"Downton Abbey: A New Era" stars Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, and Phyllis Logan. Released on May 20, 2022, the film has the Crawley family discovering a secret from one of their members.
The film was directed by Simon Curtis, who also directed films such as "My Summer with Des", "Woman in Gold", "Goodbye Christopher Robin", and "The Art of Racing in the Rain". It is the sequel to the 2019 film "Downton Abbey", which is based on the television series of the same name created by Julian Fellowes. There comes a time when you want to watch something relaxing and comforting amid the season's effects-driven blockbusters, animated antics, and spooky shenanigans. Fortunately, that time is now. Three years ago, the iconic historical drama series "Downton Abbey" made a royal comeback with a theatrical adaptation that continues where the show left off. It garnered positive reviews and grossed over $190 million worldwide, proving that there's still an audience for this fancy classical show. As a result, a sequel was announced two years later, with the cast and crew returning, except the first film's director Michael Engler. Thus, we have a new era that reunites longtime fans with the show's beloved aristocratic characters. For those who are aware, I surprisingly managed to watch the first "Downton Abbey" movie with my grandmother, which you can read on my "2019 Reviews" page. As someone who hasn't watched the popular drama series, I somehow enjoyed it for its cast and production designs. Unfortunately, its subplots and two-hour runtime may make the movie challenging for newcomers to sit through. On the bright side, my grandmother enjoyed it more than I did, mainly because she watched "Downton Abbey" in her spare time. Because of my experience with the film, I was prepared to give this sequel a shot, which looked like it may be a bit better than its predecessor. But, of course, I couldn't go through it without my grandmother because she's still better at this than I am. With that in mind, let's dive back into the world of "Downton Abbey" and see if this is another worthy continuation of the series.
The story once again centers on the Crawley family who resides in Downton. The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley (Smith), has informed the family that she received a villa left by the deceased Marquis de Montmirail, whom she met long ago. They are then invited to visit the villa in France by the new Marquis. While the first half of the family, including Robert Crawley (Bonneville), set out on a trip to France, the second half, led by Lady Mary Talbot (Dockery), stayed behind to deal with a film production crew filming their movie in Downton.
Like the first film, "A New Era" has multiple subplots interconnected into a single narrative. One of them has Robert and the gang discovering Violet's past relationship and ailing condition. The other is Lady Mary and the servants experiencing the art of filmmaking from director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) and the actors. While its predecessor isn't without a few charming moments, its ability to juggle its subplots with a low-stakes storyline falls short of being anything more than just a series of aimless conversations. Plus, my lack of experience with the source material caused me to enjoy it less than everyone else. Luckily, the sequel focused more on its interesting elements than the 2019 film, which helped make my experience a bit more comforting.
It's no secret that "A New Era" offers more of the same as you would expect from a "Downton Abbey" movie. It's a real-life scenario with characters engaging in conversations about a particular topic, mainly their perspectives on a historical event. Additionally, it has a relaxing tone that'll make people feel like they're visiting a family member without any intense drama or big-budget action. "A New Era" is the type of movie you'd watch if you're tired of being bombarded with massive action blockbusters, obnoxious kid cartoons, and even the real world. In other words, it's an unwinding vacation without actually going on a vacation. I knew exactly what to expect regarding its tone, thanks to my experience with "Downton Abbey", and it efficiently managed to meet my expectations. I would even say I liked "A New Era" a bit more than its predecessor, even though it still has some issues that could turn away plenty of newcomers.
One of the elements that made "Downton Abbey" a household name was its concept. The historical events through the eyes of the aristocratic family and their domestic servants reflect on how people would react to them during those timeframes. While "A New Era" lacks a significant part in history for the family to talk about, it does feature a specific evolution in the world of filmmaking. As someone who loves watching movies, I thought the subplot involving a movie shoot was the most entertaining part of the film. It represents the transition from silent movies to talkies, which heavily affected the production of Jack's project. The plot involving a trip to France was also decent, but the film shoot in Downton was the only part that made my visit worthwhile regarding the humorous interactions. I also want to point out that the film shoot scenario should've been the main plot of the first movie.
The main cast from the series and movie returned to reprise their roles in the sequel, such as Bonneville as Robert and Maggie Smith as Violet. As usual, they provided plenty of charm and heart to their likable characters. If you enjoyed the actors in the previous installments, you'd be pleased to see their chemistry shine once more onscreen. It's hard to imagine someone else portraying these characters, and Julian Fellowes (the creator of the series) continues to understand this. The new members of the cast also did pretty well with their performances, including Nathalie Baye as Madame Montmirail and Laura Haddock as Myrna Dalgleish, the actress in Jack's movie.
As for its flaws, the film does run the risk of overstaying its welcome. Like the first movie, "A New Era" clocks in a bit over two hours, which doesn't seem bad at first. However, when taking its low-stakes story and pacing into account, it gradually becomes a drawn-out chore that features people talking about stuff and nothing else. Thankfully, the film shoot subplot and the cast were the only elements that kept me from leaving Downton earlier than expected. There's also this one scene that's supposed to invoke plenty of tears from the show's followers. Unfortunately, since I didn't watch the show, it didn't affect me as much as its fans.
Overall, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is another lovely visit to the Crawley residence that contains the same qualities that made Julian Fellowes's award-winning series a delightful success. However, it also has some familiar issues that might prevent some newcomers from attending the experience. Despite its runtime and tension-free environment, the sequel is a slight improvement over its predecessor in my eyes due to its pleasant cast and condensed yet heartfelt plot. If you're a major fan of the "Downton Abbey" series and enjoyed its first theatrical event, then "A New Era" is your cup of tea.