As someone whose only exposure to the popular PBS television series “Downtown Abbey” comes from watching only two episodes and seeing the 2019 movie, let me reassure you of one thing: do not worry if you’ve never seen the show. Even a vague familiarity isn’t required to enjoy the delightful “Downtown Abbey: A New Era,” a film that perfectly balances the desire to appease longtime fans with the need to make the story as universal as possible for newcomers. Written by series creator Julian Fellowes, this charming historical drama stays true to its roots while providing standalone entertainment for casual fans.
There’s mystery and excitement brewing at Downton. Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) has just received word that she’s inherited a villa in the South of France, while a film crew has paid for the privilege of making a movie at the estate. Several family members, including their indispensable butler Carson (Jim Carter), have embarked on a grand journey to see the new home and dig for answers. The servant staff along with Mary (Michelle Dockery) have stayed behind to tend to the demands of their Hollywood visitors, and nothing turns out quite the way anyone had planned.
The film features rapidly paced, talky storytelling, and it moves so quickly that it’s never boring. Director Simon Curtis jumps back and forth between the two stories, which keeps the narrative constantly advancing. Both are equally interesting, but I was drawn the most to the filmmaking storyline.
For those of us who love the magic of movies, it is easy to relate to sweet, star struck housemaid, Daisy (Sophie McShera). I could feel her disappointment after she meets movie star Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), who is extremely rude when the cameras are off. Meanwhile on the sunny shores of France, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) grapple with a huge reveal that could change their world forever. The dual storylines are satisfactorily tied together by the end.
There are a lot of characters to keep up with, but knowing their relationships (and even their names) isn’t really all that important. The film tells you what you need to know if you pay attention. There are some obvious things included for diehard fans, but the film is not stuffy. Instead, Curtis makes it more accessible for casual audiences (a huge improvement over the 2019 film).
The costume design is as gorgeous as expected, but the original score (by John Lunn) is also one of the highlights. Whimsical one moment and soaring the next, it fits the story perfectly. The performances are good if a little exaggerated, and no new boundaries are broken. While some may complain that it all feels too formulaic, it’s sometimes smart not to tarnish a recipe for success.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is perfectly titled. It offers up a lovely goodbye to the past, but also ushers in a new generation that will carry the story forward. The ending offers closure for fans, but the majority of this sweet, funny, romantic, touching, and sad film is something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
By: Louisa Moore