Julian Fellowes’ British historical drama television series, set in the early 20th century, has conquered the hearts of viewers worldwide. Downton Abbey after six seasons — which aired in over 250 territories and set a Guinness World Record for being the most critically well-received show in the world — became a film in 2019 and recently its sequel has seen the light of day: Downton Abbey : A New Era.
This second segment follows up on the first film, which was a big hit at the box office. The return of the the upstairs-downstairs drama reunites the beloved cast as they go on a grand journey to uncover the the Dowager Countess’ inheritance of a villa in the French Riviera, whilst other members of the Crawley family supervise how Hollywood lands at Downton Abbey.
Nestled in the heart of Berkshire, near the market town of Newbury, is Highclere Castle, the mansion belonging to the Carnarvon family that has been the location of the Downton Abbey realm from day one. Here is where we left our protagonists in 1927 and we find them a few years later, facing the turn of a new decade and, as the title itself says, a new era. In addition to all the well-known faces of the series, new actors are added to the film directed by Simon Curtis, like Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock and Dominic West.
Two major events engage all the characters in this new motion picture.
On the one hand we find Lady Violet struggling with a Côte d’Azur summer house, bequeathed to her by a French aristocrat she had met during her youth. The woman decides to leave the property to her niece Sybbie, but the Crawley family has to confront the widow of the deceased Count who does not want to leave the villa to strangers, so most of the British family decides to visit France to solve the situation. In the midst of this Odyssey, mystery arises as to what might have happened between the Dowager Countess and the deceased Count back in the day.
On the other hand, tinseltown invades Downton Abbey: a film production asks, in exchange for a large sum, to be able to use the estate for filming. The director and the entire cast crowd the rooms and corridors of the mansion, causing chaos, mischief, but most of all movie magic. This part is drenched with homages to the history of film, including a unique circumstance that has Lady Mary involved in the making of the picture, that echoes Singing In The Rain. Furthermore there are references to moving pictures that marked the transition from the silent era to talkies, like Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer and Lights of New York. The uplifting trait of this meta-cinematic touch is the way the circus-like industry channels new hopes and reveries democratically: the dream factory offer opportunities to any talent it encounters transcending social status. In fact, various members of the staff at Downton Abbey experience the thrill that the movie industry can provide.
This bifold narrative provides more depth to every single character, that is brilliantly performed by the entire cast, allowing the viewers to get close to them as never before. For Downton Abbey addicts the story could keep going on forever, as one generation succeeds to the next and important historical turns await. We are on the threshold of the Second World War, which could provide abundant storylines for all characters…except for one which might mark the actual end of the saga, but you’ll have to watch Downton Abbey : A New Era to find out.
Final Grade: A