Amid some questionable storylines and a hiatus between the television series and the films, Downton Abbey has delighted audiences for over a decade. The early 20th century English backdrop and the soapy drama therein makes for an interesting premise, and the powers that be have seen fit to continue the buffet of comfort food by way of a second film. Downton Abbey: A New Era is largely more of the same, but it doesn’t sully the franchise one bit.
Not everyone is going to be riveted by the plucky cast of Downtown solving minor problem after minor squabble. For folks who are already invested in the universe, it’ll be a trip to see the paths that these characters are on. The dawn of “talking pictures” (with one using Downton as a filming location) is one key focus, which generally leads to the cutest moments between the cast.
The heart of A New Era’s problem stems from splitting up the storylines. In the inaugural film we’re mostly at the actual titular Downton, with everyone interacting with one another (much of the spirit of the series comes from formidable actors clashing together). But in A New Era, there are two major locations afoot: Downton and a southern France villa (which some members of the family are sent to investigate, dealing with Violet Crawley: Maggie Smith’s cantankerous fan-favourite character).
“Downton Abbey: A New Era is a good-spirited romp that merely runs out of gas, elegantly stopping before careening into a wall.”
The whole “film within a film” trope generally works well, as it’s fun to be a fly on the wall for the process while you’re actually taking part in it. The villa plotline, however, often drags, as we’re only really given one small payoff (sendoff) at the end, which could have been done any number of ways.
That said, Downton Abbey: A New Era is a good-spirited romp that merely runs out of gas, elegantly stopping before careening into a wall. The cast is clearly still up for playing these characters with aplomb beyond collecting a paycheck, even if some of them are taken into dead end narrative alleys. The locations are still stunning, the costumes are on point, and the cinematography, especially the work of the second unit, is impressive.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is an anomaly, as fans are likely going to watch it regardless of how well it does commercially or critically. But in any case, while there are signs that this story is likely coming to a close, and every narrative arc has been wrung out, there’s still some fun to be had.