Did the world need a second Downton Abbey movie? Did I need to see it? These are, of course, rhetorical questions because the movie was made and I found myself wanting a low-key way to spend a day in London and the flick had just opened in theaters. Thus, I saw Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) in spite of myself. And while it was mostly predictable and predictably pretty, I can confidently say it was better than the first movie if only because the still very lightweight plot wasn’t as utterly pointless as that first movie. A whole bunch of the characters we know and love have Important Life Things happen to them by the end of this second movie, and it felt even more like a neat tidying-up of the entire Crawley and clan stories than even before. Not that this would keep a third movie from being churned out if and when someone decides they need the money.
I’d love to discuss the plot, such as it is, but that’d give away spoilers, and this flick is already so devoid of tension or suspense. The central “mystery” teased in the trailers isn’t much of one, for example. But what I did like was the mirroring of how the movie opens and ends. And I felt that the complications encountered in the ‘filming a movie at Downton Abbey’ storyline were so obviously ripped off from Singin’ in the Rain that I kept waiting for this:
The time period is about a year after the first movie, so time is moving really slowly — which is annoying; the TV show was best in the early seasons when the movement of time was swifter and the characters had to adjust to the changing world. Now they seem weirdly calcified as ultra old-fashioned people living in a more modern world.
Thus, the costumes are still 1920s, just inching towards the end of that decade almost imperceptibly. Hilariously, the one thing that seems inaccurate is the movie-within-the-movie’s costumes. The movie being filmed at the Abbey is set in the 1870s and while those costumes are glitzy and the wigs are kind of hilarious, the actual costumes look far too historically accurate for a 1920s “period” movie, at least any that I’ve seen! Still, it’s enjoyable to see all this fancy garb in the big finale scene.
Costume design credits are shared by previous Downton designer Anna Robbins with Maja Meschede (Catherine the Great). Looks like Robbins is the only one doing press for the film, so I’m unclear how the design duties were split up.
Tom and Lucy get married, so we see a properly fancy wedding, and Anna Robbins describes the bride’s gown in British Vogue:
“When it came to designing Lucy’s wedding dress, I found a photograph in a ’20s copy of Vogue that I nearly exactly recreated; it’s streamlined through the hips and then layer upon layer of gathered silk tulle flows out around her. She’s more down to earth than the other characters who have been married at Downton Abbey, so it felt important that she would be able to lift up her skirts and dance at the reception. Her veil, though, is more elaborate than any of the others. I sourced it through Jane Bourvis, and she wears it with a Bentley & Skinner tiara studded with diamonds and pearls.”
Unlike some of the TV Downton weddings, we get enough time onscreen to enjoy this dress, so all this work pays off. But until the very end of the movie, there isn’t much more in the way of formalwear. There’s only one “dressed for dinner” scene with the family, and everything else is daywear, which shows subtle changes of time.
In Metro, Anna Robbins talked about how the different characters’ wardrobes have evolved, such as:
“With Lady Mary, we wanted to reflect a softer side to her in this film, and we looked at that softness and pallet through fabrics, through textiles, and just creating something that felt slightly less angular and sharp which suits her and looks amazing but this is about finding a different side to her personality.”
Fine, but I hate that pink-grey grampa sweater she’s been wearing since the final season of the TV show. I said it then in our recaps, and I haven’t changed my mind. Other looks Mary wore in this film were more appealing IMO.
Here’s that one dinner scene:
The Dowager Countess has moved into the Abbey (or back in, given that she lived there long before the timeline of the show), and Maggie Smith gets her obligatory zingers in from closer range.
The ‘movie-within-a-movie’ plot brings most of the glamorous costumes, as worn by Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock).
In British Vogue, Anna Robbins talked about the movie stars who come to Downton:
“Myrna is inspired by the likes of Clara Bow and Louise Brooks, but I also looked at Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish’s wardrobes when sourcing pieces for her. That means she wears a lot of sumptuous, expensive designs — fur stoles and Art-Deco jewellery. When she arrives at Downton Abbey, the camera pans her up and down, and you get to see these brilliant original shoes that I managed to find for her and have restored.”
