Downton Abbey: A New Era Review – The historical fuzz and unashamed melodrama make a welcome return
For those who yearn for social order and a world where the rich have manners and servants know their place, Julian Fellowes is the gift that keeps on giving. On the TV show Downton Abbey, which ran from 2011 to 2016, Mr Fellowes deftly juggled a plethora of storylines that explored the twisted lives of subordinates and toffs in a 1920s country house in Yorkshire, this shameless melodrama set by moments of insight and wit was made digestible.
The series was a hit, especially in the US, where the appetite for all things snooty and British seems never-ending. This year the Americans got their own Fellowes drama, The Gilded Agea similarly fruity affair that follows a 19th-century industrialist’s dogged attempts to climb the sleazy pole of Manhattan society while being repelled from above by angry Astors.
Downton, however, is the drama Mr Fellowes will always be most closely associated with, and a feature film released in 2019 did brisk business. Made for only $20 million Downton Abbey grossed almost $200 million, and the creators of this sequel will confidently expect a similar result.
At the end of the first movie Downton‘s resident battle axe, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), announced that she was about to die. In Downton Abbey: A New Erashe takes her own sweet time to fulfill that promise, meanwhile throwing a wrench at the works.
As a young woman, the countess was amorous: despatches reported an involvement with a Russian count, and now it turns out that she had a dear admirer in southern France. He has died leaving her his stunning villa on the Cotes d’Azur: the man’s widow (Nathalie Baye) is not too pleased, but her son (Jonathan Zaccai) is more sensible and invites Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) a ) to inspect the place.
When they get there, Robert visibly staggers when his host suggests they could be half brothers. The implications are dire: Lord Grantham may actually be French.
Meanwhile, a film studio in Blighty has approached the family about the possibility of using Downton as a film location. Veteran butler Carson (Jim Carter) is horrified at the prospect and views all actors as drunk and damned who must not be allowed near the holy mansion. But Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) is a pragmatist, cut from the same cloth as her grandmother, the Dowager Countess. Downton’s roof is leaking, a cash injection is urgently needed: The filmmakers are allowed to continue.
The crew arrive, led by dashing director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), though Downton’s servants are far more interested in the film’s glamorous stars, Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock). But it’s 1929 The jazz singer has shattered the cozy certainties of the Quiet Age, and midway through production, Jack realizes they need to turn their image into a talkie. The only problem is that Myrna speaks like a Billingsgate fishmonger and someone needs to dub her voice.
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It’s all very silly, and Simon Curtis’ film flits like a tipsy butterfly between these two storylines, landing on different characters as they amiably jostle for the camera’s attention. A weapon Downton has always had decent actors in his arsenal, and Sophie McShera once again steals the show as irrepressible kitchen maid Daisy, who now decides to help her lonely father-in-law.
Hugh Bonneville reprises with ease a role that must now seem like old shoe to him: his Earl of Grantham is an old stick in the mud who loves to hunt and shoot, casting his eyes to the heavens as the final quarrel erupts among his excitable servants . Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary has new authority in this film and some decent lines too, although most of the best jokes are thrown at Maggie Smith, who knows exactly what to make of them.
Of course, beneath all this historical chatter there is something morally reprehensible and reactionary. Working under the stairs in an English country house in the 1920s was probably no fun, and the film’s opening credits should carry this warning: Marxists might find the following offensive.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/movie-reviews/downton-abbey-a-new-era-review-the-period-fluff-and-shameless-melodrama-makes-a-welcome-return-41588596.html Downton Abbey: A New Era Review – The historical fuzz and unashamed melodrama make a welcome return