Review of “Downton Abbey: A New Era”: it’s time to say goodbye, but not to everyone

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LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) — Downton Abbey: A New Era ends with a wedding and a funeral. In between, a lot happens: children are born and paternity is questioned, long-smoldering romances are struck up and new ones begin to blossom; The tour sends part of the family to France while the film crew diverts the rest home. All of this adds up to far more than viewers of the standalone 2019 Downton Abbey feature would have expected, if only because the previous film was clearly not interested in starting something new.

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That’s the trouble with television, at least from a film critic’s point of view. Movies, by their very nature, are story-obsessed — story-driven, conflict-driven engines designed to achieve some sort of neat resolution within two hours or so. On the other hand, on television, once the world of the small screen is established, it is designed to stay open episode to episode and season to season, obliging audiences to tune in to updates while they remain on the air before being unceremoniously canceled without closing. .

As ceremonial as such spin-offs are, the first Downton Abbey film served as a kind of fan service code that managed to give a neat bow and tassels to many of the characters and intrigue that have been sown over the six seasons of the British series. . It was all about closure, and now, with New Age, creator and screenwriter Julian Fellows is devoting even more energy to settling backlogs, though this time he’s offering something more compelling than a royal visit to draw us in.

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We are far from the wonderfully lived-in cacophony of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, the stunning two-story drama that won Fellowes an Oscar, making him a resident expert on this aristocratic milieu. Franchise newcomer director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) can handle the drama, but prefers the starched aesthetic of Masterpiece Theatre. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Downton Abbey is based in part on escaping from watching how the upper class live, but also on the satisfaction of knowing that even they have to contend with rude relatives and leaky roofs.

At the beginning of the film, Violet Crowley (Maggie Smith) – everyone’s favorite character, Lady Grantham, with a spiky tongue and stiletto wit – announces that she has inherited a villa in the south of France, given to her by an old love and now contested. his widow (French legend Nathalie Baie). To sort out the matter, Violet sends her son Richard (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), granddaughter Edith (Laura Carmichael) and several others, including Carson’s (Jim Carter) staunch old habits former butler.

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While the party is on the Continent, Mary (Michelle Dockery) accepts British Lion’s request to shoot a film at Downton Abbey and solidifies her role as the family’s new matriarch by managing the project. Richard wants nothing to do with a vulgar ordeal. “They can’t expect us to deal with movie people,” he drawls, saying “kinema” with all the antipathy of someone who’s never tried anything as banal as a movie. And yet, accepting the offer would not only bring in lavish money – enough to refurbish the aging castle – but would also provide all the spectacle needed for yet another big-screen reunion. (These full-length sequels play like old-fashioned holiday telecasts, presenting banal, conceptual situations that almost the entire cast can get into, with only more drone shots at magic hour.)

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It’s a smart idea to bring vintage lights and hand-operated cameras into what is actually a big big movie set, transformed with every episode by production designer Donal Woods and costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robbins. It makes one wonder how the popular series has influenced its own historical sites, turning Highclere Castle (the “real” Downton Abbey), the town of Bampton and the like into tourist destinations. New Age is set in 1929, just as sound films are taking over, an innovation that forces the crew to adapt on the fly, adding a lighthearted Singin’ in the Rain touch in the process.

Naturally, the staff is in awe of screen stars Myrna Dalglish (Laura Haddock) and Guy Dexter (Dominic West), while Mary strikes up a flirtatious relationship with film director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy). Her husband Henry (played by Matthew Goode) is absent throughout the film, leaving room for a potential romance. This temptation echoes perfectly with the film’s exotic French plot, in which the compelling mystery of Violet’s past raises enticing questions: could she have had an affair half a century ago, and if so, does that cast doubt on Richard’s legitimacy?

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Nothing too upsetting should happen in the Downton Abbey sequel so as not to tarnish fans’ affection for what came before, and yet it’s time to say goodbye to the beloved actor. The film is not at risk, unfortunately. This character was so full of life that he had to be struck by lightning or devoured by a shark – something appropriately dramatic – or, like a ghost, go through the ball (the way the previous film really should have ended, a la Visconti). Leopard”) as the world gives way to a new era. Instead, Fellows embraces us tenderly, which is essentially what these encores are.

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