Meanwhile, the other half of the family heads off to the Riviera, first in smart travel coats and hats.
Then they change into lighter-weight outfits — except for Carson, which is a bit of a joke.
Being on holiday in France gives the Crawleys, et. al., a chance to dress down (y’know, as much as they ever would). Anna Robbins notes her influences for creating this part of their wardrobe in British Vogue:
“I studied a lot of photographs of Chanel in the South of France while designing the Crawleys’ slightly more relaxed holiday wardrobes. Edith, in particular, embraces some of the more daring styles that were becoming popular; I found these beautiful cream-and-green trousers that she wears with a kimono and matching slippers.”
And the young couples wear late ’20s sportswear too, as Robbins continues:
“You see Edith and Bertie, Lucy and Tom playing doubles together, and I found original pieces in a rich cream shade for the girls to wear for the match — contrasting beautifully with the green of the villa lawn. Lucy accessorises hers with sunglasses and a headscarf, while Edith has these tiny ankle socks and prim leather heels. You also get to witness the first Downton Abbey character wearing a bathing suit: Tom goes swimming in the Med with Lucy in an all-in-one.”
It’s a cute scene, and Allen Leech delivers some vintage man-candy.
Is a second Downton movie in your future?
I’m just glad Mary no longer has those god awful bangs she was sporting in the first movie. It was such an unflattering look for her.
I rather enjoyed the first season of the series. Seasons two and three felt enough like diminishing returns that I swore off the show. Is there enough pretty in this second film to make dead horse flogging worthwhile?
I prefer this hairstyle on Mary, whatever their reasoning. Also that taupe-and-black outfit in the pic with her and the microphone. Edith is the one who has benefited most from being in this era (she got actually flattering looks!).
Looking at the photo from the wedding – boy they really found a good mini-Dan Stevens for George, didn’t they?
Tom in a bathing suit is hot AF! The 1st movie was pretty, but pointless IMO! Wish this was set in the summer of 1929. One last hurrah before the Wall Street Crash!
Allen Leech has always been hot. I’ve been crushing on him ever since HBO’s Rome and his unexpected shower scene.
A.L. is not bad at all, although no Downton guy will ever come close to the late Mr. Pamuk (Theo James).
Do you recall what season that shower scene was in? Asking for…research purposes.
Sure Bev. As I wait patiently for SarahV to respond….
The costumes look fab as usual. Looking at these pix and the trailers, were all the Abbey scenes filmed after their return from S France? Because he’s looking unnaturally tan.
I’ll certainly watch it, though I may wait for the dvd to come out (as one eventually and inevitably will.) I liked the first half of the series better than the second (before we lost Sybil and Matthew) but I’ve binged the whole thing more than once, and can add this to the collection.
Oh, this looks puffy, silly, glitzy dreck. Of course I’ll watch it, but I’ll probably need to be drunk. They don’t serve booze at my local theater so it will have to wait until a home viewing.
The older French lady who was the widow of the original owner of the chateau had the most amazing cream dress when she walked down the stairs, in the first scene. It was so elegant and French. I wish I could find a picture of it – I literally gasped when she appeared!
Yes. It is definitely in my future. Not sure if I’ll brave the theatres with Covid, since most ppl where I live go mask-less or wait until Amazon it HBO/MAX stream it. BTW. I’m addicted to Gilded Age bc I am a Team Bertha/George fan.
My mother’s been watching old Downton Abbey episodes and I’ve realized that I really don’t like these people much. Mary’s an icy b–ch, Edith’s an idiot and the entire household has broken enough shibboleths to be ostracized forever! Yet the King and Queen drop in for a visit! My suspension of disbelief is broken.
On the other hand there are pretty clothes and Dame Maggie Smith so it’s not entirely without redeeming qualities.
I know being a costume site this isn’t really the focus, but in the scene at the Villa party I was jarred my the band and their extremely modern sound. I feel for better accuracy they could even gotten the Alex Mendham orchestra. However I did love the costumes.
