In my review of the the first Downton Abbey movie I talked about how most TV programs that switch from small screen to big choose to take the characters off on some trip, but that they couldn’t do that here because the show was so strongly tied to its location. Well now I stand corrected as it seems writer Julian Fellowes will not rest until absolutely every single cliche box has been ticked. Past secrets revealed? Check. Inheritance debates? Check. Fortunes reversed? Check. Fumbling proposals? Check. Main players go off on holiday? Check. Post modern references to this being a movie? Check. (There are others which I will avoid for fear of spoilers but you won’t be surprised.)
Wait, what – post modern references? Yep, because alongside half of the cast sailing off to the French Riviera, the others stay behind while a motion picture is shot on site in Downton Abbey. This leads to knowing comments about the shame of giving a great stately home over to a film crew and ruining the dignity of aristocratic buildings by making them the subject of mainstream entertainment. Something that will ring true to the owners of Highclere Castle, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, as they rake in yet more cash and see a whole new raft of visitors to their home. ‘What’s next?’, says Mr. Carson, ‘Hundreds of people wanting to come and traipse around the building that they saw on the silver screen?’ Imagine!
(I’ve been there twice.)
I’m not sure why Fellowes went for this dual plot; the two never really come together, but the views of the scenic French coast do break up the many many drone shots of the approach to Highclere that happen repeatedly and from every different angle. To be fair the mixed narrative is handled deftly and the editing between scenes and the momentum kept by both elements is actually excellent.
Outside of the film being a 50/50 split between Singin’ in the Rain and Tender is the Night, there are various other plot threads that come and go in fifteen minutes where they’d have been given at least two episodes on the telly. Given the huge ensemble though, everyone does get a decent moment to shine and that isn’t as easy as they’ve made it look.
There are flaws in the movie if you want to find them; a lot of it is more than a little corny, but all of its moments are played well and it is not as silly as its predecessor, not quite. There are also some long established characters who get the end to their arc that they deserve. This is the thing about Downton Abbey: A New Era; it is not meant to stand alone. It is the next (I doubt the last) in a series of stories about some very well loved dramatis personae and most of the audience won’t be coming to it fresh. Even casual fans are going to find something here to love and it is all done with incredible charm and a strong sense of fun. It could have done something more bold and involving but for its massive pre-existing audience it is going to give everything that is expected and exactly what is wanted.
The Ripley Factor:
I am so glad that Lady Edith is working on her magazine again rather than just being a society hostess.
Also, Lady Violet remains the mighty matriarch, Lady Cora is still the picture of stoical dignity and Lady Mary continues to run the estate and all of its affairs with consummate skill and composure, and just the right amount of self doubt.
There’s still very little that challenges how all of them have those titles because of who their husband or father is through.
In terms of the downstairs staff, they don’t get the rebellion against patriarchal convention they had last time but they are all strong with great agency, men and women alike.
I can’t help but wonder what we’d be getting by this stage if Sybil had survived though.