Julian Fellowes introduced Downton Abbey to the world in 2010. A classy, campy soap about a feuding family and their hostile servants. People schemed, screwed and died. By the time the 2019 film released the characters had made peace with each other. Conflict came from visiting royalty, an inheritance dispute and a love interest for Thomas. The movie felt like a cast party.
Now we have Downton Abbey: A New Era. Fellowes woke the gang up for one last paycheck. He forgot to write them a script. The story involves a visiting film crew, an inheritance dispute and a love interest for Thomas. Conflict, stakes and character arcs are non-existent. The Abbey’s only antagonist is time.
The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) wants to settle her affairs before she leaves this mortal coil. Her granddaughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) has been abandoned by her husband and must run the Abbey alone. Matthew Goode’s absence feels embarrassing. Perhaps she buried him in the rose garden. Smith tells her to “be a dragon.” There’s potential here. The chance for Smith to mold a successor who can learn from her mistakes. Sadly, the film drops the thread entirely. Mary gets swept up in some tired movie-making shenanigans.
Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), the gay butler, went from the show’s villain to its whipping boy. Every love interest betrayed or abandoned him. The same holds true of his 2019 paramour Max Brown who dumps him by letter. Now he gets Dominic West, a silent film star. This should have been juicy but Fellowes couldn’t be bothered. The gents share three chaste conversations before pledging their devotion. It’s ridiculous. At least Brown gave Tom a kiss. West won’t offer as much as a handshake.
It’s a shame Fellowes didn’t let someone else write a script. He seems to resent the assignment. At the end his dollies are tucked into bed and the audience is asked to kindly sod off.