Review: It's hard to resist the charm of 'Downton Abbey: A New Era'

Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in "Downton Abbey: A New Era."

Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in "Downton Abbey: A New Era." (Ben Blackall, Focus Features)

Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

DOWNTON — The Crawley family is back with an all-new adventure. Wait, adventure isn't right. Let me try that again.

The Crawley family is back with an all-new tale of mystery and intrigue. Nope, that's not it either. One more time.

The Crawley family is back with a whole bunch of drama. Not all of it new, but drama nonetheless.

Yeah, that feels right.

Lord and Lady Grantham are back on the big screen with all of their kids, in-laws, former in-laws, former in-laws' new spouses, downstairs staff and grandkids when it's convenient, which is not often.

"Downton Abbey: A New Era" is now in theaters and I'm not really sure what to tell you about it. Those who are excited about the film are already Downton fans and are going to see this movie regardless of my opinion. Then the others who will see it are likely those who aren't interested in the Downton saga but are there in support of someone who is interested.

I'll admit, I'm more of the latter. I watched the first few seasons of the show but lost interest at that point. I never watched any other seasons or the first film, "Downton Abbey." Still, I decided I should catch up on all things going on at Downton with the Crawleys and their staff and I'm happy I did, otherwise this movie would have been tough to sit through.

But since I was somewhat versed on the latest goings-on at the estate, I was able to follow the story — and I have to admit, I found myself invested.

Here are a few reasons I somewhat enjoyed "Downton Abbey: A New Era," despite the fact I am not a regular guest of the grand old house.

It forces you to get invested despite low stakes

I'm sure I will receive some hate mail over this, but let's be honest with ourselves, people: "Downton Abbey" is a soap opera. It's done much better than any soap opera on television, but it's a soap.

This wealthy, attractive family is plagued with unexpected deaths, enough romantic storylines to fill a cruise ship, illegitimate children suddenly popping up and threatening to take something over, as well as endless love triangles and so many characters it's often difficult to keep up with it all.

But this soap opera happens to take place in a post World War I England with beautiful locations and an incredible home known as Downton Abbey.

My point here is this: Soap operas may be over the top and absurd with their storylines, but they are addicting as you are engaged to find out what happens next. That's why they have been on for so long and will continue to be. This is the same reason "Downton Abbey" has enjoyed six seasons and two movies and will likely have more. It's addicting.

I had not spent any time with the Crawleys in years, but after about 30 minutes I found myself invested in what was going on and how it was going to play out for everyone involved.

What's more impressive is the fact that nothing that is going on is really that important. There is no life-or-death situation. Nothing is going to make or break the Crawley family. In fact, the biggest threat is a leaky roof and we only mention that maybe twice.

When the "issues" started coming to fruition, I got a little uncomfortable at how pretentious and petty the whole thing was. I mean, this wealthy family may or may not get an enormous villa in the south of France to summer at and this is one of our biggest concerns. I often found it hard to relate with all the "problems" the characters had, considering their cushy lifestyles. But in spite of my eye rolls, I was all in by the time these frivolous storylines were playing out.

It's more light-hearted than we're used to

"Downton" has always had jokes here and there and always gives its audience a few sensible chuckles, but "Downton" can often be a real downer. Main characters dying on the day of their first child's birth, characters being denied love and happiness and all sorts of other depressing storylines.

"A New Era" also takes a bit of a new approach. We still get all the drama you have fallen in love with, but the entire film is based on a lighter foundation. We start off with a grand wedding that kind of sets the tone for where we go with the rest of the film.

There are plenty of jokes in the film, as well. Again, this is a proper English family, so you won't be laughing out loud — that's not very respectable — but you will smile. The lighter tone was a welcome change in a time when we could all use it.

'A New Era' is a satisfying wrap-up

I'm not sure this will be the end of "Downton"; but if it were, I think this movie would stand as a fitting send-off.

I don't think every character gets their ride off into the sunset, but there are a lot of satisfying ends to many character storylines that we've been invested in for the past decade. The final shot is a little cheesy and feels like a Saturday afternoon sitcom, but watching some of these characters finally get what they have been waiting for for so long felt good.

"A New Era" is more of a feel-good movie, and writer and creator Julian Fellowes clearly felt it was time for some of these characters to finally stop struggling and find some joy in their lives.

What parents should know

"Downton Abbey" has never been known for its racy content and this movie is no different. The film is rated PG and that is the correct rating. While I can't think of anything that should concern parents too much, I will say most kids will be wildly bored. As my 9-year-old son always asks when I see a movie, "Is there a lot of talking?"

To this one I had to answer, "Yes. There is so much talking."

Should I go see it?

Whether you should see "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is very dependent on you. If you have been following the Crawleys since the beginning, then yes, you should go see it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

If you know nothing of them and have no desire, then I don't think this movies is worth your time and money.

If you know you have to go because you have a loved one that insists you join them, then I think you should go for the sake of your relationship. I also have good news, because if you're willing to look past the vapid nature of some of the storylines and let yourself get lost in the world, you may find you like the Crawleys a bit more than you realized.

"Downton Abbey: A New Era" is rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.

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John has grown up around movies and annoys friends and family with his movie facts and knowledge. He also has a passion for sports and pretty much anything awesome, and it just so happens, that these are the three things he writes about.


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