Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022)
PG. There's some innuendo, to be sure. But we let my kids sit in the room while watching this. Admittedly, we had to pause the film and have conversations about things my older daughter might notice or about things that might happen. So keep that in mind. But this is on the more tame side of Downton. There's no murder accusations. There aren't any ribald trysts. There's implication that there might have been an instance of premarital sex. For a live action movie, it's pretty PG.
DIRECTOR: Simon Curtis
It is in no way intentional that I keep watching movies that come from TV shows. I mean, I can't keep harping on the idea that movies are movies and that TV shows are TV shows. But that being said, I knew that Downton Abbey: A New Era was on Peacock and that was probably going to be for a limited time. Part of me absolutely adores Downton Abbey. I don't know what it is about the show that resonates with me when other shows with similar themes and tone bore me to tears. Maybe it is because I bond with the show with my wife that I get excited. I mean, it has production value. It also has just the right amount of stuff that I can tease to not take it too seriously.
I didn't care for the previous Downton Abbey movie. I remember that they tried packing an entire season's worth of storytelling into one movie and that was a huge mistake. I oddly really liked this one. Now, I have to talk about the thing that sticks out quite badly in this film: Singin' in the Rain. Now, Julian Fellowes, the big bad behind Downton, swears that it wasn't an inspiration for this film. But he's also the guy who is on the defensive, so of course he's going to say it. A New Era is a more dramatic version of Singin' in the Rain with characters I already know and like. I mean, it's pretty shameless. I know that the characters are living in the era transitioning from silent films to talkies, but you have to make an unlikable actress have a thick cockney accent and is unable to transition to talkies without the use of dubbing? And then people just fall in love with the new voice? It's a bit on the nose, right? I don't mind. I wish Fellowes just embraced that the story is hackneyed because there's two directions that he could have gone with his response and denial probably wasn't the smartest of choices.
But what I liked about A New Era over the previous film is that it felt like a proper epilogue to the show. As much as I love Downton, this is a great place to stop. Downton was one of those shows that didn't really need a conclusion. People's lives would continue on because that's what life really does. But the thing that hung over us like the Sword of Damocles is the notion that Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess had to die one day. One of the things that was always present on Downton Abbey would be these large and rather noticeable timejumps. I thought they happened more often than they did because I saw when the show fictionally started and when it ended and it wasn't THAT long. But the Dowager Countess was already an older woman at the beginning of the series, when the Titanic sank, and she's about to meet World War II? It just seemed like a stretch. Also, from what I understand, Dame Maggie Smith doesn't actually like the character or the show that much. It's that whole Harrison Ford itching to kill Han Solo bit.
But the story doesn't really give Maggie Smith much to do. The Dowager Countess was always the best part of the show. She brought this lightness to the stories. Yeah, there are other whimsical and lovable characters within this story. But whenever I would sit down to watch Downton, it was with the knowledge that the Dowager Countess would keep saying sassy things. Be aware that I love Gilmore Girls as well, so I am very comfortable stepping out of gender norms for my entertainment. This website is called "Literally Anything Movies" not "Dude Stuff". But this movie didn't want to make it about the Dowager Countess dying. I don't know why we didn't really have a chance to say goodbye to Maggie Smith's character. She's so beloved and the movie really doesn't have her in it for a lot of the film. I kind of got that Smith was there just to fulfill contractual obligations, but wanted to film as little as possible. One of the main stories of the movie does revolve around her character, but stuff that she did years ago. It's all told to us and we never get to experience it. When she dies, it is almost a twist to the story that doesn't really scan with the rest of the movie.
It has to stink being Maggie Smith's age and to still be a viable actress. Every single story that you are in seems to address how old you are and that mortality will continually be a motif with your character. While the movie isn't directly about the Countess's ever-steady trek to the grave, it does involve inheriting property that is hers. It just has to be a lot.
Can I applaud something that A New Era does right though? I mean, I liked the movie overall and think it's pretty good. But I keep complaining about things because that's easier to write about. Can I talk about Mary in this film? To be honest, I remember very little about the last film because I was so disappointed with it. But I remember that Mary got married to someone else in this movie. I guess that guy decided not to come back for this movie. So to cover the fact that one of the major characters was gone like Poochie, they made Mary's relationship suffer. She was the abandoned housewife. Sure, she's still Powerhouse Mary. I hope she's never not Powerhouse Mary. But still, we understand that she is put upon by a husband who is far more interested by his own whims and hobbies than he is about being home with his wife. Maybe there's a reason for that. I kind of remember him being a racecar driver or something like that. But the movie gives Mary this sympathy and a potential romantic triangle. But for the first time ever, the stories I like give the woman a sense of agency and intellect. She's flattered by Jack and he treats her with respect. But she also knows it is absolutely absurd to leave her husband for a guy who happens to be filming at her house for a few weeks.
God, it was refreshing. There was something there, but Mary just never indulges it. It's this emotional maturity coming from a character whose primary function is to temper tantrum about the simplicity of others. No, Mary holds her own. She realizes a very complex idea: "I'm not happy now, but now is not always." That might be one way to read it. It could also be seen as a story of the stupidity of happiness as an ending. Mary is fulfilled in her role as de facto executor of the Downton estate. Instead of romance being the only defining trait that people can imagine a woman having, she sees it as a facet of her personality. That's so good. Because everything that Mary does in this film is with a sense of agency. She is completely saavy on what needs to be done and what is toxic. Instead of seeing this a tawdry love affair, she acknowledges that a guy took his shot and that's it. I also love that Jack, despite being a guy who doesn't mind partaking in a small bit of infidelity, doesn't really push Mary beyond the "no." There's a bit of that, but it doesn't really come across as desperate.
Really, I love that ducks are in a row. Not everything is perfect at Downton, but chapters are closed. Carson enjoys his role as this mentor figure. Barrow finds a place that might accept him. Mrs. Patmore finds love! Even more than that, Mr. Moseley wins the pot! Out of everyone, Moseley gets the happiest ending? Moseley was my guy! He gets to be a Hollywood screenwriter and he gets engaged to the woman of his dreams? I mean, it is fantasy, but I love that fantasy. That is what should happen to the lovable loser. It's just so perfect. Sure, some stories are a little hamfisted. Cora's diagnosis is almost bottled melodrama and intended to serve as misdirection for the Dowager Countess. Bates has absolutely nothing to do with this story and hasn't had a plot for years. But who cares? This is where I want my characters. They're all married off and looking forward to futures.
I stress, I don't want another movie. All of the character arcs have been dealt with in a reasonable way. While there might be more stories about the folks from Downton Abbey, they have all grown to their final ends. They've matured and it is the role of the next generation to continue the stories.
Leave a Reply.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.