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Downton Abbey: A New Era ★★★



Directed: Simon Curtis

Cast: Maggie Smith, Tuppence Middleton, Allen Leech, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Matthew Goode,

Released: April 29, 2022 (UK)

Given that it felt ludicrous for Maggie Smith herself to continue to reprise the role of the Dowager Countess back in 2015, it’s somewhat of a surprise to see the cinematic continuation of the franchise 12 years after its creation. Even so, a return to Downton proves to be as solid as it ever was in the face of a storyline continually spiralling into multiverse-style madness. Its star-studded cast remains sturdy and buxom, while the action of Downton Abbey: A New Era sees the action taking a turn for the continental.

The Granthams and Crawleys are back, steaming full-speed ahead into the dawn of the 1930s. While Violet’s (Maggie Smith) mysterious past comes back to haunt her in form of a villa on the French Riviera, the magic of moving pictures arrives at Downton, overseen by Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). With family pasts, health scares and obnoxious movie stars, the residents and staff are presented with drama in abundance. 

The great thing about Downton Abbey is that its cosy, levels of comfort are extremely reliable. Even in the film’s opening moments, the return of its familiar cast feels like a warm embrace from an old friend. Although she may feel past her sell-by date, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess continues to deliver the badass zingers she’s well known for. Her sparring partner Lady Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), has a sadly minimal appearance, though the rest of Downton’s impeccable ensemble have yet to lose their touch. Newcomers Laura Haddock, Dominic West and Hugh Dancy only elevate the proceedings as the director and stars of a silent picture, spearheading the comedic effect while leaving the more sombre moments to our faithful friends.

Credit: Ben Blackall / ©2022 Focus Features LLC

What’s most surprising is how genuinely funny Downton Abbey: A New Era is. No one is laughing out of forceful pity but instead meeting the nuggets of one-liner gold halfway. For a narrative arc that could be perceived as tired — and in some ways, it is — there never fails to be a wealth of material in which to pack light entertainment and humour. It’s possible that the blend of traditional 1900s regalia and 1930s culture brings a sense of fresh air to proceedings, yet the heartbeat of the Abbey remains incredibly forward-thinking. 

It’s quite apparent that Downton will never be groundbreaking cinema. While many other mainstream films look to make bold moves and even bolder cinematography to compete with the likes of the MCU, Downton Abbey: A New Era is content to operate inside the box. This in itself is refreshing, akin to a visual palette cleanser for moments of overload. Audiences never asked too much of themselves — as asset integral to the Downton charm. 

Bring your mums, bring your nans — Downton Abbey is back and on par with any of its original episodes. Though it’s far from a challenging or particularly riveting watch, the level of contentment Downton Abbey: A New Era provides is in itself enormous, as well as a necessary antidote to the cinematic framework of intense VFX. It’s a feat to be able to say a film’s sequel works as well as its TV counterpart 12 years prior, and perhaps Downton is the only name worthy of rising to the challenge. 

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