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Downton Abbey: A New Era

The newest entry in the Crawley saga is a delightful reunion if narratively stale

Julian Fellowes seems keen to stay in his comfort-zone of upstairs-downstairs dramas. After his great success with Gosford Park (2001) and even more international acclaim with Downton Abbey (2010-2015), the director has been in overdrive, milking his setting and ensemble dramas with the HBO series The Gilded Age (2022-), and his unnecessary yet charming revisits to his Downton Abbey characters with Downton Abbey (2019) and now Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022).

Downton Abbey: A New Era follows the famed Crawley family as they embark on further adventures. One half of the family, led by the always-competent Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), stays at Downton while a film crew led by director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) uses the beloved mansion as a set. Meanwhile, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is off on a quest to the South of France to investigate a villa that his ailing mother the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) inherited.

The film is directed by Simon Curtis, taking over duties from Michael Engler from the previous film. Engler had been able to both don a familiarity to the look of the cinematic Downton while also retooling the visuals for a more cinematic feel (he himself had directed many episodes of the original series). Curtis comes from a string of more by-the-numbers indies, such as My Week with Marylin (2011) and Woman in Gold (2015). Curtis is less focused in finding a visual style than in staying out of the way. This can work to the benefit of viewers focusing on the plot and characters, but it also can lead to rather flat scenes. Simple over-the-shoulders and establishing shots seem to make the extent of Curtis’ visual creativity. I was thus disappointed he didn’t relish and show off the rooms and settings he was in, much like the series and first film did.

Fellowes has clearly been dragged back to do a sequel because of the great financial success of the first one. Downton Abbey the film had been a pleasant reunion of favorite characters, and seemed to wrap up some loose ends from the series rather nicely. Having to make a sequel, however, Fellowes is forced to undo some of his conclusions and drag them out a bit longer over A New Era’s runtime. Such was the case with the character of the Dowager Countess who (SPOILERS for the first Downton Abbey film) seemed to say goodbye to her character as she fell ill at the end of the last film, but is in A New Era from start to finish. There is thus a redundancy of certain arcs, leading to robbed emotion from what should be powerful moments. Likewise, retreading the same theme of the characters of Downton Abbey clashing against the modernity and increasing antiquation of their way of life, is getting old.

A New Era also runs into a similar problem to the first film, where the immense cast of characters proves to unwieldly for a single film. As such, we get supporting characters and subplots that are shoddily worked on, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) being a significantly disappointing one. By having to jump around so much between characters, we also get very little development from any of them. In many ways, this isn’t as much a problem of time as it is of material, Fellowes simply has said everything he wants to say with many of his characters. He thus resorts to soap opera tools of everyone finding a romantic pairing, some sloppy fake-outs and flip-flops of cataclysmic news, and inconsequential “life” decisions. By the end of the film, you find the characters very much in the same position as in the end of the first film. The plot and actual story of Downton Abbey seemed to have barely moved forward at all.

As a result, Downton Abbey: A New Era feels more like a light reunion special rather than a new chapter in the Downton Abbey storyline. This in itself can be a delight, as the wonderful characters we all fell in-love with the first time are a joy to behold. To revisit the world of Downton Abbey and hear the theme song in crescendo as Highclere Castle comes into view will always be a delightful escape. Downton Abbey: A New Era might disappoint viewers who hoped to continue the intriguing and complex story of the Crawley’s, but will delight those who simply wanted to revisit a beloved set of characters.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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