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Arts + Life

Downton Abbey: A New Era

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High-class soap-opera-like Downton Abbey: A New Era should be called what it really is: high-class melodrama. Here is a rambling story with too many characters, but who cares? Because it’s told so well with each character clearly defined and loveable.

After the binge-worthy six-sessions TV series in the early 2010’s, the 2019 film, with its visit from royalty, held up well enough to spawn this sequel, Downton Abbey: A New Era, in which the aristocratic Crawley family is crawling into the 1930’s, with The Great Depression, wars, and innovations imminent. The film creates a vitality even in a staid Brit world largely because of a robust screenplay and spot-on actors. Not to forget drone shots of the impossibly cinematic estate.

In fact, no melodramatic villain appears, if you exclude the arch-disturber, Change. Writer Julian Fellowes and director Simon Curtis have crafted a rousing fable about a new era as it approaches the third decade of the 20th century through the lens of a visiting Hollywood production to the Abbey.

Marry that modern incursion to the hidebound Brit tradition and you have a sentimental farewell to the old world, signified by the sharp-witted Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith), who is ready to pass the estate and a newly-added villa in the south of France to the younger Granthams. A formidable subplot is the change the Hollywood production itself must face as sound trounces silent movies and same-sex relationships emerge, galaxies away from our modern acceptance of sexual orientations.

The most moving scene is when the production learns it has to create a sound track in order to continue filming. Watching them sync the sound (dubbing so to speak) to the actors for the first time since they saw Jolson say a few words in The Jazz Singer is just as if we were in a time machine witnessing that monumental change almost 100 years ago.

Downton Abbey is a state of mind, not a place, where our dreams of upper-class blissful isolation clash with the realities of life both for the rich and the poor. Throughout is a benign sense of humanity’s essential goodness and our common bonds. Cinema has brought us together in time and sympathy—see A New Era in a theater with its glorious visuals and commanding sound—We’ve come a long way, Baby.

Downton Abbey: A New Era

Director: Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin)

Screenplay: Julien Fellowes (Gosford Park)

Cast: Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill)

Run Time: 2h 5m

Rating: PG

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com