“Oh dear. There’s only one reason old ladies summon their lawyers.”
Story: Returning to our favorite bunch of aristocrats and their family of choice, the Earl of Grantham’s former son-in-law Tom is marrying again, to sweet (and in the last film, surprise) heiress, Lucy Smith. Meanwhile, Dowager Countess Violet finds the inheritance of a French villa she’d put off as a joke is indeed true, now that its owner has passed. At the estate, Lady Mary must contend with a film crew that wishes to use Downton as a location, inside and out. How will the old guard deal with new tech? How will the staff deal with movie stars? And why is Violet acting so suspicious? Tune in, won’t you?
Genre I’d put it in: Gorgeous Historical Soap
Release Date: 2022
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the TV series by Julian Fellowes
Gotta say: I loved Downton Abbey when it was a TV series. I even enjoyed the 2019 film. But Era, while giving me a lovely look back at the characters I’ve come to adore, feels like a ship that can’t seem to keep the wind in its sails. The myriad of plots and subplots – a riveting mainstay in earlier iterations – feel forced, or even a bit…cramped? Yes. Cramped.
The trip to France to see the villa Violet has inherited, lands half of Our Gang in the south of France…during the summer, which one Just Does Not Do. But the times are changing, and hip young kids are flocking to those beautiful coastal towns. As Mary has said, times change, and we must change with them. And change is the overall story in this second film. While the art direction, costuming and hair/makeup are a gorgeous blend of late 1920s with a faint whiff of 1930s, Era feels like more of the same. And for some reason, while it was a decent way to pass the time, I didn’t get that happy thrill I’d had when watching the show or first film.
This is not a slight against the actors. The regular cast looks like they’re all exceedingly happy to be slipping into their characters. New additions – in particular Hugh Dancy, Dominic West, and Laura Haddock as the film’s director and star/starlet respectively – fit in seamlessly. The cinematography is top notch, and the filming subplot is worth a watch for any student of film/film history. The stories themselves are ones that I would sink into…well, the film plot felt a bit too twee, but the French Riviera more than made up for that. Perhaps I’m not feeling Era because the plots, subplots, and intrigues here could have more than fleshed out a full new season, rather than being shorter tales fit for two hours at the multiplex. Story beats are rushed through, and though we get all the pomp and pageantry we’ve come to expect from Downton, I never really sank into them, like I did previously. Even the original film felt like a tidy story, as all the various characters and their tales were centered around the King and Queen’s visit to Downton. In Era, we have Downton and France, with what seems like double the usual intrigue, as upstairs and downstairs get their own particular plots. Plus, there’s the subplots with the film crew and their tribulations…it feels a bit much for the time limit, especially when many stories feel wrapped up a bit too easily. Yes, it’s very nice to see certain characters get a HEA, and others start new chapters in their lives. But less would have been more here. Perhaps if Era had focused on France, with some going to check out the villa and the remaining upstairs folks sniffing around, avoiding Violet’s knowing gaze. But I guess Fellowes was also eager to change with the times, and while it’s an entertaining tale, I couldn’t help but long for more. Maybe I’m just turning into Violet myownself, a curmudgeon who wants what she wants. But hey, that’s why you’re here, right? Hello? Bueller?
#Protip: Matthew Goode fans will notice his lack of screen time here. But his character is just fine; Goode was simply double booked.