Despite being subtitled A New Era, the latest installment in the Downton Abbey franchise is most assuredly more of the same, for better and worse, and if anything feels more like the end of an era than the start of a new one. We last visited with the Granthams 3 years ago in their first feature film, and since then it would seem as if little has changed. We are launched right into a wedding between Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), who are then given very little to do for the rest of the movie. Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) reveals that years ago she had been gifted a villa in the South of France by the Marquis de Montmirail, but wrote it off as a joke, only now upon his death has she discovered it was quite serious. So Robert and Cora (Hugh Bonneville and Elizbeth McGovern), Tom and Lucy, Edith and Bertie (Laura Carmichael and Harry Hadden-Paton), and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) head off to deal with the matter.
Back at home, a silent film production is granted permission to film at the house, and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has stayed behind to keep on an eye on things. As it turns out though, talkies are killing off the silent movie business and so the studio decides to axe the project. Mary suggests switching the movie to one with dialogue and director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) convinces the studio to go along with it. Unfortunately, leading man Guy Dexter’s (Dominic West) voice is well-suited but his costar Myrna Dalgleish’s (Laura Haddock) is very-much not, and so Barber convinces Mary to do the dubbing.
At the beginning the movie feels like it is going to fall prey to some of the series’ worst impulses, with seemingly nothing of even minor consquence happening for far too much time. About 30 minutes in though, once everyone is basically where writer Julian Fellowes wants them to be, things do pick up a bit and that familiar frothy escapism returns. It is nice to get to spend time with all of these characters once more, even if most of them are given only a little screen time. Director Simon Curtis’s job is primarily to corral the sprawling cast and make sure everyone and everything looks good, which he manages to do splendidly. While the 2 main storylines don’t really add up to much, there are still some major moments here, including one in particular that is likely to have viewers wiping away tears. While A New Era is enjoyable enough most of the time, it is beginning to feel like this franchise is running out of steam, and with some of the plot points adding an air of finality to things, it seems like as good a place as any to end the story. ★★★
RATED PG FOR SOME SUGGESTIVE REFERENCES, LANGUAGE, AND THEMATIC ELEMENTS.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor