It doesn’t seem likely, outside of some very passionate fans, that anyone was clamoring for another Downton Abbey film. And yet, it’s unsurprising that we get a sequel in a media landscape that loves betting on a sure thing. There’s absolutely nothing new in Downton Abbey: A New Era, but it is strangely comforting to watch characters you’ve watched for years back on the screen. Unless you’re already a fan of the series, there’s no reason to seek out this film.
As the years progress, the reasons for peering back into the lives of the Crawleys become thinner and thinner. In the first film, it was a convenient royal visit. In this one, the Dowager Countess (the ever-excellent Dame Maggie Smith) discovers that a long-lost fling has died and left her a villa in the south of France. In addition, a film crew, led by director Jack Barber (generically handsome Brit Hugh Dancy), is allowed to film their latest picture at the estate, persuading Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) with a large check that can be used on the upkeep of the house.
And so proceeds the demure antics of the Downton crew. Considering we left the Dowager Countess ill at the end of the last film, she continues to be the best part of the series and the filmmakers rightly place her at its center. The cutting stares and witty remarks are back in full force and provide some much needed comedy to a film that can feel too polite for its own good. All the hits are on parade here. Mary once again finds herself the subject of a handsome man’s affections as Jack Barber charms her while her husband is away (Matthew Goode had scheduling conflicts). We get snippets of all the couples, both upstairs and downstairs, being happy together. Carson (Jim Carter) is as staunchly British as possible as he travels to France with Robert (Hugh Bonneville). Fan favorites Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) get some time to shine in a plot line with the film’s starlet (Laura Haddock). A few fan favorites that remain uncoupled get their own little love stories.
Nothing is ever high stakes at Downton these days, or at least high stakes for very long. There are some heredity and illness scares, but things are nicely wrapped up by the end and status quo is resumed. It’s come a long way since its early days as a television series unafraid to kill off fan favorites and highlight the bad behavior of others. In their “old age”, the crew is settled and happy and, quite frankly, boring. Mary spends more time hugging her sister Edith (Laura Carmichael) than throwing barbs at her.
Still, there’s something innately comforting about how predictable it all is. While much of it evokes eye-rolling, by the last third I found myself just happy to watch so many familiar faces again. It’s impossible to put something exciting together when you’re trying to cram in a moment for every single character, but longtime fans will appreciate each character getting their turn more than an exciting storyline.
If you’re not already a dedicated Downton Abbey fan, this film is not for you. While the film operates well without knowing these character’s backstories, you simply won’t care about it unless you do know the journeys they’ve been on. While the film is absolutely pointless, it’s a treat for fans and an easy paycheck for the enormous cast. And it’s hard to fault something that can bring others joy.