Beautifully filmed, intriguing, entertaining, poignant and with a gorgeously light touch, Downton Abbey: A New Era is everything you could possibly want it to be – a genuine delight expertly delivered.
Of course a cast of characters that we all know so well brings a wealth of reassurance right from the start, but it also brings challenges: just what on earth is anyone going to find new to do with them?
The answer is in twin storylines which each break new territory in their own way, stories which alternate and then are brought together masterfully before an ending which movingly underlines that the times really are changing.
Downton’s roof is leaking. Something needs to be done if the family is going to enter the 1930s with confidence – and that’s the point at which a film crew, offering an undisclosed sum which immediately raises eyebrows, announces it would like to move in to make a silent film amid all the opulence. Meanwhile, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith on the finest form) drops her own little bombshell with guarded hints at a long lost mystery in her past: a French aristo, seemingly out the blue, has left her a villa on the south coast of France.
Inevitably there are tensions all round. There is horror at the thought of “vulgar” actors with their “plastered” faces and “plastered” drinking habits moving in; meanwhile, the widow (Nathalie Baye) of the late Frenchman is decidedly less than pleased that her husband simply gave their villa away,
Half the party head off to the south of France where the butler laments just how awfully French the French are – despite the graciousness of their welcome. But then as the mystery seems to unravel, Lord Grantham is suddenly looking at the biggest existential crisis of his life: just who exactly is he?
Meanwhile, back at home, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), frustrated at the absence of her husband, is fighting temptation of a wholly unexpected kind. The film director isn’t exactly shy about telling her just how he feels about her, and, well, she’s clearly feeling much the same. Amid all the tensions, Laura Haddock is delivering plenty of Singin’ In The Rain type fun as silent film star Myrna Dalgleish who is suddenly discovering that she is going to have to speak as the new era of talkies starts to come in: her big problem is that she sounds utterly oiky. Several hundred miles further south Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Grantham is suffering further anguish as the prospect of serious illness raises its head. It’s a part absolutely made for Bonneville, brilliant in conveying the fear, but as always, the consummate comic actor, so wonderful at prompting the laughs.
Meanwhile, oh yes, it’s all happening, back at Downton, roguish film star Guy Dexter (Dominic West) has got the hots for the house’s footman-turned-butler. What emerges is a touching plea for understanding and compassion – typical of the humanity which cuts through the superficial snobbishness of the household. The film is light and yet profound, touching and yet thoroughly entertaining. A real treat.