DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA – Review by Martha K Baker
The second feature-length film of the multi-years’ serial called Downton Abbey is in the can, and it’s everything that a fan would like. Plus the kitchen sink tucked in that can. Even the hardiest of fan of the British television series knew that the show was a soap opera, but satisfying soap and swell opera.
This film, picking up where the 2019 version ended, brings all the characters on the screen, both upstairs, downstairs, and in milady’s chambers. The Crawley family is headed by the Dowager Countess, she of the sharp tongue. Below her on the family tree are Lord and Lady Grantham and their children, Mary and Edith, and their spouses, plus some cousins and shirt-tail relatives. The Downton staff is just as varied and married. Well, most are.
They have all been through a lot, and the new era offers just as many challenges. The prospect of another war and a depression. A leaky roof. Hetero- v. homosexuality. A French villa no one knew about from a paramour no one knew about. Lord Grantham’s lineage. Who inherits what? Plus a moving picture filmed on the premises — just as Downton is, which presents the running theme of silent films vs. “talkies.”
No need for a spoiler alert, for Downton fans want what they want: every Jack with his Jill.
The fans can slobber over the costumes, the draperies, appointments, proposals, and vehicles. Fine camera work bounces between the blue of France and the brown of England. To enjoy those, fans have to tolerate some rather high-schoolish delivery of lines — now you, then her, and back to you. Also, the make-up is pretty dreadful (Lord Grantham never looked so orange), and the hair-dos depend on barrettes.
The script is not Julian Fellows’ best work, mainly because he had so many ends to tie up in the end and, in the beginning, so much backlog to rehearse. The directing is not Simon Curtis’ best work, either, again too much material to seam together. Curtis is married to Elizabeth McGovern, who continues to turn in believable work as Lady Cora. Jim Carter as the traditional butler gets to play next to his own wife, Imelda Staunton. Michelle Dockery takes good care of Mary, and Dame Maggie Smith represents formidable mothers everywhere.
Downton Abbey may not be great art, but it is soapy enough to clean up.