Shot during COVID-19 is the latest installment of a beloved small-screen series that does its best to offset flat diffuseness with warmth of familiarity.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is again populated by a small army led by Dame Maggie Smith, Michelle Mockery, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, and Penelope Wilton.
Director Simon Curtis (husband of McGovern) has plenty to handle from the esteemed returning crib Julian Fellowes (who provided such a tantalizing template for the late Robert Altman in Gosford Park) to let such a gifted ensemble be absorbed in episodic drama sure to entertain its legion of aficionados as ‘talkies’ were entering the picture, so to speak.
In Yorkshire circa 1930 the Countess of Grantham, Smith’s acerbic Violet has been bequeathed a lovely villa in southern France’s Toulon that would make a wonderful summer residence. This, this narrative stand includes her dutiful son Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Bonneville) investigations this luxuriance left from a former suitor in the previous century.
Also, the family’s manor is due for major roof renovations, so Robert’s daughter Mary (Dockery) opportunistically administers to a filmmaker (Hugh Darcy) and his band for a film shoot there. It allows for the Grantham hirelings to be other captivated in the presence of its stars as played by the likes of Dominic West and Laura Haddock.
Romance is in the air in some respects after widower Tom (Allen Leach) tied the knot with Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) as many a vignette unfolds. As mortality is met by not only the aging Violet, but her daughter-in-law Cora (McGovern). Fitting it all into a not that long run-time makes for some less smooth transitioning to let many characters emerge from the fringes to have their moment in the spotlight.
Yet, folks like Lesley Nicol and Thomas-James-Collier might be relegated to the sidelines as a redundancy and lack of development may set in for this often courteous reheating of the upstairs and downstairs (amidst others). The actors are able to latch on to an ebullient appeal from the hauteur and ‘kinema’ as there’s levity from Jim Carter (husband of Imelda Staunton) not dressed for the balmy Riviera environs. Not to mention the pretentious sensitivity from Haddock in an amusing out-of-place turn.
A New Era doesn’t have that inspiring effectually about it, but it can be tasty cinematic comfort food even when Smith’s sardonic wit isn’t at its irascible best. As many try to figure out their place in a strata in their impression on an ever evolving society. Considering the circumstances in doing this last Downton Abbey justice thread likely enough brio to go around in a cute way. Really when the collaboration of Curtis and Fellowes offers a prime, climactic menial morphing that unites aristocracy and entertainment.
Beautifully presented through effective cinematography, that brings the late 1920s at Downton Abbey and Southern France along with style, vintage cars and music from that era to life on the big screen.
The story built around the filming taking place at the Abbey (to help pay repair bills) that has an effect on the full cast of characters. The filming mimics Singing In The Rain and that adds to the underlying comedy flowing through the script.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is a wonderful, warm, calm comforting experience in the history of the Abbey and its occupants.