***This review contains spoilers***
More than a decade has passed since the beloved television series Downton Abbey (2010-2015) began its story of the Crawley family in 1912. It’s now 1928 per the show’s second sequel Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022).
Written by series creator Julian Fellowes and directed by Simon Curtis, this year’s release picks up where the first film Downton Abbey (2019) left off. But instead of being overburdened with setups for new cast members, the latest chapter offers plenty of payoffs to its central characters.
For starters, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) weds Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) at the top of the film and the couple present their baby before the end credits. In between, audiences can see all of their favorites (Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, Penelope Wilton, etc.) and then some (Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock) as a film company moves into Downton to shoot a silent movie.
This part of the production shamelessly borrows from Singin’ in the Rain (1952) sans the singing and the rain. However, the retro studio does come with a handsome homosexual actor (Dominic West) who offers head butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) a job plus benefits.
An equally happy ending comes to Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who lands a well-paid stint as a screenwriter. He admits his dreams have come true since he can finally afford to propose to his patient love interest Baxter (Raquel Cassidy).
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is also struck by the writing muse as she renews her journalism career during a trip to the South of France. The gorgeous locale provides the type of sweeping landscapes the Downton brand is known for.
Similarly, Carson (Jim Carter) offers the kind of humor fans have come to expect. There’s even a wink to the camera when he’s mistaken for the husband of Lady Bagshaw (played by Carter’s real life wife Imelda Staunton).
Meanwhile, the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and Countess (Elizabeth McGovern) of Grantham briefly touch on a dramatic subplot. But unlike the arcs in Molesley and Barrow’s stories (which have been years in the making), the left field introduction of a problem and rapid resolution feels unearned.
At the core of the story is the passing of the torch from Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith) to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) — a through line that’s been building since the beginning of the saga. In addition to giving the Dowager Countess a well-deserved deathbed scene, the film presents a mature Mary. As a mother of two running a great estate while her husband is away chasing excitement, the Lady proves she’s older and wiser when she graciously refuses the advances of another man.
For the most part, the film keeps things light while continuing the franchise’s theme of persevering amid changing times. But now that the actors have aged, their slightly weathered looks ground the escapist entertainment in a more meaningful way.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is recommended to series fans. It can be rented from Redbox and streamed on BritBox, HBO Max, Spectrum TV, and Prime Video.