Little of consequence happens in Downton Abbey: A New Era, but that’s sort of the point. Fans have never flocked to the long-running British period drama for action sequences or uncomfortable truths. Instead, they’ve found solace in the franchise’s well-worn aesthetic, mild conflict, and charmingly stodgy personalities. It wraps viewers up like hot tea and sensible brown tweed, lulling them into believing that the British class system is somehow romantic.
That easy comfort is certainly there in the new movie, which balances two different storylines. First, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) discovers she’s been left a villa in the south of France. But why would a man she spent just a short time with 60-odd years ago leave her a villa? And what would a young lady have to have done to curry such favor? Half of the house scoots off to investigate, lounge around, and look lovely in the St. Tropez sun.
Back at Downton, a film crew has moved in and is making a silent movie. The downstairs staff is starstruck, while Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) strikes up a friendship with the director (Hugh Dancy). Violet isn’t impressed with the movie industry, at one point quipping, “I’d rather earn my living down a mine.”
That’s not the only zinger in A New Era, which seems fairly aware of what fans are looking for at this point. It’s at times self-referential, and all of the actors seem to find it fairly easy to slip into their characters’ tics and traits. A few beloved underdogs get their just deserts this time around, and there a few brushes with actual tragedy.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is cinematic escapism at its finest and perhaps that’s all it should be. Let other franchises save the world and move art forward. Downton is just here to look pretty. PG, 125 min.