Downton Abbey fans are no doubt rejoicing in its return to the big screen with the release of Downton Abbey: A New Era.
For those of us who didn’t watch the much-loved television series there’s still plenty to enjoy in the lusciously filmed two-hour movie.
My introduction to Downton Abbey came in 2019 with the release of the first feature length film. A New Era follows on from this.
The film opens in the summer of 1928 when all the family and downstairs staff are attending the family’s stately home for the wedding of Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton).
After the wedding Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) announces she has inherited a villa in the South of France from the late Marquis de Montmirail, which she plans to leave to Branson’s daughter Sybil.
Naturally everyone in the family, especially her son, Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), wants to know why the Marquis, whom they had never heard of, would make such a bequest.
Around the same time Robert receives a phone call from Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), a film director from the British Lion film company, who wants to set his latest silent film, The Gambler, at Downton Abbey.
Robert initially rejects the idea but after some persuasion from his daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the inspection of a very leaky roof, he agrees.
The arrival of the film crew including the movie’s stars – the beautiful but rough around the edges Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) and the suave Guy Dexter (Dominic West) – confirms all Robert’s fears.
However as he, his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), his daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Tom and Lucy along with his former butler Carson (Jim Yates) have already accepted the invitation of the Marquis’ son (Jonathan Zaccäi) to visit the French villa, he only has to deal with them for one night.
The story subsequently follows the adventures of the family in France and joys and challenges faced by those left at home dealing with the ‘movie people’.
In France Robert is trying to work out why the Marquis left the villa to Violet and why the Marquis’ son is so agreeable to the bequest despite the objection of his mother (Nathalie Baye).
Back at home a number of the downstairs staff are dealing with personal issues. The public’s want for `talking’ movies is also creating numerous headaches for the cast and crew of The Gambler.
A New Era allows a number of favourites to update their stories. For those of us unaware of the characters’ histories some of these stories lack context but are pretty easy to pick up.
Fortunately, little background knowledge is needed to understand the challenges facing those filming The Gambler or the intrigue behind the French villa legacy.
As was the case with the first movie one of the joys of The New Era is watching British acting royalty in action. Maggie Smith is again a standout but really all the cast are brilliant in their roles bringing to life a script featuring funny, entertaining and ultimately some sad moments.
The costumes and the locations are other delights. The stately Highclere Castle (the ‘real-life’ Downton Abbey) and the French villa look magnificent on the big screen.
The movie’s opulent feel together with the performances of its stars provides plenty of entertainment for both fans of, and newbies to, Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey: The New Era is now screening in Australian cinemas.
*Photo credit: Ben Blackall / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC
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