Downton Abbey: A New Era - a sentimental and enjoyable period piece

Downton Abbey is back, but does the film glide or crash into its new age?

Imogen Clarke
19th May 2022
Image credit: IMDB
*Spoiler Alert!*
As a long-standing fan of the Downton Abbey TV show, I was extremely excited to go and see the second instalment of the new film series. The first Downton film was very light-hearted and enjoyable, whilst also touching on more sombre issues, with a royal visit to the Crawley estate in Yorkshire. The second film certainly was even more of an emotional roller coaster, with plenty of laughter, and an extremely sad ending, but also grains of hope for the future of many characters.

So, as I settled down into my solo trip to the cinema, I was certainly the youngest in the room, and not necessarily the film's main target audience! After listening to conversations of book clubs and bus timetables around me, the film began with the wedding of Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and his new wife, Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), whom he met in the first film. It was certainly strange for an avid viewer to see Tom remarried after the traumatic death of his first wife, and Crawley's daughter, Sybil, in season three of the series.

I will be interested to see how the film series continues without her. It will certainly never be the same.

The plot centres around Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the matriarch of the family and arguably the funniest, most loved character. The age of this character, and the title of the film, lay an ominous aura as the film begins, especially as she is summoning her lawyer and the family for mysterious reasons. It turns out, she has inherited a villa in the South of France (oh, how the other half live), and thus a new setting is added to the film.

The plot around this villa certainly thickens as the film progresses, alongside the heartbreaking realisation that Violet is 'getting her affairs in order' before she passes. Heartwarmingly, she intends to leave the villa to the Cibi, the daughter of Tom and the late Sybil. This solidifies both Cibi's and former chauffeur Tom's social and economic standing. From the beginning, the viewer, and the Crawley family for that matter, is left with a lot of questions. Why was Violet left the villa in the will of a mysterious French aristocrat? Why was it not left to his widow?

Image credit: IMDB

Whilst half of the family visits the villa in France (Invited by the Frenchman's son), Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) learns that his mother and the widower spent a week together at the villa, exactly nine months before he was born (shocker). Robert assumes that his heritage is a lie. We find this to be untrue from Violet, whilst on her deathbed at the end of the film. She maintains her humour throughout, with "I can't pretend I'm not offended", in reaction to her son's questions. I loved this scene as despite a lot of tears, the viewer feels storylines being resolved from the past series. For example, Violet's conversation with Tom, affirming his final acceptance into the family instead of a 'social climber', is humorous and heartwarming.

And, talking of social upstarts, the presence back in Yorkshire of actors and actresses in the Abbey leads to some memorable scenes. Unfortunately, Downton has a leaking roof that needs money to repair. With a bleeding heart, the viewer watches Robert reluctantly agree to his home becoming a film set for a month, in return for a hefty fee. A glamorous, yet 'common' actress with an out-of-place cockney accent, causes a stir among characters upstairs and downstairs.

Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), has "all the charm of a verruca", according to Violet, who along with Isobel (Penelope Wilton), jumps every time the clapperboard snaps 'cut'. "I'd rather earn my living down a mine", says Violet, in response to the film crew's work. Class distinction, of course, comes to play with Dalgleish being confined to silence and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) doing her lines.

The servants, of course play a part, with Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) talking sense into the actress more than once, for not acting like "one of us". And the misunderstood butler, Thomas (Rob James-Collier), appears finally to get his happy ending (not easy as a gay man in 1930s Britain) when he resigns to travel with an actor who visits Downton.

Overall, a hopeful ending for many characters, despite staple character Violet's death. I will be interested to see how the film series continues without her. It will certainly never be the same.

Video credit: Focus Features
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