“A hundred years from now, Downton will still be standing.”
That’s what Mr. Carson (the estate’s now-retired butler) told Lady Mary (daughter of the estate’s earl) in the first Downton Abbey film three years ago.
Well, it hasn’t been a hundred years just yet. But Downton indeed still stands.
Mary and her father, Robert, along with her brother-in-law, Tom (who just remarried after the death of his first wife, Mary’s sister, Sybil), have managed to cut back expenses and make small repairs here and there to keep the old girl running.
But whether the estate will continue to flourish in a new era remains to be seen. Because if the crumbling roof isn’t replaced soon (an inordinate, but necessary expense), they won’t have a house so much as four walls surrounding some very damp inhabitants.
Mary has an idea to save Downton. It’s bold and bound to raise the blood pressure of Carson and her father. But it just might provide enough money to repair the old roof and keep the structure functioning for several more years. She’s going to let a Hollywood studio—perhaps the most modern entity to ever traipse the halls of the grand estate—film a movie at Downton!
To say that Robert and Carson disapprove would be an understatement. (Carson believes he would be better off dead than hosting a Hollywood production.)
Luckily, they won’t be around for it. Because, you see, Robert’s been invited to France to stay at a villa recently inherited by his mother, Violet. And Carson’s been asked to accompany him in order to bring the villa’s French servants up to British snuff.
Of course, why Violet has inherited this villa from a gentleman she only met once nearly 70 years ago remains a bit of a mystery. Then the deceased gentleman’s son (the Marquis de Montmirail) points out that Robert was conveniently born just nine months after Violet visited his father.
Could it be that Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of the Crawley family, beloved mother and Granny, proprietor of morality and strongest advocate of keeping Downton within the family gave birth to an illegitimate son and then allowed him to inherit the title and estate of Downton Abbey?
The subject of inheritance has long been debated by the residents of Downton. Which is part of the reason why it’s so scandalous when Violet inherits the French villa: She is, in a way, stealing the property of another family (one they thought they would be inheriting themselves). However, once everything is determined to be completely legal, she bequeaths the property to Sybbie, the daughter of Tom and Sybil. Because Tom is a commoner, he was never able to give his daughter as grand a life as her cousins, all of whom had wealthy fathers. And Violet rights this “wrong” by ensuring Sybbie will have the same privileges as the rest of her family.
Hollywood may be the most modern thing to enter Downton, but even Hollywood was quickly changing in the early 1930s. Shortly after the release of The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie,” film production on the silent film at Downton is halted. But Mary isn’t to be dissuaded. She suggests changing the film to have dialogue and even steps in to help with the voiceover for an actress with an accent.
Mary’s suggestion saves the jobs of many crew members and creates opportunities for staff members at Downton. However, Myrna Dalgleish, the film’s star, becomes distraught. Her strong Cockney accent isn’t acceptable for movies, and she fears she won’t be able to find work after this film is done. But Anna and Daisy (two Downton staff members) encourage her, reminding her that working girls like them don’t give up when things get hard. When they get knocked down, they get back up, dust themselves off and find a way.
Although a few people worry that the Hollywood cast and crew will be perpetually drunk, act immorally with the house maids and steal from Downton, they are proven wrong. And other than one outburst that leads to a broken vase, the entire experience remains pleasant.
Daisy and Andy (a married couple working at Downton) struggle to find privacy while living with Mr. Mason (the father of Daisy’s late husband, William). But it turns out Mr. Mason is purposely making things uncomfortable so that they’ll want him to leave. He plans to give them the house and live elsewhere but worries they’ll feel responsible for him.
Mary and Edith (her sister) have had a long-standing rivalry. And though they’ve eased up on each other over the years, they still exchange a few snide remarks. However, when a member of their family passes, they hug each other for comfort.
A wedding takes place in a church. “God save the King” is played before a movie starts at the theater. A few nuns enter a building. Someone references Andromeda from Greek mythology.
As anyone who has watched the Downton Abbey television series or previous film knows, Thomas Barrow, Downton’s butler, is gay. He expresses sadness when he learns that a fellow gay man (one he previously kissed) is marrying a woman. Thomas receives support from others at Downton who accept his sexuality. One of the visiting actors heavily implies he is gay as well and flirts with Thomas. Eventually, he offers Thomas a job (which Thomas accepts) to travel with him as his companion.
Mary is saddened by her husband’s constant absence. As she puts it, Henry is in love with cars, speed and adventure, but she thought his love for her would cancel that out. However, when another man asks to kiss her, she refuses the offer despite enjoying the attention. The man still tries to convince her, but she simply states that she can’t give him what he wants.
A few married couples kiss. Some outfits show cleavage. Men and women both wear modest swimsuits. Myrna makes a crass comment about being sexually desirable.
It is heavily implied that Robert was the result of an extramarital affair. [Spoiler Warning] Robert eventually learns that while Monsieur Montmirail was in love with Violet, she never allowed the relationship to become physical. And though he sent her many letters over the years, she never responded, remaining true to her husband. This caused strife between Montmirail and his wife (he wouldn’t allow her to remove a portrait of Violet from their villa), but since Violet did not encourage it and since it happened before the man had even met his wife, she remains blameless.
An actress smashes a vase in jealous frustration. A Hollywood man says his property was destroyed by a jealous actor, but he considers it “good publicity.”
God’s name is misused once. We hear two uses of “h—” (one paired with the British expletive “bloody”, though this is immediately corrected) and one use of “b–tard.”
People drink wine at meals. While filming a scene, two extras sneak in some booze in a flask.
An actress is obnoxiously rude to the staff of Downton. When Robert tells her director to correct the woman, he refuses because of her fame. People also tell lies to spare the feelings of others.
Despite the heat of France, a man is too proud to change from his heavy, woolen suit into a lighter, linen suit because it isn’t “proper.” A few men consider it improper to “live off a woman,” which could be construed as pride.
A man gets seasick on a boat. When a woman suspects she has cancer, she hides the truth from her husband. We hear that a woman’s sister died of Spanish flu. Someone passes away from old age; it’s a bittersweet moment, since that character is surrounded by mourning family and friends.
Downton Abbey might be ushering in a new era—as the film’s title suggests—but not in ways that will deter longtime fans from enjoying it.
Although 1920s and ’30s fashion tends to be a bit flashier, outfits are still modest and limit the amount of skin we see. Language is almost non-existent, only used in extreme situations (and once corrected even then). The most violent thing that happens here is when a woman smashes a vase in a jealous fit. And while this film broaches the topics of homosexuality and marital infidelity, we don’t see either of them played out on screen.
In my review of the first Downton Abbey film, I quoted Mr. Carson’s statement about Downton still standing a hundred years from now. “And while the butler was trying to encourage his employer that it’s acceptable to adapt with the times, whether or not such change is always positive is an open question.”
Well, it’s still an open question.
On one hand, the movie embraces homosexuality, sending Thomas off to live his dream life with another man. On the other, it discourages marital infidelity. When Mary is tempted to cheat on her long-absent husband, she states that she’s “too old-fashioned to believe what I want is all that matters.”
It’s a nice sentiment, considering we live in a culture that promotes individual wants and desires over moral rightness. But it’s also a contradictory one bearing in mind the path that Thomas takes.
So while Downton Abbey: A New Era is actually somewhat milder that the show and film that preceded it, these considerations may yet discourage viewers who don’t completely share its overall worldview.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.