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‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’: A Warm and Fuzzy Affair With Unexpected Plot Twists and Transfer of Power

‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’: A Warm and Fuzzy Affair With Unexpected Plot Twists and Transfer of Power

  • It may not be as unforgettable as the musical “My Fair Lady” but the characters are equally melodramatic, emotional, and endearing.

I saw “Downton Abbey: A New Era” in the local theater this weekend. After parking the car, the brief walk to the theater transported me to another lifetime of going to the movies in India. One particular memory from1979 comes to mind. I had prepared all day to select a cool outfit: a sleeveless churidar kameez and a flowing turquoise dupatta to suit the sweltering heat of Mumbai. The movie was “My Fair Lady” and I watched it with my medical school classmate at the Regal Cinema, an art-deco movie theater at Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. Built by Framji Sidhwa, this is probably the first airconditioned theater in India. It took me an hour and a half by 8 limited BEST buses each way from Chembur to Colaba and back. 

Today was different, I was with my American friend, a retired art history teacher. We both like the Downton Abbey series and have enjoyed our discussions about the gilded age and the fate of aristocratic families in England.

Julian Fellowes and Simon Curtis brought us the motion picture “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” (set in 1928, after the World War I) at the perfect time in terms of the pandemic for us to enjoy the cinematic experience with a split storyline, involvement of the whole cast, with enough plot twists to fill the 2 hours and 5 minutes. It was comforting to walk into the palatial (Highclere Castle) home of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) and (a more tanned and slimmer Hugh Bonneville) Lord Grantham and vanquish “the real-life blues” for a while. 

Not only did we accompany the Ton on a mysterious journey to the French Riviera, thanks to the Dowager Countess’ unexpected inheritance but we also witnessed the production of a silent film with the dashing but down-to-earth Dominic West, and the glamorous but cantankerous Laura Haddock. The servant hall was beside themselves with excitement except for the ultra-conservative retired head Butler Carson!

The backbone of the story is of course by far, the Dowager, Lady Violet Crawley (now 87-year-old Maggie Smith) who doesn’t bat an eye at the scandal she has stirred up but takes a pragmatic approach to the unseemly “movie people.” Her sharp dialogue delivery and deadpan humor are greater than ever. The audience rolled with laughter at her choice of the idiom. “I’d rather work in the mines than do something like this… Or I’d rather eat pebbles.” 

As I watched Isabel Crawley (Penelope Wilson) unearth a million letters stowed away at the Dower House from an unknown admirer, I wondered why she had kept them for so long. She did not appear to be sentimental but perhaps she was a softy under her crusty exterior. Life works in mysterious ways especially if you are as charming as the “Maggie Smith makes the Dowager to be,” or perhaps true love transcends time and reason because I have also kept all correspondence from my parents. Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot is trying to reinvent herself as the “captain” of the estate, while her second husband is away, she catches the eye and ear of a debonair movie director who reminds her of her first husband. 

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It is heartening to see gloom dispel from the face and life of Barrow (Robert James-Collier) but the reinvention of the bookish Mr. Molesley is enchanting, indeed. I loved the last few minutes of the movie. The exchange between the mother and son is so touching, that it carries universal appeal. When Robert Crawley asks his mother if he had let her down anytime she says that he has done the best he could, many times over. To which he responded with disarming honesty: “I am not as smart as you, Mama.” The Dowager responds with equal candor. “Yes, but you are more kind.” Lady Violet shows her impartial spirit by bequeathing the lovely French Villa to Tom and Sybil’s daughter and making her peace with everyone, almost.

The heat was overwhelming today. During the previews, I had to run out and request the maintenance crew to lower the temperature of the theater. It still did not feel as cold as the memory of that day in the plush interior of the Regal cinema. Also, there were no shared ThumsUp or samosas during intermission but just like that day many years ago, I still laughed and wept in a theater full of strangers. We clapped too. Fellowes and the cast did deserve a round of applause. “Downton Abbey: A New Era” may not be as unforgettable as the musical “My Fair Lady” but the characters are equally melodramatic, emotional, and endearing. The film is cozy. Like a cup of good old-fashioned English tea, accompanied by a plate of scones and clotted cream. But to beat the heat and cool our emotions we both settled for iced coffee.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.

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