#REVIEW: “DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA”
Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
I unabashedly admit that I am a loud and proud bonafide and certifiable Downton Abbey addict. Not knowing what to do with myself during the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, I put in the Blu-ray I owned of Season One of the Series and was almost immediately transfixed. I didn’t binge-watch all six seasons of the Television Show – I devoured it with a passion I never knew existed in me. When the first Feature Film ended with the revelation that the Dowager Countess Violet (the inimitable Maggie Smith) was severely ill, I was crestfallen. Imagine my relief when a sequel was announced, and Dame Smith was going to be around to kick some British butts!
DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA opens the wedding of Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) and once all the familiar faces get their on-camera face time, the orchestral violins get louder, the camera sweeps and there’s the Abbey as the now familiar theme music builds to a climatic flourish. The year is 1929 and the plot immediately thickens. First we learn that the Dowager inherited a villa in the South of France from an old flame with whom she had a romantic week with six decades ago. Too ill and frail to go, the Dowager enlist a coterie of family members – which include her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and his retired butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) – to check out the villa and encourage the widow (played sublimely by French screen legend Nathalie Baye) not to contest the will. Meanwhile a British Film Crew wants to rent the Abbey to helm their latest Silent Movie, “The Gambler.” Money’s tight and the roof is leaking…what’s an aristocrat to do? Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) decides to stay behind and supervise these bohemians, which include the Director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy in a fright wig) and stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West channelling Clark Gable) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock is absolutely intoxicating on screen).
But wait…there’s more!
Guy Dexter cannot stop ogling the gay butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier). The Film’s production is cancelled as a new movie craze, the Talkies, is what the audience wants to see. When they decide to dub what has been already filmed with the Actors’ voices, it is apparent that Myrna’s vocal chops make Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney Eliza Doolittle accent sound posh. Posh-toned Lady Mary saves the day by volunteering to do the task. In the small matter of actually writing a script, footman-turned-teacher Mr. Moseley (Kevin Doyle) steps-in.
DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA can never escape its soap opera conventions and I haven’t even mentioned the other sub-plots without spoilers. If I were to critique this Movie with brutal honesty, it would be easy to say that Director Simon Curtis lacks an original cinematic vision. There are far too many idyllic scenes of picnics on lush green grounds with extras playing cricket in the background or that the inspiration for the scenes filmed on the French Riviera look like they were influenced by picture postcards. The Cast is far too large for most of the many talented Actors to make a lasting impact. That said, DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA remains wildly-entertaining and Academy Award-winning Screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, is supremely gifted in keeping his audience engaged throughout. To paraphrase an old line, Maggie Smith can read the phone book and elicit both tears from laughter and sadness. The fans await her stinging zingers and they each arrive with the precision of an Olympian athlete scoring perfect tens. Hugh Bonneville impeccably encapsulates the ultimate British snob but there are scenes in this Movie where he portrays fear and vulnerability with panache.
Fellowes recently announced that if DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA scores big with movie audiences, he is prepared to turn these cinematic excursions into a Trilogy. As a selfish Downton addict, I beseech all to see this latest adventure of a beloved franchise.
Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada release DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA in theatres Friday, May 20, 2022.
Stars Kevin Doyle and Raquel Cassidy were in Toronto for a Special Advance Screening of the Film. More here.