Downton Abbey: A New Era is in theatres, and it’s probably safe to say…fans are not okay. The Crawley family enthralled fans for six seasons, and less so for a first movie. However, A New Era is a welcome return to form.
It’s a tribute to everything that made this series so deliciously captivating when it was on the air. With a delightful combination of familiar faces and new characters to shake things up, Downton does what it does best: tells an engaging story about absolutely nothing in particular.
The Crawley family is truly in the middle of a new era, and that was clear from the beginning with Tom (Allen Leech) marrying Lucy (Tuppence Middleton). To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be over Lady Sybil’s (Jessica Brown Findlay) death, and I’m sure I’m not alone. However, Tom has been through so much through this series. While it’s disappointing to see him get away from his Irish Socialist roots, he finally has a chance at happiness. The character deserves that much.
Mary (Michelle Dockery) is appointed the one to lead the Crawleys into the 1920s. While she still lacks an on-screen husband (Matthew Goode was filming The Offer), she’s still the force she’s always been. Poor forlorn 1920s film bro Jack (Hugh Dancy) tries desperately to take on the role. A previous version of the eldest Crawley daughter may have been all over him. Here, though, she is the picture of good judgement. You know what that is? Growth.
Mary is a natural choice to take over a leadership role in this family. Arguably, her character has experienced the longest and most satisfying arc through the series. We’ve seen her go from spoiled brat, to woman-in-love, to competent business manager. If anyone deserves to girl-boss too close to the sun, it’s Mary Crawley.
She even got to include a sweet reference to her deceased on-screen husband, and pay tribute to the fact that Dan Stevens left the show to star in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. It was a nice way to bring Stevens back into the franchise.
The often-intolerable Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is at her absolute best in this movie. Perhaps it’s because the powers-that-be have finally allowed her to delve deeper into her own character and motivations. Sure, her story here is a simple one, writing an article about the English who vacation in the south of France. The simplicity of her story absolutely works in her favor, though. She’s more relatable, more human, than when she’s getting her nose into everyone’s business.
Unfortunately, the Crawley that got short-changed here is matriarch Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Her health scare story served little purpose, other than to send her husband Robert (Hugh Bonneville) squarely over the edge while confronting his own identity crisis. I suppose you can’t set a story about the English aristocracy in the south of France without a lady looking particularly pale looking around forlornly.
Robert’s identity crisis was perhaps unintentionally funny, but with enough depth to make it heartwarming in the end. Seeing him struggle with the revelation that his entire life may have been a lie certainly makes him sympathetic. While all was right in the end, it’s always important for an wealthy, white, cisgender, heterosexual man of the early twentieth century question his place in the world. Still, Bonneville’s performance is heartbreakingly beautiful, and one can’t help but feel for this character deeply.
Movies that make movies about movies run the risk of being self-referential to the point of eliciting endless groans. Not so, with Downton Abbey: A New Era. This movie actually manages to be a poignant and honest look at the transition within the movie industry, from silent films to “talkies”. While there were certainly actors who were able to maintain their careers, for so many, it wasn’t an option.
Relatedly, Laura Haddock absolutely shines as rough-talking silent film star Myrna Dalgleish. She’s completely unsympathetic at first. She’s rude to everyone around her, and makes it a point to be abrasive.
As the movie goes on, however, it’s clear that there are so many more layers to this character. It’s heartbreaking, watching the career she knows and loves so well slip away in the face of changing times. Her story isn’t all doom and gloom, however. There’s definitely hope for this character yet.
While the film crew is at Downton, is Guy Dexter (Dominic West) FINALLY Thomas’ (Robert James-Collier) ticket to happiness? Seriously, you don’t have to like this character. Heck, he’s given pretty much everyone a reason to distrust him, if not despise him outright. But the fact that the show’s sole gay main character is finally being used for something other than endless tragedy is something. Much, much too little, but something.
Of course, the crux of the entire story is the farewell to Violet, the great Maggie Smith. Truly, the Dowager Countess’s death signals the end of an era. Her character is one from previous generations. This felt like a natural transition, to take the Crawley’s into the heart of the Twentieth Century.
It’s a beautiful tribute to a character who’s been the backbone of this show, and an actress who remains a force of nature. The fact that she’s able to maintain her wicked sense of humor right until the end is a testament both to Maggie Smith’s iconic talent, and how well suited she’s been to this role.
Ultimately, Downton Abbey: A New Era was an improvement on the last cinematic entry, and succeeded in setting up the Crawley family to enter a new era. The Downton powers knew exactly what fans wanted from a second Downton movie, and gave it to us in spades. If we are fortunate, this will hopefully not be the last time we see these beloved characters. Rather, it will be the launching point for their brave new beginning.
More Thoughts From Downstairs
- Everyone, get you a friend like Isobel (Penelope Wilton). The perfect balance between ensuring endless messy drama, and sincerity in being there for you when you need it.
- I’m very much in favor of the Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox) situation. I’m even more in favor of the fact that Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Mr. Mason didn’t get married, but moved in together. It seems right that at they’re age, they’re able to go with the flow.
- The actor-ception was played to perfection. Having actors play actors can often end up so cheesy. Not here. These folks know how to rock the period piece costumes. They made it work.
- Poor Mosley (Kevin Doyle) also finally got something to do that makes sense, and he deserves it. Especially after him doing nothing but fangirl over the King and Queen in the first movie, it was a nice change of pace.
- The scenery. My gosh. Absolutely breathtaking. Seriously, Downton could just give me gorgeous drone shots of various European locations, and I wouldn’t even bat an eye if no one ever said a word or appeared on-screen for the two full hours.
- The shade that this movie throws at the French. Iconic, and so very British.
- For the record, I would totally watch The Gambler. Seriously, I’d buy out a nice little theatre and just enjoy the silent movie.
- Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) in domestic bliss. UGH my heart! It’s what they deserve.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is in theatres now.