The premise of Downton Abbey: A New Era appears to force a break of Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess’s (Maggie Smith) golden rule to keep her past a mystery. The entire cast of Downton Abbey returns for A New Era, and the new Downton Abbey movie trailer reveals two major events happen to the great house in Yorkshire, UK: a Hollywood film production wants to shoot at Downton, which brings movie stars and directors played by Laura Haddock, Dominic West, and Hugh Dancy to interact with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Downton’s servants. Meanwhile, Lady Violet learns that she has come in possession of a villa in the South of France, which means the Crawleys are journeying to the Continent to learn why the Dowager Countess received such a gift.
Lady Violet’s past has always been one of the most intriguing aspects of Downton Abbey. When the series began, Lady Violet Crawley was already the “scary old lady” and Dowager Countess of Grantham. Her husband, Patrick, the 6th Earl of Grantham, was dead, and her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) owned Downton Abbey. Lady Violet was irrepressible in her role as the keeper of the old Edwardian values which were rapidly disappearing as Downton Abbey entered the modern world. But the Dowager Countess also made sure her sharply-barbed bon mots deflected and concealed the many unknown details of her past. For example, Downton Abbey season 6 revealed an affair Lady Violet had with the Russian Prince Igor Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia). It indicated that the Dowager Countess led an exciting and possibly even scandalous life in her youth, the details of which Lady Violet is not especially forthcoming about.
Downton Abbey: A New Era’s plot hinges on yet another heretofore unknown past dalliance of Lady Violet’s, but this time, the Dowager Countess appears to break her golden rule of discussing her past. After all, in Downton Abbey’s series finale, Violet told her dearest frenemy, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), “You must know by now I never answer any question more incriminating than whether or not I need a rug.” But not only will the truth about how Lady Violet has come to possess a villa in the South of France be revealed in Downton Abbey: A New Era, the Dowager Countess may divulge the story herself. Or, at the very least, Lady Violet will dole up just enough information to be irresistibly tantalizing and leave it to Lord Grantham, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), and the other members of the extended Crawley clan traveling to the Mediterranean to discover the rest.
Of course, the fact that Maggie Smith returns as Lady Violet in Downton Abbey: A New Era is a treat. Downton Abbey (2019) ended with Lady Violet confessing to Lady Mary that she was diagnosed with not much longer to live. After Downton Abbey (2019) was a hit, audiences were faced with the daunting prospect of the inevitable sequel without one of the show’s best characters. Thankfully, the Dowager Countess didn’t die and continues to endure into Downton Abbey: A New Era. What’s more, it’s a sly move by Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes to make Lady Violet’s personal history fuel half of the sequel’s story.
Another memorable Lady Violet quip from Downton Abbey’s series finale is, “Don’t be mysterious. It’s the last resort of people with no secrets.” It seems the Dowager Countess will follow her own advice in Downton Abbey: A New Era and allow her family to see another piece of the puzzle that is her extraordinary life. Even if Downton Abbey: A New Era has Lady Violet break her own golden rule, it’s bound to provide a delightful reason for the Crawleys to take a break from Yorkshire, spend some time in the South of France, and create new memories.