The ITV series “Downton Abbey” that started this all ran for six seasons with a total of 52 episodes. A multi-generational high-end British soap opera centered on the title location, its aristocrat masters, and its loyal servants, it boasted a massive cast playing characters acting out all manner of intrigue, experiencing the joys and sorrows of having it pretty good in the early 20th century. 2019 brought a film, as the series had ended, and now we have another film, one heralding, well, you can read the title.
My point, inasmuch as I have one, is that a lot has happened in this saga. In recognition of this, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” begins with Kevin Doyle, who plays the role of butler-turned-schoolteacher Molesley, directly addressing the audience and giving them a little catch-up. This feels kinda goofy, because it is. On the other hand, in space operas the catch-up is usually done via a printed crawl and for this recap a printed crawl might well achieve Proustian lengths. Anyway. I found the whole thing a trifle gratuitous because while the preamble is pretty good about the who’s-who, the two plot threads that push this movie are relatively unrelated to what’s gone before.
Thread one: Maggie Smith’s Violet, the LITERAL Dowager Countess of the Abbey and mother to its much-put-upon Earl, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) is told that she’s been willed a whole villa in the South of France by an old acquaintance. Very old—they last saw each other in the 1860s, and it’s about 1928 now. A large portion of the family is invited to check the place out and there’s some apprehension that the relatives of the old acquaintance might not want to give up the joint. So Robert, American-born wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and Robert’s very proper butler Carson (Jim Carter) embark to Nice or thereabouts.
They’re glad to be traveling because a film crew is going to take over the Abbey for a month. All the upper-crusters, and Carson, shudder at the prospect of hosting vulgar “kinema” people, but the servants are all over it. The production is paying a handsome fee, and as Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), one of Robert’s daughters, who runs the place, points out, the roof can use fixing and money’s currently too tight to mention. So in come the moviemakers: handsome director Jack Barber (a game Hugh Dancy), dashing leading man Guy (Dominic West), and stuck-up glamourpuss Myrna (Laura Haddock). While Guy speaks in very rounded, plummy tones, Myrna, her attitude notwithstanding, has a right Cockney honk. You can see where this thread is going.