The wall separating movies and television used to stand ironclad and everyone knew what belonged on either side.
Today the wall is gone and nobody knows if anything’s a movie, a TV show, a limited series or a fever dream.
That’s why it makes perfect sense for the long-running television series “Downton Abbey” to continue its story in bite-sized, feature-length movies a full seven years after the show ended its run.
The second (possibly final?) film “Downton Abbey: A New Era” has arrived to satisfy and delight longtime fans of the show and to most-likely be ignored by everyone else.
This is not to say that someone completely unfamiliar with “Downton Abbey” wouldn’t be able to jump in and enjoy this film with its beautiful vistas and warm performances, but “A New Era” only truly pays off for those who have seen these characters and their relationships grow and change over the course of six seasons and a movie.
The challenge in converting a television show into a film, especially one with as large of a cast as “Downton Abbey” is giving everyone something to do while wrapping up lingering storylines and simultaneously advancing new ones. But writer and series creator Julian Fellowes is up to the task.
“Downton Abbey” is a look into the mannered lives of the British aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century and the working-class servants that waited on them.
As the Crawley family heads into the 1930s, “A New Era” hangs everything on two separate plotlines.
The first involves Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) dealing with the chaos of allowing a film crew, led by director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), to make a movie at Downton at the very end of the silent film era.
The second involves Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) leading an entourage to the south of France to inspect a villa that was left under mysterious circumstances to the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham (Maggie Smith, the North Star of this show and the rock that kept the proceedings grounded even when she show strayed towards the soapier extremes of prestige television).
These divergent plotlines in “A New Era” allow Fellows to explore two favorite themes of “Downton Abbey”: the resiliency of family (both the family bound by blood and titles upstairs and the found-family amongst the servants downstairs) and the march of progress colliding with centuries of entrenched tradition.
This is an easy one; if you are a fan of the show you are not going to want to miss “A New Era,” and if you’ve never seen the show but are curious enough about it to read this far into this review, go ahead and begin the “Downton Abbey” journey from the very beginning (a simple enough task in this age of streaming) to make this satisfying addition truly worth your while.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.