We could all join in on a rousing chorus of “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here”. The occasion? Our favourite Brits, custodians of the Crawley estate, are back on screen. The upper crust characters dominate, while the below the stairs servants bring able support. Julian Fellowes (creator, writer) plays a symphony in his high-class soap opera of life in the mansion. With “Downton Abby: A New Era” (theatres), Fellowes continues to entice dedicated Downton fans who followed the six-year television episodes and the first big screen film adaptation.
The action shifts to the end of the Roaring Twenties with the oncoming turbulence of the Great Depression decimating the land. The Crawley family (the hereditary Earls of Grantham) is awe-struck by two events. The Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith), whose vocal comebacks have killer stings, stuns the family announcing she has inherited a villa in France from a recently deceased Marquis with whom she shared a relationship decades earlier. She doesn’t know why his widow would not be the beneficiary, but sarcastically declares, “Do I look as if I’d turn down a villa in the south of France?”
Glamour comes to Downton Abbey with a movie company moving onto the estate to shoot its latest silent epic starring Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), the reigning stars of the day. The project adds a celebrity aspect to the estate, but in reality, the financial realization will be applied to the manor’s needed of repairs.
Familiar faces and names (the original tv series and previous film) once again welcome viewers to share the sensual pleasures of privileged lives, along with the under-stairs staff who support them, as well as the numerous visitors who bring drama to the family. Robert Crawley the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his American wife Cora Crawley the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) who says, “The modern world comes to Downton,” are at the ready to face and quell obstructions that invariably challenge the upper-class family. However, in this film, eldest daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) takes a larger hand in steering the daily operation of the estate. She inks the deal that brings Hollywood to the historic house and also strikes up a warm relationship with the director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy).
Fittingly labled a soap opera, ”Downton Abbey” (tv series and both films) is on a higher plain than the daily soaps on home screens. Writer/actor Julian Fellowes draws on his upper-class family history in crafting witty, serious and sentimental screenplays. The backbiting humor he provides for the gorgon matriarch Violet Crawley, spotlights Grand Dame Maggie Smith’s delivery of putdowns, adding delightful punch to the series. With charming simplicity, the continuing saga delights in bringing viewers the realism that was turn-of-the-century society, and doing so without special effects, violence and political correctness.
There’s a catch-up feeling in seeing familiar characters like old time friends reuniting and updating their lives. One can’t dismiss Maggie Smith, the Grand Dame of British cinema and theatre who alway wins applause from critics and audiences. Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery and a large veteran cast get the nod for taking viewers back to a tradition bound Britain where royalty, the aristocracy, and the ordinary bloke, ruled “Britannia”.