A wedding and a funeral, and a birth. That beautiful house, never mind the leaky roof. A little sun too! More dry jokes from Maggie Smith. And, oh, the clothes: silks and satins, tulles and tiaras. What can go wrong?
Why, nothing, of course! Would you mess with the “Downton Abbey” formula?
This second Downton feature film is technically called “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” but it could just as well be called “Downton Abbey: really more of the same but a little later,” and that would be totally fine for fans of this endlessly enduring six-season TV series. They flocked to the first movie in 2019, and they will flock to this movie too, which is lighter, funnier, and nothing if not clear on its purpose: to give a loyal audience a good time. After a few years of pandemic life, that would include more real estate porn, more stolen glances and hidden longings among vintage furniture, more exquisite vintage clothing (no, we won’t stop talking about clothes), and some happy endings. And more Maggie! Of course.
To add a swanky bow on top, there’s a visit to Downton from swanky Hollywood and a family outing to the French Riviera. Elegant actors Hugh Dancy and Dominic West bring a bit of romance, and French cinema veteran Nathalie Baye brings the kind of icy haughtiness that only the French can hope to muster (and master).
As for the swath of moviegoers unfamiliar with the show, oh my! – that’s another history. For those who can’t tell their Sybils from their Ediths, or who can’t sketch out a Crawley family tree on the fly, the film makes no real effort to explain the backstory, and with an audience prepared, the creators probably felt they didn’t need to. . (THERE ARE helpful update videos s on YouTube if you really want to do some homework.)
Reliably (if not subtly) written by series creator Julian Fellowes and directed this time by Simon Curtis (fun fact: husband of Elizabeth McGovern, aka the beloved Cora Crawley), the film begins in 1928, nine months after we left her. It begins with a jolt of happiness: the wedding of Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton). Due to its unique origins, this wedding unites aristocrats with servants in celebration, but the most important outfit, truly, is the one worn by Lucy. The vintage veil, the pear and diamond tiara, and that sparkly Juliet cap… yes, we’re looking for a job in the wardrobe department.
The festivities are barely over when the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley (Smith) summons the extended family. It seems that a mysterious Frenchman has bequeathed her a villa in the south of France and has decided to leave it to her great-granddaughter Sybbie de Ella. Frowning, the ever sensible Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) asks Granny if she had considered saying no. “Do I look like she’s turning down a villa in the south of France?” Violet asks. Touché, Dowager Countess.
Ride! It’s the first time we’ve seen the family leave UK shores when Violet’s son Robert (Hugh Bonneville), wife Cora, daughter Edith (Laura Carmichael) and a few others accept an invitation, however complicated, of the mysterious donor’s son. . The villa, near Toulon in real life, is of course spectacular. Maybe the “Downton” location scout job is open? — even if the reception of the donor’s widow (Baye) is too cold for the Côte d’Azur.
So why would a random Frenchman gift Violet a villa? Maybe it wasn’t so random? In any case, it’s a good thing Robert is distracted, because back in Downton, a Hollywood film crew is hanging around the place. You see, handsome director Jack Barber (Dancy) has offered a large sum of money for a month on location, a sum that will help fix that roof, for his latest silent film starring Guy Dexter (Dominic West as the Gable-esque lead). ) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock as a double for Jean Harlow).
It’s fun to watch the movie-within-a-movie unfold, especially as it shocks the star-studded servants, who end up playing a larger role than expected. Also unexpected is the sticking point that arises when the film hits financial snags: silent movies are about to die out and the “talkie” is the next big thing. But Myrna, unfortunately, has a cockney accent that doesn’t work, she only hears her say the words “haute couture”.
As for Violet, unsurprisingly, she’s unimpressed by Hollywood, but she’s always practical. “We got through the war,” she declares. “We can get through this.” However, acting in her films fills her with contempt: “I’d rather make a living in a mine.”
Well, lucky for us, Smith doesn’t work in a mine for a living. At 87 years old, he is still the best reason to keep coming back. In the end, “A New Era” is a misnomer – not much has changed, which may actually be the ultimate gift for “Downton” fans. After a rough couple of years, you could do worse than this, the latest in what may end up being a line of sequels as long as the Crawley bloodline.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era,” a Focus Features release, has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some suggestive references, language, and thematic elements. ” Duration: 125 minutes. two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. The content may not be suitable for children.
Follow AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/JocelynNoveckAP