After the somewhat surprising $100M+ domestic gross for 2019's Downton Abbey film, the filmmakers have gone back to the well with Downton Abbey: A New Era. It's highly unlikely that this will attract new fans to the series or win over detractors of the previous efforts, but it's pleasant escapism for people who enjoyed the PBS show (full disclosure: I watched and enjoyed the TV series).
The new film, directed by Simon Curtis, follows a plethora of characters across two main plot lines. The first is the cancer-stricken Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) receiving a letter telling her she has inherited a villa in the south of France from a former paramour. Violet is too ill to go, so her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and others travel to France while the rest of the household and staff (led by eldest daughter Mary, played by Michelle Dockery) stay behind as a movie crew temporarily moves into the estate to shoot a silent film even though talkies are beginning to take the world by storm. Mary ends up playing a bigger role in the film than she ever imagined.
It's not exactly a high-stakes plot. There was more genuine dramatic tension in the best episodes/seasons of the series. Some of A New Era does feel like fan service. But on the other hand, for fans of the show, the film will feel like spending two hours with old friends and it remains a pleasure to watch the 87-year-old Smith deliver zingers to anyone and everyone. There are also some funny culture clash moments as Downton's residents get accustomed to being around a movie shoot. A New Era's target audience will probably enjoy it, and thus the film does exactly what it sets out to do.