Time marches on for the beloved characters of Downton Abbey as their second appearance on the silver screen delivers a wonderful continuation of their stories fans will surely enjoy. In fact, A New Era does a better job than the previous film in allowing all the characters to get their moments. It opens in 1928. Soon after Tom (Allen Leech) and Lucy’s wedding, as opulent as expected, the cast is divided into two groups to deal with the film’s major stories.
Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the Dowager Countess of Grantham, has been bequeathed a French villa in the will of Marquis de Montmirail, a man she knew years ago before Robert (Hugh Bonneville) was born, which raises a few questions of why he left it to her. The Marquis’s widow is angered by the result and considering going to court. Hugh leads a few members of the family and staff head to France at the Marquis’s son’s request in an effort to diffuse, and possibly understand, the situation.
At Downton, the rest of the family and staff deal with a film production company, an undertaking allowed because of the fee offered will allow them to fix the roof. Borrowing from the making of Hitchcock’s Blackmail, the film’s producer/director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) runs into a major problem when the studio decides they no longer want a silent picture and demand it be made a talkie. Myrna (Laura Haddock), the lead actress, has an unappealing voice, and Jack must figure out a workaround that allows him to complete the film while not alienating Myrna.
After having written the 52-episode series and previous movie, screenwriter Julian Fellowes impresses with this script. The new plots are engaging with believable scenarios for the time, as are the many scenes with the main characters as the audience sees how their personal stories advance. The cast is top notch as usual, and the newcomers do a very fine job blending with them. Admittedly, there are more positive outcomes than negative but it’s hard to begrudge them considering all the characters have been through over the years and all the viewers have as well. Plus, it’s not all happy endings.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The colors shine in strong hues. Black are inky and whites are accurate, contributing to a great contrast. The image is clean and exhibits depth and a sharp focus, which highlights the fine texture details, particularly in the costumes and sets.
The audio is available in Dolby Atmos, which I heard in 7.1. The dialogue sounds clear throughout. Composer John Lunn’s orchestral score adds to the lushness of scenes and fills the surrounds. Slight ambiance can be heard.
The high-definition Bonus Features are:
- Good to Be Back (4 min) – Cast excited to be back together
- Return to Downton Abbey: The Making of A New Era (12 min) – Getting to hear from crew members, including historians, about the production.
- A Legendary New Character (4 min) – Cast and crew rave about Maggie Smith
- Creating the Film…Within the Film (9 min) – Looks at how the crew recreated the making of a film of the era.
- Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia (3 min) – A brief look at film on location.
- Spill the Tea (Time) (2 min) – actors Allen Leech and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) answer questions that are rather inane.
- Audio commentary by director Simon Curtis, who makes his debut into the Downton world but had worked with a number of the actors previously. His affection for the film and working on it is palpable.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is a delight and should please fans. While it’s not the best place for jump in considering the history the characters have with one another, there is still enough presented for newcomers to understand and not feel completely lost. The Blu-ray delivers a satisfying high-definition experience with the video showcasing the cinematography and production design, and a fun collection of behind-the-scenes extras.