Translating a television show to the silver screen is one thing, but making a follow-up to that adaptation is another. Not only must you plunge further into the cinematic landscape, but you also have to maintain what made the show appealing in the first place. With Downton Abbey: A New Era, the second film in the well-loved Downton Abbey franchise, it’s clear that it wants to provide a great end to many of its iconic characters. And considering the movie and various seasons preceding it, there sure is a lot to live up to. Whether director Simon Curtis and series creator Julian Fellowes are successful at it remains up for discussion.
As far as the set pieces and costumes go, they are as great as ever. It is also good to see how things have come as the characters have grown up from 1912 to 1929. Mary (Michelle Dockery) was an immensely dislikable character when the series first started. Going into this movie, she is still a powerful woman in charge of the Downton estate, but she evokes a greater sense of understanding and empathy than before. Most of the film revolves around two locations, Downton and “a villa in the South of France”. Downton has not aged a day, but it was good to see the core characters expand outside their comfort zone of England.
The plot of Downton does not flow well at all. It’s choppy, and unreliable, feeling more like a TV show versus a film. Despite the fact that the villa is a main feature of the plot, the film doesn’t utilize it effectively. It depicts the villa as a problem due to a wife wanting to contest her late husband’s will, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s declared to be a huge, imminent problem, with nothing ever resulting from it. Instead, we take a wild goose chase down the road of inheritance drama and surface tension. A family member finds they are having a medical issue that could result in their death, and instead of having an emotional moment with their significant other, we get the worst acted scene in the entire movie.
The only ones in Downton Abbey: A New Era with any sort of growth are the ones remaining at Downton. Specifically, Mary, and the main core of the silent film (The Gambler) being made at Downton. Our new characters include Guy Dexter (Dominic West), Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), and Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), the main actors for The Gambler and the director respectively, who have to transition into a more modern age of filmmaking to include talking! The staff at Downton go through the usual shenanigans of the film but run into the age-old problems they face in the series. Barrow (Robert James-Collier) seems to be facing the same problems he always facing, and makes a similar decision that he made previously.
Overall, Downton Abbey: A New Era doesn’t hit the mark for me. It fails to draw in the viewer as the series does. A consult from a couple of script editors would have shown the lack of depth in the plot. The saving grace of the film is the minimal time Dame Maggie Smith is on screen. It’s more likely we’ll see Downton Abbey return to the screen. However, I really hope another set of eyes ends up on the script. It really does need it. – Katie Rentschler
Downton Abbey: A New Era is in theaters now.