” And I felt that the complications encountered in the ‘filming a movie at Downton Abbey’ storyline were so obviously ripped off from Singin’ in the Rain that I kept waiting for this:”
Actually, no. There’s a real-life basis in British film history for that plot line that has nothing to do with SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN– which itself was more likely inspired by this incident:
Alfred Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL (1929) started production as a silent film, but the producers decided to add a sound scene at the end as a selling “gimmick.”
A number of Hollywood films, like NOAH’S ARK (1928), were “part-talkies” at this point– mostly music and synchronized sound effects, with a few sound dialogue scenes in addition to the usual subtitle cards throughout.
However, Hitchcock’s film was structured in a way that large parts of the film would have been action scenes without dialogue anyway, so only a limited number of talking scenes throughout the film needed to be re-filmed.
Although the revamped film was ballyhooed as “the first full-length all-talkie film made in Great Britain,” the long stretches with no dialogue meant it was technically still only a “part-talkie.”
Unfortunately, Hitchcock had to overcome one MAJOR difficulty: his lead actress, Anny Ondra, was from Prague and had a thick Czech accent that rendered her unsuitable for her role in the film.
Rather than scrap all of her footage and start over with a new actress, Hitchcock hired British actress Joan Barry to replace her spoken dialogue. But since the technology available didn’t permit post-dubbing, Joan Barry stood off-camera and spoke the lines into a microphone, while Ondra lip-synched on-camera to Barry’s voice.
Since not all theaters had sound equipment at this point, a silent version of BLACKMAIL was also prepared and released after the “talkie” version– and despite all the ballyhoo for the sound version, the silent version actually had a longer theatrical run and made more money.
Both versions have been restored and preserved by the British Film Institute.
What the vast majority of viewers (& reviewers; I’ve seen & heard this referenced elsewhere) will be familiar with is the Singin’ in the Rain plot. You can’t put that into a current movie & say otherwise.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN might be more familiar to a majority of U.S. viewers and reviewers, but the dubbing of Anny Ondra’s role in BLACKMAIL is very well known as well.
And it’s what they were actually referring to, according to the people who made it.
DOWNTON ABBEY executive producer Gareth Neame’s grandfather, cinematographer/producer/director Ronald Neame, was Hitchcock’s assistant cameraman on BLACKMAIL:
(The article incorrectly says Ronald Neame was assistant director, but he was actually an uncredited assistant camerman, as was future director Michael Powell.)
Sorry, I think you’ve bought into this film’s very weak PR! Because the rest of us, audiences & reviewers alike, are going with the far, far more obvious association. See, that’s the thing, when you put something out in the public that’s incredibly unoriginal, folks are going to call you on it. Fellows has been at this long enough to know that, & no amount of spin will change it.
“Sorry, I think you’ve bought into this film’s very weak PR! Because the rest of us, audiences & reviewers alike, are going with the far, far more obvious association.”
The connection to Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL is solidly documented– the reworking of the film to incorporate sound, the technique they used for Joan Barry to replace Anny Ondra’s voice, producer Gareth Neame’s grandfather Ronald Neame getting his start in films as camera assistant on this film– this has all been written about for decades.
It isn’t just some “very weak PR” tale they fabricated after the fact in response to negative reviews. It’s part of British film history and also part of the family history of one of the people who has been with the DOWNTON ABBEY franchise since the beginning.
Of all the hills to die on, you’ve chosen a very silly one. Wake up & smell the obvious!
Case in point:
All referring to Singin in the Rain because it’s the obvious comparison!
Joan Barry’s daughter is Henrietta Tiarks Duchess of Bedford
I just saw the movie. I thought that Cora had the best looks BY FAR when compared to everyone else in the film.
-5 for corset whining from Mrs Patmore!
We just saw it last weekend and as my partner and I are avid fans we loved it. I was swooning over most of the clothes, especially that kimono you mentioned with pajama pants that Edith wore in the South of France. Why no photo of it??
And the Mosely story was very neat, I like that he is getting his due as a comic actor and the character finding his voice as a screenwriter.