Although I love British period dramas in general and I have a long list of favorites, none has ever come close to topping Downton Abbey, at least for me.
It has similar ingredients to most period dramas – fancy clothes, a historical setting, hints of drama and scandal – and yet there’s something extra magical about this show. It has a wonderful ensemble cast of actors who’ve built up years of camaraderie and rivalries between their characters, and that familiar theme music always brings a smile to my face and feels like going home.
Downton Abbey is my all-time favorite TV series, and when it finished airing in 2016 here in the U.S., I was sad but satisfied. Most of the characters experienced a happy ending (except for my two favorites who were traumatically killed off in season three – still not over that, by the way).
We didn’t strictly need the follow-up movie in 2019, but you heard no complaints from me. It was lovely returning to Downton Abbey to celebrate such an exciting occasion as a royal visit. It wrapped up the series even more tightly, and with an even grander bow, and it seemed like this time it really WAS the end…until the announcement of yet another film.
Yes, we didn’t really need a sequel to the Downton Abbey movie, either, but once again, I’m delighted to return to Downton. The sequel – titled A New Era – feels a bit worn and dusty in places; it’s just as frothy but not quite as fresh as the film that preceded it. Some of the plot points seemed a little recycled.
But as I sat in the theater, none of that really seemed to matter. I was at Downton again, and it made my heart happy. I always love seeing these characters, and there were some nice moments that I’m very glad are part of the Downton saga.
This film is divided into two main plots: Mary supervises a film crew that has come to Downton Abbey to produce a silent movie, and then the revelation that the Dowager Countess has inherited a mysterious villa in France.
Lady Mary is one of my favorite Downton characters; yes, I know that she’s deeply flawed and isn’t always the nicest person, but the fact the show allows her to have some sharp edges makes her more compelling.
I’ve loved seeing her grow more and more comfortable as the next leader of Downton, and I was excited that she actually got to participate in the movie production, voicing some of the lines after the film must be converted to a “talkie.” She’s really come into her own, and she was even (sort of) nice to Edith!
Tom Branson has been another favorite of mine, and I was pleased to see him get a happy ending. Lucy is my favorite of his later love interests on this show, and this movie kicks off with their wedding. Like Mary, Tom has been on quite a journey; he started off as the family’s chauffeur, then married Lord and Lady Grantham’s daughter (causing quite the scandal). After Sybil’s devastating death, he makes peace with the Crawleys and is eventually accepted as a full-fledged member of the family.
Also, I’ve been rooting for Mr. Molesley, the adorably awkward valet turned footman turned school teacher, and I was glad to see he and Mrs. Baxter FINALLY! get engaged. Also, it’s revealed that Mr. Molesley has a talent for writing film scripts, which I found delightful. He helps fix the film after it must be hastily turned from a silent film to a talkie.
The biggest moment of the film was, unfortunately, a sad one – the passing of the Dowager. I had a feeling this film might include her death, and it’s an emotional moment, because Maggie Smith is such a fundamental part of what makes this show work. The halls of Downton aren’t going to be the same without her, and her passing is handled with the gravitas she deserves.
As to whether this is the last Downton film, who can say? If they make another one, I’d love to see the Crawleys pay a visit to America. I’d also be interested in a spinoff series set during World War II and how that impacts the world of Downton. And of course, a prequel series starring the Dowager in her younger days could be quite fun, if done well.
As I said before, in terms of quality I think the first Downton movie was probably a better story, but I got just as much enjoyment from this one. If this is the real end of the Downton saga, I’ll be satisfied…but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if there were more stories left to tell.