★★★½


A follow-up to the 2019 film and the BBC series, Downton Abbey: A New Era is a romance drama directed by Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, My Week with Marilyn) and starring Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Robert James-Collier, Hugh Dancy, Dominic West, and Laura Haddock.

The Crawley family journeys to the South of France in order to uncover the mystery of Countess Violet Crawley’s newly inherited villa. While most of the family is in France, Lady Mary Talbot (Dockery) and Violet (Smith) stay behind to watch over the estate while a movie crew runs amok. Will Robert Crawley (Bonneville) and company discover the truth? Can the staff keep up with the big personalities and their big demands?

While there is always something happening, the stakes are never very high. It is established in the beginning of the movie (and in the trailer) that the inheritance was a happy surprise. The legitimacy of Violet’s claim is questioned, but if the villa does go to the Frenchman’s widow instead, what has the Crawley family lost? No matter who gets the house, no one is going to end up homeless.

The same goes for the kerfuffle with the movie crew shooting at Downton. While the money to be gained from the use of their home is set aside for a much-needed cause (fixing the roof), the problem isn’t established beforehand. The stakes are rarely raised, and when they are, no one is in peril for long.

That might become an issue with a stand-alone movie, but Downton Abbey: A New Era is a little different. For those who are loyal followers of the Crawley family and their staff, this may feel like a long episode, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The drama comes from knowing the characters and watching their growth through eight seasons and a feature film’s worth of ups and downs.

Hugh Bonneville’s portrayal of Robert Crawley is wonderful. In the show, he is a kind and stoic patriarch. At the beginning of this movie, he has already relinquished that role to his oldest daughter and must come to terms with his fledgling status, along with various other upheavals unearthed during the 125-minute run time. Bonneville flexes his acting prowess and succeeds in pulling at heartstrings.

Admirers of the series will find this to be a welcome reunion of old friends. Each member of the cast does a superb job in their roles. Hugh Dancy, Dominic West, and Laura Haddock are great additions who do a terrific job mixing it up with Crawley and staff.

The locations, sets, and costumes are amazing and heighten the immersion of this period piece. A fun and helpful surprise is a recap of the previous movie, which plays before the opening credits. Director Simon Curtis doesn’t shame any viewers who haven’t watched the series. But for fans who have, there are plenty of Easter eggs. Whether hardcore enthusiast or a curious newbie to the world of Downton, audiences will find A New Era to be a warm and indulging film.