In Review

Downton Abbey: A New Era film review

A second big-screen helping of Julian Fellowes’ drama

I’ve always had “a bit of a soft spot” for Downton, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator. Tuning into a new offering is reassuring, like “putting on a pair of old slippers”. But even my patience was tested by A New Era, the second Downton film spin-off. We’re now in 1928, and the dowager countess (Maggie Smith) has unexpectedly inherited a villa from a French aristocrat, with whom she had a dalliance many moons ago. As a “posse of Downton residents” decamp to the Riviera to inspect the property, Downton itself is invaded by a film crew who are paying through the nose to use the building as a set. All the usual Downton ingredients crop up – “a birth, a proposal, a death, a paternity worry, a health scare” – but there’s far too much exposition, and the writing is often woeful. “Old slippers? Sometimes they have to go.” 

Yes, this film is “a bit silly”, said Matthew Bond in the Daily Mail, but it’s also “charming, well acted” and funny to boot. Keep the faith through the “clumsy-feeling start” and you’ll find yourself watching a film that is “huge fun” and rather poignant. “It is, of course, several leagues below” 2001’s Gosford Park, Fellowes’ “original country-house movie”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. And yet “I have to admit – like someone with an empty tube of Pringles in their hand that was full ten minutes ago – that I did find this film entertaining”. There’s something riveting about its mix of “deadly serious melodrama and bizarre glassy-eyed pathos”. All the same, I hope this is the last Downton instalment. If Fellowes does insist on eking it out, perhaps he could revisit the family in the 1970s, when they have been “reduced to penury by exorbitant but highly justified rates of tax”.

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