In 2019, Focus Features and creator Julian Fellowes brought the beloved British television series Downton Abbey to the big screen in a film that felt like a fitting bookend to the saga. However, it also proved to be such a success that a sequel seemed inevitable, and now, after a handful of delays, Downton Abbey: A New Era arrives to bring audiences back to the titular estate they know and love. In some ways, the mere presence of another movie threatens to undo some of the sweet moments established in the first, but Fellowes – along with director Simon Curtis – manages to build upon what came before in a satisfying way. Downton Abbey: A New Era will satisfy fans of the original series, serving up a pair of storylines that have fun and heart in equal measure.
Picking up sometime after the first film, the residents of Downton are thrown for a loop when the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) inherits a French villa from a man she knew back in her youth. Her family, particularly her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville), are baffled by this sudden mystery and resolve to learn more by traveling to France to meet with the man’s son (Jonathan Zaccaï). Meanwhile, Mary (Michelle Dockery) stays behind to oversee a film production that has decided to make Downton its set, an exciting event that sends the downstairs staff into a tizzy as the modern world once again collides with the old-fashioned household.
The first Downton Abbey movie, even with a plot involving an illegitimate child and an assassination attempt against the King of England, felt remarkably low stakes; it was more of an opportunity to reunite with the television show’s beloved characters than anything else. With Downton Abbey: A New Era, Fellowes and Curtis have stepped things up a bit. There are more shades of the show’s soapy drama and Fellowes has concocted some truly fun situations for the characters to experience. In the cases of those like Mary, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), and Daisy (Sophie McShera), Downton Abbey: A New Era pushes them into unique positions, thus allowing both the actors and Fellowes to demonstrate just how far they’ve come. Longtime fans of the series will no doubt be amused by some of the scenarios that arise; for example, there’s a scene with the downstairs staff late in the game that will likely lead to smiles and laughter.
In that sense, Downton Abbey: A New Era more than justifies its existence as a surprise sequel to a movie based on a television show that ended conclusively. It makes for an entertaining viewing experience, though there is still an impression that this is a TV installment made long. Curtis tries to bring some cinematic flair with the help of editor Adam Recht and cinematographer Andrew Dunn, but the action still comes across as episodic. Luckily, though, Downton Abbey: A New Era makes up for it with the overall beauty of Dunn’s visuals and the sweeping score from John Lunn. This world may have begun on television, but it is rather suited for the big screen. It helps that Downton Abbey: A New Era broadens its scope to visit the south of France for the plot involving the Dowager’s surprise villa.