Bring on the bulldozers — it’s time to demolish Downton.
The stately English manse, occupied by the rich and occasionally inconvenienced, is crumbling before our very eyes. So, let’s knock ‘er down and put some British chain store on the grounds instead. Tesco Abbey! I’d much rather chew on a prepackaged sandwich than watch these actors chew on any more scenery.
A dangerous leaky roof is one of the many subplots of the latest film, called “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” but the home’s age can be felt more strongly in the chintzy storytelling.
Running time: 125 minutes. Rated PG (some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.) In theaters.
What was once a sophisticated, edgy, witty, sexy drama series has become “The Love Boat” Season 10. Though these wax figures’ love is even less exciting and neeeeew than that old show.
There are two concurrent plots here, both of which play like rudimentary fan fiction. The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who’s in poor health, is shocked when she learns she’s inherited a villa in the south of France from a summer fling decades earlier. The Frog’s surviving relatives invite the Granthams to come see the house and unlock the liaison’s mystery.
While Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael), Tom (Allen Leech), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) are frolicking on the Côte d’Azur, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the servants stay behind in England to supervise a film crew that’s making a movie at Downton.
The family thinks Hollywood is tacky, but they need the cash for repairs. However, the ladies’ maids are enamored with the famous faces. One actor, Guy Dexter (Dominic West), is a British Californian who’s a lot like Cary Grant (in, ahem, every respect) and the other, Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), is a stunning starlet … with an unfortunate cockney accent. Because the talkies are about to replace silent films, in which a person’s voice didn’t matter, she’s concerned about her survival in the industry.
That whole silent-film-star-scared-of-the-future bit has been done countless times, from Kaufman and Hart’s 1932 comedy “Once in a Lifetime” to Billy Wilder’s classic “Sunset Blvd.” “Downtown” creator Julian Fellowes has absolutely nothing to add but cliché.
Where there once was drama and class commentary in “Downton,” there is now endless flirting and marriage proposals in the film directed by Simon Curtis. Any favorite character who hasn’t yet paired off with another favorite character does so here. There is a wedding, a safe-as-can-be almost-affair, a gay not-quite dalliance, a new romantic partnership and a great deal of superficial pining.
After a long stretch of banality, there are two emotional complications in the movie’s last half-hour, but neither have much to do with the rest of the movie. The finale is less affecting than it should be.
We also no longer fully believe the houseworkers, now that the actors are famous and overly dolled up. The upstairs-downstairs divide is thinner than floss and everybody flits about and talks to whomever they please without consequence.
The saving grace of “A New Era” is Smith, who still commands our respect and affection. Bonneville also feels more at home in this world than his co-stars do, but his character’s storyline amounts to nothing.
Fellowes has lost his spritely touch with plot and dialogue. The jokes in the second film are dumb, and it’s inherited the melodramatic pomp of the first. His HBO drama series “The Gilded Age” — a lesser “Downton” set in 1870s New York City — is louder than Cape Canaveral on a launch day. His reign as the King of Costume Drama is over.
In the movie, Lady Mary says she wants Downton to “enter the 1930s with our heads held high.” The best way for these characters to enter the 2030s with their heads held high would be to end it. Full stop.
Credit: Notigroup Newsroom.
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