Buried under the weight of the subplots are gorgeous costumes, settings – and Maggie Smith.

Reviews by Joyce Glasser Downton Abbey: A New Eraa (April 29, 2022) Cert PG, 125 mins

Brush up on the expanded Crawley family tree and household of servants, then sit back to watch Julian Fellowes manage to give each of them a story within a story, complete with a neat, happy, and usually sentimental one End. Fellowes has met the Countess of Grantham’s (Elizabeth McGovern) real-life husband, director Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, My Week With Marilyn) to squeeze an entire television series into a gorgeous, beautifully costumed and designed two-hour feature film.

This is what Fellowes does Downton Abbey: A New Era which will surely be the hardest and most boring movie of the year. Fellowes needs an architectural framework as solid as the abbey itself to house all of the subplots and their corresponding emotions and cathartic climaxes.

In order to realize its magnificent design, we have two parallel, overarching strands. The first is that the Crawleys reluctantly allow a film crew led by the charming, handsome director Jack Barber (Hugh Darcy) to take over Downton because the generous filming fee would buy them a new roof for the leaky attic bedrooms.

This dreaded inconvenience coincides with a letter from the estate of the late Marquis de Montmirail, who died while writing to Violet Crawley, widow of the Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith, who still supplies the Messer, a magnificent, luxurious villa on the Côte d’Azur left one-liners and the best part of the film).

The widow Countess leaves the mansion to Sybbie, her great-granddaughter from the brief (and then scandalous) marriage of chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and rebellious Lady Sybil Crawley. Branson has been forgiven for Sybbie’s sake, and Lady Maud Bagshaw’s (Imelda Staunton, devastated) illegitimate daughter Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) marries the widower Branson, becoming one step away from being part of the Crawley family.

Both of these incidents cause panic in the family, but it is evidently the mystery of what transpired between the heiress Violet and the young Marquess in 1864 that occupies the normally stalwart Robert Crawley, 7th Early of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). He calculates that he was born about nine months later in 1865.

Of course, Robert and his wife Cora (McGovern) rush to the Riviera with an entourage that includes Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), mainly to prevent him from policing the film guests, who are proving to be an unruly bunch. The Riviera entourage also includes Lady Edith, (Laura Carmichael), the most boring of the Crawley children, who is married to the most boring of the Crawley husbands, but unlike Mary’s absent second husband, Lady Edith is a perfect match.

The warm welcome of the new Marquis de Motmirail (Jonathan Zaccaï) is tempered by the open hostility of his mother, played by the great French film actress Nathalie Baye in a rare appearance. This will help ensure European interest and views, as well as the dramatic Mediterranean scenery that shines like Bali Ha’i.

The intrigue, which revolves around a stack of letters and an early photograph of young Violet with an affectionate inscription by the late Marquis, leads Robert to wonder if he, who hosted the King of England, is really the illegitimate son of a Frenchman. There is very little tension and no one but Robert and the Motmirail really cares, but nonetheless the matter is not resolved until the house gathers around the widow’s deathbed (hardly a spoiler, folks, when Maggie Smith is 87) . Meanwhile, his wife Cora also has a big secret, but that also turns out to be a diversionary tactic, at least until the next episode.

More interesting, though again nothing comes of it, is the subplot surrounding Lady Edith’s return to her writing. She suggests writing an article about the foreigners who winter on the Riviera and keep the hotels open, including Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. But alas, we are denied the pleasure of seeing Lady Edith in drunken orgies with Hemingway and speaking of the recently published discussion Ulysses with James Joyce or writing tips from Gertrude Stein.

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It’s the film crew that manages to give most minions their time in the spotlight and a chance to improve their lives. The jazz singer of 1927 and the craze for talkies changed everything, including the mid-production funding of Baxter’s film. Mary, desperate to help Baxter and her new roof, comes up with the idea of ​​turning the film into a talkie.

For those hoping for something original, this is Julian Fellowes’ chance sing in the rain to the British aristocracy, but without the dancing. The servants fill in as extras, and former porter and schoolmaster Joseph Moseley (Kevin Doyle) discovers his hidden talent as a screenwriter.

But it’s Lady Mary who literally finds her voice when director Baxter, falling in love with his hostess, convinces her to voice the beautiful but spirited Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), whose shrill cockney accent is a problem represents . This is Downton Abbey, however, where the staff are as helpful and friendly as the aristocrats, Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and Daisy Parker (Sophie McShera) give the snooty Myrna a serious talk before Countess Grantham returns to boost her confidence, by helping Myrna master the American accent.

And in case you miss the gay theme sensitively introduced in the 2019 feature film, Tom Barrow (Robert James-Collier) catches the attention of matinee idol Guy Dexter (Dominic West), whose name isn’t the only one there is mystery in him.

Drowning under its subplots, none of the drama can breathe and become real. Fellowes and Curtis fill the final third of the film with a long string of undeserved rewards while happily solving each character’s little problem. Until then, there’s just enough gorgeous sets, filming locations, and period costumes to keep us watching.

Buried under the weight of the subplots are gorgeous costumes, settings – and Maggie Smith.

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