Grade:  B+
Rated PG

It’s almost a cliché that in Hollywood (and presumably everywhere else films are made) there are two main plots:  something comes into the heroes’ world, or the heroes leave their world. Either way, they encounter the sort of challenges, adventures, or drama that come from a disruption of routine.

The first Downton Abbey movie (2019) was about something coming into the world of the Crawley family and their servants. It revolved around a visit to Downton from King George V and Queen Mary, and the only exit was one of the staff, who went to New York to visit parents and got arrested at an underground gay nightclub. Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) seems more richly plotted because there is a balance between the coming and going, with heftier plotlines that are equally intricate and dramatic. 

Robert and Mary

On the home front, a film company requests permission to shoot a silent film at Downton, and Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) is opposed . . . until oldest daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) convinces him that the income would pay for the new roof they so desperately need. She assures her father that she will supervise the affair and keep a close watch. Naturally, the staff gets as excited about a movie being made at Downton as they did when the King and Queen visited—except, of course, for the ever-so-grumpy Mr. Carson (Jim Carter)—but their excitement is tempered by a less-than-congenial leading lady (Laura Haddock) and the disappointing announcement that funding for the movie is being pulled because only “talking pictures” are making money. Of course, shades of Singin’ in the Rain, they decide to improvise in order to make a film with sound, and even the staff gets into the act. Literally.

Isobel and Violet

Meanwhile, the ancient Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), is presented as someone who is now quite frail and in the twilight of her life. But it is revealed that many years ago a Frenchman, the Marquis de Montmirail, had given her the gift of a villa in the South of France. She had forgotten all about it, but now as she is putting her affairs in order, she decides it would be a nice gift for her great-granddaughter Sybbie, whose mother, Lady Sybil, died young. Although the widow of the Marquis (Nathalie Baye) deeply resents the Crawleys and contests the will, her son, the new Marquis (Jonathan Zaccaï), is far more generous . . . unless he is scheming? Either way, though Violet is too ill to travel, the Crawley clan accepts his invitation to visit the villa. There, of course, all sorts of secrets are revealed. 

Many familiar faces and favorite characters return, including Tom Branson (Allen Leech), his new bride Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), Maud Bagshwaw (Imelda Staunton), Cora Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Isabel Merton (Penelope Wilton), Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), Daisy Parker (Sophie McShera), Andy Parker (Michael Fox), and Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle).

Daisy and Mrs. Patmore

It could be that this film sequel’s slightly fresher feel is the result of having a director with no previous connection to the Downton Abbey series. Or maybe it was because Simon Curtis—best known for directing Goodbye Christopher Robin and My Week with Marilyn—was at home shooting a movie that was in part about shooting a movie, as was Marilyn.

Internet Movie Database readers think that Downton Abbey: A New Era (7.5/10) is only marginally better than the first Downton Abbey movie (7.4/10), but I disagree. I think the gap is wider than that. I’d rate the first film a B and this one a B+. It feels less familiar, less pandering to fans, but still full of those characters that have become beloved and settings that are richly rendered.

Entire family:  Yes (though younger children may be bored)
Run time:  125 min. Color
Aspect ratio:  2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  English Dolby Atmos
Studio/Distributor:  Universal
Bonus features: B+
Includes:  4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link
Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements

Language: 1/10—A few scattered British swearwords such as “bloody,” and the correct use of “bastard” when discussing the possibility of a conception outside marriage

Sex:  1/10—Nothing here but the implication that Lady Violet had a purple past

Violence: 0/10—Nothing at all

Adult situations:  1/10—Everything is proper, and while there is casual consumption of alcohol, it is not a focus nor do characters imbibe in excess; the underlying tone of the film is one of loss, so it really does feel like the end of an era rather than a new one

Takeaway:  Since Downton Abbey is the TV show fans wouldn’t let end, it wouldn’t surprise me if Fellows decided to keep the sequels coming . . . or even begin a Downton Abbey: The Next Generation series