Downton Abbey: A New Era is the second full-length sequel to the popular 2010-2015 PBS series. This Focus Features film, written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Simon Curtis, was originally scheduled to open in December 2021 but postponed due to pandemic concerns until March 2021 and then again until May. The producers wanted to be sure moviegoers would feel safe enough to venture out.
Based on box office reports, Downton’s opening weekend pulled in $18 million, mostly from older moviegoers. Seems the producers played the market to perfection.
Early in the film, we learn that the Dowager Countess, Lady Granthan, played to perfection by the distinguished Dame Maggie Smith, has mysteriously inherited a villa on the Cote d’Azur from a suitor she briefly dated as a young woman. She feigns bewilderment, offering no explanation, so most of the family sets off to visit the villa and investigate without her. What they find only adds to the intrigue.
The set for the villa segments is the Villa Rocabella in Le Pradet, France, near Toulon on the Cote d’Azur. The villa, famous for its Belle Époque decor, was built in 1889 on a large piece of land with direct access to an enchanting Mediterranean creek. Although the storyline that gets us there may linger a tad too long, the set is elegant beyond imagination, and makes up for the occasional clumsiness of this subplot’s resolution.
Elizabeth McGovern, a native of Evanston, has been in the role of Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham, from the series’ beginning. Steadfast and demure, she is a favorite among Downton fans. McGovern was born in 1961 to Katherine Wolcott, a high school teacher, and William McGovern Jr., a Professor at Northwestern University. When she was 10 the family relocated to California. She is also a songwriter/musician and has her own pop band, Sadie and the Hotheads. She and Downton director Curtis were married in 1992. They have two children and live in London.
Costume Designers Anna Robbins and Maja Meschede achieve greatness in their work. (Robbins won Costume Designer of the Year at the 2019 Hollywood Film Awards for her artistry in the first Downton film sequel.) From the first scene in this film, a wedding, to the last scene, there are more than 300 costumes in all, each flawless down to the last detail.
Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy Parker, a member of the downstairs house staff, in a recent interview by Mental Floss revealed that the producers instituted a “no-wash” policy for all costumes, in order to keep everything looking (and feeling) like the early 1900s: “We do stink, as they don’t wash our costumes. They have these weird patches, which are sewn into the armpits and which they wash separately.” The price of stardom!
This Downton sequel is set in the 1920s, when silent films were quickly being replaced by talking films. Prior to embarking on their trip to the Cote d’Azur, the family is convinced by a Hollywood producer to let him film a silent movie at Downton. This proves more complicated than expected.
Fortunately, Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, stays at Downton to manage multiple dramas while the other family members investigate Lady Granthan’s new villa in the south of France. The movie within the movie (so meta!) is quirky and fun, laced with drama, romance and historical interest.
If you are looking for some downtime from crisis media, the news d’jour – consider making it Downton-time. Movie therapy at its best. And don’t forget your hanky.