First, the good news. There are no multiverses in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Focus Features). Now, the bad news [SPOILER ALERT], the indomitable Violet Grantham (Maggie Smith) spends the whole movie dying and eventually succumbs. She does, however, have a classic deathbed scene and some of the greatest last words ever spoken onscreen (no spoiler here).
Conscious of how much fans of the “Downton Abbey” series, and the previous movie, are tasked with keeping track of, the filmmakers generously include a thorough recap (also available online) of all the comings and goings before the movie begins. As any “Downton” devotee knows, there is much to recall.
As we’ve come to expect the upstairs/downstairs drama (and occasional comedy) never stops. The “new era” of the title not only refers to the approach of the 1930s and the fast-changing modern world, but also to various changes occurring within the family, its exclusive society, and its beloved home. In other words, nothing really earth-shattering happens, although watching these characters reactions throughout, might make you think so.
The biggest dramatic moments are divided between the homestead and the South of France. At Downton Abbey, a British film crew is paying a pretty pound sterling to make a movie. The money will come in handy as Downton’s leaky roof is in desperate need of repair. Led by director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) and featuring silent film stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), Downton is transformed into a movie set. The production is fraught with complications, but they manage to muddle through. Part of the fun is watching the impact Barber, Dalgleish, and Dexter have on the household, including an unexpected and heartwarming potential romance for dashing gay butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier).
As for the South of France, it turns out that Violet has inherited a palatial chateau following the passing of a love interest from her past. It’s a part of her life she long kept private, but now those closet doors have been flung open, and its contents, including a stack of correspondence, as well as a painted miniature portrait of Violet have come tumbling out for all to see.
Unfortunately, unlike Barber, the director character in “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” Simon Curtis, the actual director of “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” doesn’t know when to yell “cut.” Sadly, the movie, and its countless (and often confusing) cast of characters, ends up overstaying its welcome. Rating: C+