Film Reviews

“The Modern World Comes To Downton”- Film Review: Downton Abbey: A New Era 

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Three years after the first follow-up movie to Julian Fellows’ award-winning period drama series, Downton Abbey, the acclaimed writer has come out with another one: Downton Abbey: A New Era. Set on the brink of the 1930s, the sequel returns viewers to the beloved characters of upstairs and downstairs. By revisiting old plot lines, and opening up new ones, Downton Abbey: A New Era comes with a promise of satisfaction for viewers who have followed the series all the way from its commencement in 2010. Downton fan, Hannah Walton-Hughes, reviews. 

After what felt like a disappointing first sequel, I tried not to get my hopes up too high for A New Era. It is very unusual that follow-up films are ever anywhere near as wonderful as the original television series, and so I walked into the cinema expecting a satisfying film at best. Whilst my previous statement may not have been disproved, this film is such a massive improvement from the last one. I loved every minute of it. It is a rarity that (almost) everything you have ever hoped to happen in a TV series happens, but A New Era proved to me that it can be done. 

It is lovely to see Samantha Bond return to her role as the scheming but caring Rosamund Painswick

Given how the last film ended, I did not expect to see the incredible Maggie Smith reprise her role as the ever dry-witted, snobbish, but intensely likeable Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley. The main plot of the film centres around a villa in the South of France, which Violet has been mysteriously left by a man she met many years ago, before her two children, Robert and Rosamund, were born.

I would just like to comment it is lovely to see Samantha Bond return to her role as the scheming but caring Rosamund Painswick, having been absent from the last film. A whole air of uncertainty and mystery surrounds this film, and viewers are constantly kept guessing about the reason for the bequeathment of the Villa Rocabella. 

The second storyline is the filming of a black and white silent movie at the very house of Downton. Movie stars and producers flock to the estate; particularly memorable is the main actress, Mryna Dalgleis (played by Laura Haddock), whose resting poker face, and hilarious rudeness, steal the screen of both the fictional film, and that of the movie overall.

The implied attraction between Lady Mary and the director, Jack Barber, is one aspect of the film of which I am not so fond; he bears a striking resemblance, characteristically, to Mary’s current husband, Henry Talbot, who is conveniently absent from this film. As a result, Mary’s line about Jack reminding her of her first husband, Matthew, fell rather flat. 

One of the most striking aspects of this film is the elaborate costumes. In particular, the beautiful wedding dress of Lucy (now) Branson, and the ultra-violet and sparkling dresses that Lady Mary sports, left me very envious! It is a lovely touch that Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) seems to resemble the late Lady Sybil so much; Tom has finally found somebody kind, and every bit as moral, as his first wife.  

As ever with Downton, it is the small details that really added to the authenticity of the time period. From the live orchestra playing at the black and white movie theatre, to the fascinatingly traditional methods of film making, and the jazzy dance scene at the France villa, the film really transported me to another time. 

This is the most humorous Downton yet, with raunchy humour from Miss Dalgleish, and classic one-liners from the Dowager Countess (‘Do I look like the kind of person to turn down a villa, in the South of France?’). The whole introduction of a film set into the house, lends itself to hilarious moments of the servants getting in the background of a scene by accident! Even simply the facial expressions of the Dowager and Mrs. Crawley (Penelope Wilton), as they watch the film unfold, are priceless.

Characters such as Daisy (Sophie McShera) really come into their own, and have obviously matured over the years

There is a perfect combination of new developments and bittersweet moments dotted throughout this film. Characters such as Daisy (Sophie McShera) really come into their own, and have obviously matured over the years, and, in particular, we get to see the Dowager’s maid, Miss Denker, as a significantly deeper character, who has softened over the years, and really come to care for her Lady Sybbie. Marigold, George and Caroline have grown up too, and the scenes of the children playing together on the lawn are comforting. 

Nevertheless, the soaring theme music that the viewers hear as the house of Downton first comes into view, and the time the camera takes on the face of each familiar character, both at the ceremony that starts the film, and the one that ends it (I will not give any more away than that), reminds us that we have come ‘home’ to Downton Abbey.

Plus, the lovely domestic moments between Anna and Mr Bates, Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes, and indeed Daisy and Andy, create a perfect emotional touch. And the relationship between the two main sisters, Mary and Edith, has clearly warmed over the years; they are significantly more affectionate to one another than we have ever seen before. 

The scenes at the villa are also extremely memorable. Although completely different from the grand house of Downton, the villa is every bit as stunning, with its marble architecture, and sparkling blue sea just nearby. I must admit that I did find it funny that half of the cast displayed a very obvious tan, even before the characters had set sail for France! Could they not have covered that with makeup, just to increase the authenticity? 

Closure is the best way to describe A New Era

This film evoked a wide range of emotions for me: laughter, tears, nostalgia and intrigue. Even though the Dowager does not get a large amount of screen time, her presence seems to dominate every scene, for reasons I won’t reveal here. Closure is the best way to describe A New Era; so many beloved characters’ storylines are wrapped up in all the right ways.

The film really seems to come full circle. It is also fairly stand-alone from the first film, so you can see it without any prior knowledge of the first one. I would recommend that you have seen the original series, but even if you haven’t, A New Era can still be enjoyed, after a quick Google of the plot and characters!  

I would highly recommend Downton Abbey: A New Era. I left the cinema feeling satisfied and happy; even if Fellows decides against making another film, I feel that there is more than enough closure to end this phenomenal period drama. 

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @downtonabbey_official via No changes were made to these images.

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