The first “Downton Abbey” film, released in 2019, was a storyless affair of subplots in which the most troubling dramatic question was who would peel the potatoes when the king and queen came to dinner. It must have been difficult to make an even more trivial sequel, and yet the team behind ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ succeeded.
Written once again by Julian Fellowes, the creator of the toffs-and-staff escapist television series, the film opens with a wedding and continues with a death, a birth and a proposal (not in that order), and yet he leaves the impression that nothing has happened.
The movie jumps back and forth between two storylines, if that doesn’t stretch the definition of “script.” In one, the elderly Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) announces that she’s owned a villa in the south of France for about 50 years, as you do, but failed to mention it to anyone. one of his legacy-obsessed relationships. Now that the mysterious Marquis who gave her the villa is dead, she decides that her own family might as well take possession of it and evict the Marquis’ widow and other heirs.
So an unnecessarily large number of Downtonians travel to the Riviera to investigate, including the perpetually puzzled Robert (Hugh Bonneville), his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and a few servants, like Carson (the not-quite-at-home Jim Carter). retirement). ). “I’m afraid we even brought our butler,” Robert remarks to his French host, in one of the film’s most self-aware moments. “I do not really know why.”
Well, the viewer will be quite sure. The producers chose to throw away any semblance of plausibility and follow in the footsteps of “Sex and the City 2,” among other TV spinoffs, by sending a group of overly privileged people to a sunny location. It’s not necessarily a bad idea. Along with some panoramic views of the Mediterranean, the new location promises a fierce legal battle and plenty of out-of-water culture shock comedies.
Alas, he does not keep this promise. Instead, the seaside interlude is so tranquil it goes “Mamma Mia!” sound like a brutal war drama. The Granthams are too wealthy to wonder whether or not they will keep the villa, the Marquess’ widow (Nathalie Baye) is irritated but cannot change her late husband’s will, and her cordial son (Jonathan Zaccaï, “Robin de Ridley Scott “Hood”) is only too happy to be cleared of the place, so everyone settles into a succession of relaxed and courteous al fresco meals. The fish out of water comedy? It begins and ends with Carson trading his trusty bowler for a straw hat.
In the other storyline (and, no, Fellowes makes absolutely no effort to tie the two separate strands together), a film company requests to use the family’s Yorkshire mansion as a filming location for a Victorian melodrama called “The Gambler.” Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) notes that the fee will cover some much-needed roof repairs, and so the house is soon invaded by a group of showbiz types, among them a dashing manager (Hugh Dancy), a cheerful matinee idol (Dominic West), and a platinum-blonde star (Laura Haddock) who isn’t as graceful off-screen as she is.
This scenario is an excuse for weak postmodern jokes about the film industry (“I’d rather make a living in a mine,” sniffs the Dowager Countess), but again, there’s hardly any conflict or danger. The only problem is that the production has to switch with ridiculous suddenness from a silent movie to a talkie, even though one of the actors might not have a fancy enough voice for their part.
Sound familiar? If you were generous, you could say “Downton Abbey: A New Era” was a loving tribute to “Singin’ in the Rain.” If you were less generous, you’d say that Fellowes shamelessly ripped off “Singin’ in the Rain”, stealing every element of it except the songs, dances, jokes and charm.
Perhaps he was too busy with his other TV series “The Gilded Age” to give full attention to “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” But even by the standards of movie sequels based on nostalgic, nostalgic Sunday night soap operas, its exposition-laden script woefully lacks wit, depth, or anything a human being could actually say. Indeed, it begs the question of whether he wrote a script or simply scribbled down the gist of every uneventful scene on a pile of post-its and asked the actors to convey that gist the way as brutal as possible.
Most scenes last a few seconds. Character A will say something like, “A movie – at Downton?” Character B will respond, “Yes, a movie downtown. I’m not happy about it. And then, two scenes later, character C will say, “A movie at Downton. Character B is not happy about it.
Maggie Smith’s scintillating height can make any line sound like a zinger, even if it isn’t, but no one else is saying anything worth hearing. It’s easy to see why Matthew Goode chose not to appear in the film. It’s not so easy to understand why actors of the caliber of Imelda Staunton and Samantha Bond showed up for their demeaning little cameo appearances.
Fans of the TV series may not mind. Director, Simon Curtis (who is coincidentally married to McGovern) makes sure they get what they want, for example, enviable tailoring, swirling orchestral music, hissing drone shots of the honey-colored house of the Grantham and a heartwarming and relentlessly pleasant atmosphere in which every crisis can be resolved in minutes, and every single person has a kindred spirit waiting for them.
But it was dishonest of the filmmakers to use the phrase “A New Era,” because the film relies entirely on its viewers’ fondness for characters and situations they’ve seen many times before. Anyone who isn’t a diehard “Downton Abbey” fan will want to watch “The Gambler” instead.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” opens in US theaters May 20.