Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Another nice encore

As watching “Downton Abbey: A New Era”, I was reminded again that I liked and enjoyed its numerous main characters more than I thought. Sure, that popular TV drama series preceding it was more or less than a friendly soap drama version of Robert Altman’s great film “Gosford Park” (2001), and I sometimes rolled my eyes for its many convenient plot twists when I watched all of its six seasons before watching the following 2019 film. Nonetheless, mainly thanks to its writer/creator Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the screenplay of “Gosford Park” and won an Oscar for that, the main characters are colorfully human enough to amuse and touch me, and I certainly came to root for them as they often struggled with each own matter of heart and life.

The story is set in 1928, one year after the ending of the 2019 film. As implied around the end of that movie, Tom Branson (Allen Leach) marries Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), and everyone in Downtown Abbey is happy to see him find another good woman to love and trust after losing his first wife, who was the youngest daughter of Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), 7th Earl of Grantham. As many fans of the TV series know, Tom and Robert often clashed with each other due to their sociopolitical differences, but Tom eventually adjusted himself to Robert’s aristocratic world for his baby daughter, and Robert is glad to see that Tom comes to solidifies his position in Robert’s family more via his second marriage. After all, Lucy Smith is the sole heir of Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), who is incidentally one of Robert’s cousins.

Meanwhile, Downton Abbey confronts another change to disrupt its usual daily life. When a movie director approaches for getting the permission to shoot a film at Downton Abbey, Robert is not amused at all for understandable reasons, but his eldest daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery), who has been the de facto head of the family, sees an opportunity for getting more finance for the maintenance of Downtown Abbey. A certain part of Downton Abbey happens to be in the serious need of repair, and, once he sees how serious that is, Robert reluctantly agrees to let those movie people into Downtown Abbey.

And then there comes another news for Robert and his family. It turns out that Robert’s dying mother Violet (Maggie Smith) will inherit a villa located somewhere in Southern France, and everyone wonders what happened between Violet and the dead owner of the villa, a French nobleman who once spent some time with her many years ago. Because it is apparent that they will have to meet and negotiate a bit with that French nobleman’s family members, Robert decides to come to that villa along with his several family members including his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and he is certainly relieved for not having to see Downton Abbey populated with those movie people.

In contrast, almost every servant and maid working in Downton Abbey cannot help but feel excited about those movie people with growing curiosity, and those movie people surely do not disappoint them at all. The two leading performers, Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock) and Guy Dexter (Dominic West), exude their star quality right from their arrival in Downton Abbey, and their director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) is charming enough to draw the attention of Mary, who has felt rather bored and frustrated due to her second husband’s another continuing absence.

The movie has lots of fun with the following filmmaking process, and the most fun comes from when Barber and his crew and cast members suddenly face a big business problem not so from “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). When it turns out that Dalgleish cannot speak that well, Mary finds herself unexpectedly being a part of the solution, and Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle), a former servant who is now a local schoolteacher, becomes an unlikely savior when the screenplay needs a lot more lines than before.

In that villa in Southern France, the mood is rather awkward at first, but Robert and his several family members soon get a bit more relaxed. The son of that dead French nobleman makes it pretty clear from the beginning that he has no qualms about giving the villa to Violet and her family as instructed by his father’s will, so it seems that all they will have to do is enjoying several sunny days of Southern France, but, of course, there comes a little personal issue which troubles Robert a lot.

It is not much a spoiler to tell you that all these and other conflicts in the story will be resolved in one way or another within two hours, but Fellowes’ screenplay does not hurry itself much as simply rolling its many characters here and there for more fun and entertainment. Under the competent direction of director Simon Curtis, the main cast members of the film effortlessly inhabit their respective familiar roles, and their solid ensemble performance keeps things afloat even when the movie trudges a bit.

On the whole, “Downtown Abbey: A New Era” is another nice encore for the fans of the TV drama series, and it did its job as well as intended within its familiar background. Yes, this is basically more or less than a special TV episode, but its production qualities are mostly good enough to watch on big screen, and it is surely something you cannot miss if you enjoyed the TV series and the following 2019 film as I much as I did.

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