It seems like it would be impossible to top the extremely beloved long-running Downton Abbey series and the movie that followed, but creator Julian Fellowes has done it. Not only has he included every one of the characters that fans have grown to love, but in Downton Abbey: A New Era, set in 1928, he's given them two storylines that include adventure, intrigue, mystery and suspense.
A welcome addition to the cast is Hugh Dancy in the role of a movie director who wants to shoot his latest silent film at Downton. Mary (Michelle Dockery) reluctantly agrees, because the upkeep of running a castle is costly, and the amount offered will cover the many repairs Downton needs. Although her father Robert (Hugh Bonneville) doesn't like the thought of film people traipsing around the castle, he agrees that the money would be beneficial. However, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) is outraged and if it were up to him, he wouldn't allow it. If you remember, Carson doesn't work at Downton anymore, but his wife (Phyllis Logan) is afraid her life will be made miserable as this is going on, so she convinces Mary that Carson should go to France with Robert.
That leads us to the other plot. Violet (Maggie Smith) has received a letter from the lawyer of an old admirer she knew long ago in France. He has passed away, leaving her a villa in the South of France. She's been invited by the man's son to visit, so she asks Robert, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael), Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), Rosamund (Samantha Bond), Tom (Allen Leech) and his new bride Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), as well as Lucy's mother Maud (Imelda Staunton) to go on her behalf.
Needless to say, the silent film runs into a myriad of problems during shooting and Mary finds herself getting more involved with the production than she'd planned, while the folks in France uncover a mystery that becomes increasingly upsetting to Robert.
If you haven't seen the series and first movie, it may be difficult to keep all these characters straight, especially their relationships to each other. It took me a moment at times to remember who certain people were, especially characters who were introduced in the first movie or later in the series, even though I've seen all the episodes and the first movie more than once. Also, sometime between the first and second movie, Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox) were married!
I absolutely love that everyone had a distinct storyline. Barrow (Robert James-Collier) has settled into the role of butler very well (remember how much trouble he caused in the early seasons?), but he's a little subdued and melancholy here. He doesn't really mix with the other downstairs staff, who are thrilled that film stars will be coming to Downton, partly because he realizes the frightening possibility that he may never find love -- that all he'll ever be in life is a butler. Cora has a health scare, Robert has a different kind of scare, and Edith decides to return to writing part-time.
Kevin Doyle as Mr. Molesley has a storyline that will leave his fans very satisfied, and he garnered many laughs as Molesley manages to insert himself into the film's production. I was happy to see that Denker (Sue Johnston), Isobel's former maid (who was in the series but not in the first movie), now works at Downton, hilariously disapproving of everything and everyone.
Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who is one of my favorite characters, is featured along with her husband, Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), although she doesn't get as many funny lines as she has had in past projects. But she is key in the storyline about Violet, which was gratifying. Maggie Smith as Violet gets so many hilarious lines (the audience was roaring with laughter every time she uttered another quip) that I was wondering which of these would become a catchphrase to equal "What is a weekend?" The children -- Sybil and Tom's daughter Sybbie (Fifi Hart); Mary and Matthew's son George (Oliver and Zac Barton); Edith's daughter Marigold (Eva and Karina Samms); and Caroline (Bibi and Olive Burr), Mary's daughter (who is the spitting image of Mary) with her second husband, Henry Talbot, were all included and although Caroline was a new character, the other children are the original actors -- all of whom were featured in the series and the first movie.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is the perfect length at 2 hours and 4 minutes and had this Downton Abbey fan smiling from the moment it began with Tom's wedding to Lucy. I was even more thrilled when we got our first look in the film at beautiful Highclere Castle, which stands in as Downton Abbey (another of my favorite characters. I know, it's a building, but it's a breathtaking, gorgeous one and it's like seeing an old friend when it arrives onscreen).
Downton fans are going to want to see this movie more than once. If you haven't seen the series or the first movie, there's still much to enjoy in this film, and you'll probably want to get caught up by watching the earlier projects after seeing it to find out more about all these incredible and complex characters -- and their relationships to each other. ~Alexandra Heilbron
5 out of 5 stars.
Comment below if you're a fan of Downton Abbey and let us know if you're going to see Downton Abbey: A New Era -- or if you've already seen it, what you thought of it. Also tell us who's your favorite character and what path would you like to see them go on in this movie or in a future plot?
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