"I will say goodnight... and leave you to discuss my mysterious past," teases Dame Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess in an early scene of Downton Abbey: A New Era.


This mysterious past proves to be the peak of intrigue in this sequel to the successful previous cinematic outing for Julian Fellowes' costume drama series, which despite suggesting the potential for some solid melodrama sadly leaves this to swiftly dissipate.

Undermining the touching and understated final scene of the first film between the Dowager Countess and granddaughter/protégée Lady Mary Talbot (an ever-charismatic Michelle Dockery), an ailing Violet Crawley returns to offer the springboard for some of her family members to make a sunny jaunt down to the French Riviera after she inherits a luxury villa there.

Meanwhile, as Downton itself begins to fall into disrepair, Lady Mary is approached by dashing film director Jack Barber (the always-charming Hugh Dancy) to allow a film crew to use the estate as the backdrop to his new movie.

In spite of some protest and uncertainty from her father Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Mary accepts and soon both the upstairs and downstairs of the house find Downton invaded by glamorous stars of the silver screen.

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Director Simon Curtis certainly feels most at home with the amusing scenes at Downton as opposed to offering the glitz and the glamour of the Riviera, but the abrupt editing between conversations to capture some glorious vistas feels a little disorienting at times.

Cutting away from walks through the grounds of the real-life Highclere Castle to some aerial shots of the house and back to a shot on the grass of the gardens all feels a bit unnecessarily scatter-brained for the sake of "sumptuousness".

Yet, the grand location, the costumes, the score, and the pithy one-liners are all there in spades - enough to satisfy long-time fans of the series and entertain newcomers.

Laura Haddock stars as Myrna Dalgleish and Michael Fox as Andy. Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features

Of the two central storylines, the film crew's arrival at Downton offers the chief amount of entertainment and social commentary that Downton has become known for.

The new addition to the cast to make the biggest impact has to be the exceptionally funny Laura Haddock as the diva goddess of the silver screen Myrna Dalgleish - who does not quite fit what the servants had in mind.

Despite some of this story feeling like it was lifted wholesale from Singin' in the Rain (1952), Fellowes utilises everyone in the house during this storyline to a sweet and amusing degree and touchingly depicts the shift in cinema from silent movies to talking pictures.

Sadly, despite some pretty - but inconsequential - shots of the Crawleys on yachts in the Riviera, a great deal of this plot feels underutilised, with the potential for genuinely captivating glamour and drama being teased but wasted.

The self-proclaimed "journalist" Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) speaks of the wild and glamorous types that frequent the areas visited in the film but this is about as much insight into this on offer.

melda Staunton stars as Lady Bagshaw, Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Branson, Allen Leech as Tom Branson, Hugh Bonneville as Robert Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Grantham, Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Nathalie Baye as Mme Montmirail and Jonathan Zaccäi as M Montmirail in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release.
The cast of Downton Abbey: A New Era. Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

In these scenes, French acting legend Nathalie Baye is also wasted in the role of a potential antagonist, one who you also wish had perhaps gotten to spar with the Dowager Countess herself.

Meanwhile, Fellowes once again juggles various sub-plots following the incredibly large ensemble of aristocrats and their staff to varying degrees of success.

Each of the characters gets their moment to shine - perhaps apart from series regular Brendan Coyle as Mr Bates who gets literally nothing to do here - but some of their stories are introduced and resolved in a matter of a couple of scenes.

Of the returning cast, a gentle but moving Elizabeth McGovern truly shines in a potentially heartbreaking story for Lady Grantham, while Penelope Wilton is forever warm and comforting as Isobel who spends some time with her old sparring partner, the Dowager Countess.

Penelope Wilton stars as Isobel Merton and Maggie Smith as Violet Grantham in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era, a Focus Features release.
Penelope Wilton stars as Isobel Merton and Maggie Smith as Violet Grantham in Downton Abbey: A New Era. Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

Unsurprisingly, Dame Maggie Smith is also a true standout here as Violet Crawley puts her affairs in order, offering more laughs, tears and food for thought as her iconic character.

Similarly to its predecessor, A New Era lacks the peril and soapy drama of the superior first three seasons of the television series and becomes somewhat bogged down in aesthetics and cosy antics.

However, the final scenes come through with some genuine pathos that will really make the viewer wonder what a (likely inevitable) third chapter will look like.

Either way, Downton's devotees are unlikely to miss it.

Downton Abbey: A New Era is released in UK cinemas on Friday 29th April 2022. For more, check out our dedicated Movies page or our full TV Guide.


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