Downton Abbey: A New Era movie review: should we improve society somewhat, or nah?

MaryAnn’s quick take: Steady your heart palpitations: it’s the same old era for the nicest feudal hangover. The delusional reactionary fantasy of wealth and privilege for some, cheerful servitude for others remains intact.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast
I’m “biast” (con): have never seen the show
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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Ooo, so what’s this “new era” coming for the denizens of Downton Abbey, 1920s-Yorkshire’s nicest feudal hangover? I never truly thought it would be the guillotines my reading of the prequel had inspired in my imagination, though a girl’s gotta dream. But it would not be anachronistic to hope for the Great Depression hitting the Earl of Grantham’s interests hard. Or perhaps soak-the-rich taxation has finally come for Downton, forcing them to open the house to *gasp* paying visitors?

Alas, that last is the closest to comeuppance that will descend upon the sprawling Crawley family and their impossibly happy-with-their-station servants. In the mildest sort of meta one could hope for from this franchise, the moving pictures have come to Downton Abbey! Film director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy: The Last Late Night, Hannibal) and stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West: Tomb Raider, Testament of Youth) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Storage 24) are making a glamorous romantic drama and they need a grand house for the shoot. Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith: Sherlock Gnomes, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is appalled at the notion, of course, as is her son the earl, Robert (Hugh Bonneville: Paddington 2, Breathe), but as his daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery: The Gentlemen, Self/less), notes, the roof is leaking and needs fixing. (These movies, and its progenitor TV series, were shot at a place called Highclere Castle, an old pile that rents itself out to fund its own upkeep. It’s open to the public!) And so, with enormous sighs all round, the vulgarity that is cinema descends.

Downton Abbey A New Era Sophie McShera Lesley Nicol
“I was up at 5am this morning just so I could get started on this oyster-and-champagne stew! I do love my job.”

The servants are delighted, naturally: film stars are just more people of unimaginable wealth and privilege for them to fawn over.

Anyway, an escape from the motion-picture depravity — depravity, I tell you — is plopped into Robert’s lap: it seems that his mother has suddenly come into possession of a villa in the south of France, as one does. And so Robert jumps at the excuse of squiring his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern: The Commuter, Woman in Gold), and a gang of other minor Crawleys off to the Med to investigate the mystery of why some Frenchie no one decent has ever even heard of before would have bequeathed Violet a villa.

Downton Abbey A New Era Penelope Wilton Maggie Smith
“I do worry, my dear, that the servants merely love us and don’t actively adore us…”

If your heart was anxiously palpitating at the suggestion that there might be genuine money troubles at Downton Abbey, you can rest easy. Everything is fine. At this moment. Unless a Crawley suddenly comes into possession of a time machine, there will be no escaping the chaos looming in the near future…

But that’s for Downton Abbey 4 or 5, maybe. For now, the delusional reactionary fantasy that life was ever all tennis on the lawn and dressing for dinner for some people, and cheerful servitude for others, with nary a body questioning their place in this proper order of things, remains intact. Even those who have every damn right to question the status quo happily get on with discreetly working around it… so discreetly that you might not even pick up on the fact that that’s what is going on here if you preferred to pretend otherwise. I mean, the “sex references” of the UK rating might be the gentlest of allusions to the fact that a lady, even an extremely rich one, must engage in amorous congress in order to conceive a child. It might also encompass the even more oblique intimation that, ahem, a confirmed bachelor might find a bit of amorous congress himself by taking employment as a valet to another, ahem, confirmed bachelor.

Downton Abbey A New Era Allen Leech Harry Hadden-Paton Tuppence Middleton  Laura Carmichael
“Oh I say, darlings, what a simple super day for indulging our outrageous privilege!“

Of course, if you’ve never seen the show and are not steeped in its soap opera — and honestly, there is no reason to see this movie if you are not — you might not even realize who’s a confirmed bachelor. But as a more general film fan, you might know why everyone keeps talking around the fact that Lady Mary’s husband is off on business or something. (That would be because Matthew Goode, who plays him, has plenty of other options these days.) You might recognize that the direction the movie-shoot plot takes is lifted right outta Singin’ in the Rain. And you might get a little snort out of the extremely mild, if wholly accidental in context, transgression of class boundaries, when a shopkeeper (a French one, natch) mistakes wildly rich Crawley cousin Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Finding Your Feet) and Mr Carson (Jim Carter: The Good Liar, Alice in Wonderland), the former Downton head butler who just can’t seem to stay retired, for a married couple. The joke is that the actors are married in real life. Hey, some more meta!

see also:
Downton Abbey movie review: embarrassment of riches

more films like this:
Gosford Park [Prime US | Prime UK | Netflix UK | Apple TV]
• Singin’ in the Rain [Prime US | Prime UK | HBO Max US | Apple TV]

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Fri, Apr 29, 2022 9:41pm

For now, the delusional reactionary fantasy that life was ever all tennis on the lawn and dressing for dinner for some people, and cheerful servitude for others, with nary a body questioning their place in this proper order of things, remains intact.

What happened to Irish Guy who married into the family? I remember him being a bit of a pro-labor activist in the early seasons. Has he completely sold out and become The Man?

It’s interesting to contrast the continuing frothy goings-on of Downton Abbey with a series like The Gilded Age—from the same creator, surprisingly. In the latter show, the main Rich Guy is portrayed as a loving and fiercely protective family man—but also as a ruthless robber baron who has no qualms about taking cruel actions that inflict real pain on others. The Rich Guy’s Wife is a blatant social climber. They’re New Money trying to get a foothold in the world of the Old, but neither side is shown in a particularly flattering light, as the Old Rich are skewered for their own sclerotic prejudices. Plus, Black people exist (gasp!), and issues of race and class openly affect the story. Overall, I think it has more thematic meat on its bones than Downton, and it seems to deal more frankly with the fraught social tensions of its period. I wonder what you’d think of it if you had the time (heh) to watch.

last edited 6 months ago by Bluejay