (Maggie Smith), and a mysterious French Marquis. No sooner has Molesley waived his preamble than the Crawley family solicitor (Jonathan Coy) arrives in Downton with the revelation that the Countess has been bequeathed a villa on the French Riviera by a recently deceased nobleman, apparently someone who once lived in Lady Grantham was infatuated early on in their marriage.
Speculation is rife as to the nature and extent of this secret relationship, and whether the Dowager Countess Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) son really – source horror! – half French. This bomb triggers a trip to the south of France for most Crawleys; It’s an absolutely absurd storyline from series creator Julian Fellowes – only necessary as an excuse to vary the scenery. (And by that measure, it’s a resounding success.)
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Meanwhile, at home, Robert’s daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) is left to oversee a film crew that Downton has hired to film in exchange for a fee that covers fixing the mansion’s leaking roof. It also gives director Simon Curtis an opportunity for some comic relief: supporting characters wander onto the set while the camera rolls, and the gorgeous lead actress (Laura Haddock) has the raspy Cockney speaking voice of Eliza Doolittle during production, switching from silent to talkie . Flirts ensue between certain members of the Crawley family and associates and two members of the film crew: the handsome director (Hugh Dancy) and the easy-going lead actor (Dominic West). The action of the story switches back and forth between the two locations Downton and France.
The film’s subtitle refers most clearly to the advent of talkie, which was just becoming fashionable in the late 1920s. But “A New Era” has several other meanings as well, including the film’s message about gay tolerance (perhaps a bit anachronistic for the time). For gay butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), whose tale of unrequited love starred in the last film, the prospect of bliss finally arrives. “I wish you all the happiness this cruel world can afford,” Lady Mary tells him, not acknowledging that she isn’t really saying much.
But there are other dramatic closures that herald not only the beginning of a new age, but inevitably the end of an old one. The subtitle not only refers to the twilight of the 1920s, but also to a changing of the guard in this entertainment franchise. As such, Downton Abbey may not really give its fans what they want, but what they have always had to accept in this epic saga: that time does not stand still.
PG. In the theaters of the region. Contains some suggestive references, strong language and mature thematic elements. 124 minutes.