Having jumped ship on the beloved British series around the time Dan Stevens left, I assumed this movie installment would be an entirely self-contained episode with no need to brush up on what happened in those latter seasons I missed. For the most part, that’s the case, but Simon Curtis’s film is so beholden to the style and rhythms of TV that I couldn’t help but wonder if the script had been cannibalized from an idea discarded for the series itself. In any case, its main purpose is to say goodbye to one particular character in a grand way, but the emotional contours of this farewell are flat. There’s no feeling of finality in the gesture, as if there will just be another episode next week.
As it stands, A New Era has two plotlines that don’t necessarily complement each other. In one, the elderly Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) learns that she has inherited a villa in the south of France from a man she knew only briefly many years ago. The news gives rise to speculation in the Grantham household that she and this marquis had fooled around and fell in love back in the previous century, and that, perhaps, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) was the issue of this liaison, though no one really has the guts to confront Mrs. Grantham with this supposition. Most of the household ends up traveling to the continent to straighten the matter out since the marquis’ widow (Nathalie Baye) and son (Jonathan Zacca) are understandably quite put out. In the other storyline back at Downton, an American film production company has taken over the estate to make a silent film (yes, the Granthams need the cash) and just as they are about to begin, the producer demands it be a talkie, which is inconvenient for its female star (Laura Haddock) who, like the Jean Hagen character in Singin’ in the Rain, has a pretty nasty voice. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is thus recruited to dub her lines, which leads to all sorts of drama.
The movie is pleasant enough, and Dominic West has a good time making fun of his career in American accents as the barely closeted leading man of the film-within-the-film, but the class dynamics that pretty much prop up the TV series are barely articulated. The servants essentially get to play their betters in the movie as extras, a clever idea that screenwriter Julian Fellowes squanders by making the subtext the text itself. By the end of the movie you understand what he means by a “new era,” but it’s not what I expected. Fellowes simply keeps the door open for more episodes. So even though you don’t need to know the series backwards and forwards to appreciate A New Era, only true fans will probably get anything out of it.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Downton Abbey: A New Era home page in Japanese
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