Let’s the keep the party going right? After a Community jealous 6 seasons and a movie, Downton Abbey gets the gang back together in a new year, for A New Era. A New Era of secrets, elegance, manners, and beautiful costumes. Anglophiles rejoice! But quietly, we don’t want to disturb anyone.
A New Era splits up our cast into 2. In 1928, after the wedding of Tom (Allen Leech) and Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) Branson, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) informs everyone in the abbey that she has come into possession of a villa in the South of France. She sends Tom, Lucy, the Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and their butler Charles (Jim Carter), among others to Nice, where they will finalize the legal documents to obtain the property. Meanwhile, at Downtown, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), and the Downton staff like butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier), and maids Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Daisy (Sophie McShera) are holding down the fort while a moving picture films at Downton starring famous actors Guy Baxter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock). The frazzled director Jack (Hugh Dancy) enlists Mary’s help early and often to keep the picture moving along, which draws a lot of whispers as her husband is away, galivanting with cars.
A New Era should be called Super Happy Fun Time. We open with a gorgeous wedding, which splits into making a movie, and vacationing in the south of France, which then ends with a giant celebration of life. Downton Abbey knows the privileged life its characters lead (even the servants for the most part), and it doubles down in the most fun ways possible. The moviemaking process shows off the castle and English countryside in all its glory, with drone shots aplenty and impeccably designed sets and costumes. While half the cast enjoys showbusiness, the other half go on what can only be described as a heavenly vacation: filled with amazing views, a stunning castle, and parties aplenty. I had the privilege of spending a bit of time in both places, and can honestly say it looks as gorgeous in person as it does on the big screen. If you’re looking for vacation ideas, give Downton Abbey: A New Era a once over; in fact, just send the movie to a vacation planner to see what they come up with.
Simon Curtis and Julian Fellowes (the director/writer) are Downton stalwarts: the steady hand delivering the movie elegantly to the audience. Despite all the ornate locations and cast splits, A New Era is thematically held together. The constant throughput is all of these people’s lives are in a state of flux, and A New Era shows how they cope with the changing times. Large chunks of time this means hilarious fish out of water situations. Jim Carter’s stoic British manner is never not funny when he’s transplanted to the south of France, having to deal with the warmer weather, progressive French society, or anything else: he’s the low key comedy MVP of the French storyline. And as expected, Maggie Smith carries the funny from either her bed or a couch, sniping some amazing one liner, or meta commenting with Penelope Wilton: any conversation with those two is must see televi…I mean, filmmaking. Changing times can also be compelling dramatic storytelling as well, and any character not telling jokes gets to deliver some emotional catharsis, good and bad, to the audience. There are revelations that create crises of character for many of our favorite characters. Some of them are wonderful, like Kevin Doyle’s arc as Joseph Moseley. But, unlike the hints in the first Downton film, there’s an air of finality and sadness that A New Era basks in, teasing some dark, and sad times ahead for some of our characters. But this is 1920s England, so that sadness is handled with dignity, sweetness, and elegance that it deserves.
In the end, some things change, and some things stay the same. Downton Abbey: A New Era has a blast reveling in its gorgeous locations and having a great time, maybe learning a soft lesson or two along the way. We’ve only got 11 more years until WWII, so let’s bang out as many of these fun hang out Downton movies as we can before one brilliant, very dark, final one where land stewardship of Downton ends and the castle is blown to smithereens. Just kidding ;).