FILM REVIEW: A fitting farewell to “Downton” saga

Published 12:12 am Saturday, May 21, 2022

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“Downton Abbey: A New Era”

Focus Features

Directed by Simon Curtis

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Hugh Dancy, Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith

Rated PG

3 Stars

I never counted myself as a devoted fan of “Downton Abbey.” The series featured too many characters and storylines for my tastes, although I seem to be in the minority in that opinion. Heaven knows that the show has some very devoted fans.

Which is why we now have a second “Downton Abbey” movie hitting theaters this weekend. Thanks to an opening wedding, this is a continuation from the previous film, but the main story this time is split into two distinct thrusts. Half of the cast jets off to the south of France because the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) has inherited a villa and her son (Hugh Bonneville) is determined to find out why a stranger would bequeath such an extravagant gift to his mother. The other half of the cast stays put because a film company has asked to shoot at the Crawley estate. The family agrees, but Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) stays behind to supervise.

There is a lot going on here, and as was the case with the TV show, I found it hard to get too invested in the story. There’s simply not enough time to give every character their due, so instead we get a fast-paced, superficial story that only glances off these characters.

Still, credit this superb cast for giving us their best efforts, despite the lack of sufficient screen time. It’s a credit to their abilities that the story held my attention at all. In the hands of lesser actors, this could have been a muddled mess.

Of course, these characters are the primary appeal of “Downton Abbey,” and they come pre-loaded with six seasons of backstory, so it is easy to be reminded of past-exploits. This is particularly true of the sparring between Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith. It should come as no surprise that these scenes prove to be the highlight of the film in terms of both humor and emotion.

My highest praise goes to Julian Fellowes, who has crafted a story that is the epitome of fan service. Knowing that this is probably the last time we will see “Downton Abbey” on the screen, he has managed to deliver a fitting send off for the majority of the characters. Dangling plot lines are finally tied up, and while there is a bit of tragedy, everything mostly ends on a happy note. If this is truly the end, fans of the series should be very happy about this resolution.

All of which leaves me pondering my feelings about “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” On the one hand, I am truly impressed by the craftmanship on display in this film. From the acting to the writing and production design, everything is top drawer. Then again, I still struggle to form genuine connections with these characters.

I suspect that won’t be an issue at all for most fans of the series. This is must-see cinema for them. They will be absolutely thrilled by this fond and fitting farewell to “Downton Abbey.”

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at