Downton Abbey: A New Era is directed by Simon Curtis and written by the creator of the show, which aired on PBS in the US, Julian Fellowes. Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, and Maggie Smith return to this British drama of manners, and the plot of this film, the second big screen entry of the franchise, centers on a film crew coming to Downton. Meanwhile, Lady Grantham (Smith) receives a villa in the south of France, which sparks rumors about her past.
While Downton Abbey: A New Era offers nothing new for fans of the franchise, they will nevertheless be quite pleased to return to this stately drama with glorious production design by Donal Woods and adept cinematography by Andrew Dunn. Everything that is well-known and celebrated about the series is highlighted in the film. The question is whether the film has much to offer those who are not already fans of this franchise; I saw the first movie, Downton Abbey (2019), but I never watched the show.
Throughout Downton Abbey: A New Era, I found many of the conflicts to be relatively low-stakes. There’s a conflict between Lady Mary (Dockery) and a new character, Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), who is the director of the film being shot at Downton, that I found to be predictable, and the A-plot involving the villa doesn’t take on any profound significance until very late in the film’s second act.
Thematically, though, this film has an interesting take. Downton Abbey the franchise is all about upstairs/downstairs drama with obvious class separations under the microscope. What Downton Abbey: A New Era offers is an indication that class mobility, and even freedom for a particular gay character, is afforded to the lower classes but not the upper classes. Whether reality reflects that thesis is a different question, but seeing three different lower class characters improve their lots in life by the film’s end was the most compelling element of the film and seemed to indeed bring Downton Abbey to a new era.
Ultimately, I recommend Downton Abbey: A New Era, but only at three stars. I think that it’s good for fans of the franchise and even a few new entrants as well.