Sunday, May 29, 2022

Stubs - Downton Abbey: A New Era

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, Laura Carmichael, Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Dominic West, Alex Macqueen, Nathalie Baye, Jonathan Zaccaï. Directed by Simon Curtis. Screenplay: Julian Fellowes. Based on the television series created by Julian Fellowes. Produced by Gareth Neame, Julian Fellowes, Liz Trubridge. Run time: 125 minutes. UK, USA Color Drama, Period.

Downton Abbey: A New Era, which recently opened nationwide, is a continuation of the British television series Downton Abbey and the film Downton Abbey (2019). New Era continues the storylines and deepens the relationships started with the series. While one hopes that New Era will open the door to new stories, it also closes doors on others.

The film walks the line between being a stand-alone film and an extended episode of the original series. Prior knowledge of the series, its characters and their relationships would definitely enhance your enjoyment of the film, but is not necessary. However, coming at it as someone who watched and enjoyed the original series, the film can be very emotional. Not sure someone just watching the film for the first time would have the same experience.

As always, the film swirls around the life of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith). Her past life plays into a mystery inheritance that threatens to shake up the family to its core. Half of the family ventures to the South of France to visit the center of the mystery, a villa on the Riveria bequeathed to her by a former love interest, the Marquis de Montmirail, much to the displeasure of his widow, Madame Montmirail (Nathalie Baye). Along the way, the parentage of Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), comes into question.

One of the several plot points in the film revolves around the filming of a movie at Downton Abbey, one which helps pay for a badly needed new roof. [This mirrors the real-life owners of Highclere Castle, who used the fees from filming the series to help with the upkeep of the house.] The filming comes at the end of the silent era and the storyline gives a nodding reference to Singin’ in the Rain with the beautiful female lead of the film, Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) having the wrong voice for the sound era. Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) comes to the rescue and provides one of the first examples of ADR as she voices the part, saving the film for director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy).

This is only about half of the cast of Downton Abbey: A New Era and each has a story to tell.

There are far too many other storylines and saying too much about them would definitely give too much away. Again, prior knowledge would only enhance the highs and lows you feel as the story unfolds. Even if you don’t have any, the film does a good job of showing you the relationships as they exist.

Those that live upstairs live privileged lives.

The film does a very good job at placing you in a world, a privileged world, nearly 100 years ago. While everything about the styles, attitudes, and cars seem to be very on point, you get the idea that human behavior hasn’t changed all that much. People have always wanted to find love and happiness whether they live upstairs or work downstairs, and they find it wherever they can. And love seems to be all around this film, whether it is love and marriage or love of family and traditions.

The acting, like it was for the series, seems to be spot on as well. There are almost too many characters and actors to list them individually. Suffice to say the director gets the best out of the lot. These are also characters that most of the actors have played for several years. The new supporting cast seem to fit in as well. There doesn’t seem to be an off note throughout. I wouldn't be too surprised if Maggie Smith is nominated during the next awards season as Best Supporting Actress for her performance here.

Julian Fellowes's writing shines as well. The dialogue goes from very touching to very humorous. Sprinkled throughout is the dry sense of humor that has been so prominent throughout the entire run of the series and in the first film. The film treats the lives of the Crawleys and their servants as equally important and one has to marvel at how he manages to weave all of the storylines together.

I can definitely recommend the film to anyone who has watched the Downton Abbey series. I’m not sure if you were unaware of the series that you would be going to the film in the first place on your own. This definitely, and sadly, limits the audience for the film. This is really a finely made movie and even if you’re not familiar with the characters from the series, I think you will enjoy the film. While Downton Abbey: A New Era doesn’t have the flash and bang one associates with summer films, there is something to be said for a well-told story. There are not enough of those. Satisfying, you may find yourself wanting to see what will happen next in the lives of the Crawley family, and that A New Era is, in fact, that.

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