After roughly a decade of convincing, I finally took the deep dive into my Downton Abbey journey early in May as the release date for the sequel film, Downton Abbey: A New Era approached. It was a daunting task, shoving 52 hour-long episodes (some Christmas specials can stretch past 90 minutes) as well as a feature film into a 20-day period, particularly as someone who is not good at binging television in the way most people of my age group can…and technically speaking, I didn’t succeed! It’s true I finished Downton Abbey and *adored* it, but it did take me more than the initially plotted 20 days to complete, and due to a friend’s wedding, traveling for family matters, and eventually, COVID, it proved to all be for naught as I found myself missing being able to see Downton Abbey: A New Era in theaters. Was it all worth the hassle? It absolutely was, because the only way to get me to do anything is to rush me as if there is a concrete deadline, and even then, I’ll still likely miss said deadline.
In the new age of shortened theatrical windows, waiting for Downton Abbey: A New Era to become available on my end was a short process, dropping on VOD mere weeks after release, streaming on Peacock only 34 days after opening in theaters, and finally, releasing physically on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 4K on July 5. Today, we’re discussing the standard Blu-ray release.
While I loved the show Downton Abbey, and did find major enjoyment in the first film, I did find the first film to contain a few points of struggle that kept it from feeling like a triumph, not least of which that it simply felt like a three episode arc that didn’t end with any major revelations or developments for any of the characters involved. Yes, we love the characters, but the series had stakes, people died, no one was safe from a sad storyline. The first film steered away from that. The film, while shot in a more cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, still felt like a statically shot television serial (as the film was directed by a seasoned television director, this tracks), without much style beyond a few elevated drone shots of the estate in the opening credits. Again, we don’t need James Cameron behind the camera of this, but some flair would be nice.
Luckily, these complaints were nearly all rectified in some form or another in Downton Abbey: A New Era.
Returning to the titular household and resident Crawley family, Downton Abbey: A New Era picks up one year after the events of the first film as Tom (Allen Leech) marries Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) after their implied courtship at the end of the last film. The following film splits into two parallel plots, following Tom, Lucy, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael), Bertie (Harry Haddon-Paton), Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), Mrs. Carson (Phyllis Logan) and Ms. Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) as they travel to the South of France to investigate and litigate a grand estate left to Violet (Maggie Smith) in the will of a former lover. Meanwhile, Mary (Michelle Dockery) stays behind at Downton with the majority of the staff as the house is used as a shooting location for a silent film directed by Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), with larger-than-life stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dagleish (Laura Haddock).
Are you following after listing all of the names? (Be glad I didn’t list off the names of the staff.) On paper, this might actually sound more middling than the first film (which followed the visit of the royal family to the estate), but there’s a much more urgent quality to this film that intertwines with the twin storylines quite well, dealing with the rapidly changing times, the nature of family, as well as one’s mortality. There are actual stakes to be had in this film, and director Simon Curtis (much more familiar with directing feature films) tackles this with a much lighter hand. The opposing storylines also help relinquish the film from dragging, as only focusing on one of these, as the first film did, would’ve stopped the whimsical, efficient pace in its tracks.
Is it groundbreaking? Not at all. It does have a much more cinematic feel to it, which justifies its existence as a theatrical release more than a television special on PBS, and it does still rely on the idea that you already know and love these characters, making it a bit less than accessible from the outside, but as a pitch for a more widened cinematic franchise, A New Era floats the idea far more successfully than before.
It’s not always successful in balancing the storylines of every character in the span of a two-hour film, something that will always make the world of Downton Abbey more suited for television when it comes to introducing and building characters as it goes, but A New Era helps serialize many of the new characters in a way that lets us know that they’re not attempting to build-up or establish new faces in the universe that might feel less-than-developed. Even then, it’s hard for the series to justify the absence of some characters, particularly that of Matthew Goode as Mary’s husband, Henry, who was already practically missing from the first film aside from an appearance in the final scene (he was filming Paramount+’s The Offer at the time) and is nowhere to be seen in this one. While that’s understandable on Goode’s part (you, unfortunately, can’t be two places at once), it is a disservice to both the grand narrative as well as to Mary’s character as the show spent season upon season finding her the perfect husband, only for said husband to conveniently be “out of the country, racing cars” once she’s finally married. It’s rather annoying and it could’ve been handled more gracefully by writer Julian Fellowes.
Dubbed as the “Collector’s Edition,” the physical release of Downton Abbey: A New Era illustrates everything that annoys me about the state of Universal physical media today. It is not a “Collector’s Edition” if it’s the only edition that’s released. There’s nothing to collect, unless they’re somehow implying that physical media is going to be “collectible” soon as they try to phase it out. The DVD, the Blu-ray, the 4K Blu-ray, all “Collector’s Editions,” and none of them actually feeling collectible. This goes for all recent Universal releases, such as Ambulance, The Northman, The Bad Guys, No Time to Die, and even that goddamned Firestarter remake (*hisses*). Ironically enough, there actually is a “Limited Edition Gift Set” of the Blu-ray available that actually contains collectible items relating to the film. This is a decent release, but…come on.
While I wasn’t able to get my hands on the 4K copy of Downton Abbey: A New Era (the Collector’s Edition, I should have you know), I was never left wanting by Universal’s stunning 1080p transfer of the film on Blu-ray. This is a stunning film that utilizes vast green English landscapes, the warm cliffs of the French Riviera, the dense halls of an old aristocratic estate, the detailing of intricate costuming, and so much more. It made me stop to wonder how much lovelier the 4K release could look at 4x the resolution and Dolby Vision. This is a stunning Blu-ray that isn’t even reflective of the best way to watch the film, and I think that’s pretty damn impressive.
Also included is a wonderfully boisterous Dolby Atmos audio track that was part of its theatrical release and is also included on the 4K Blu-ray. From the start, this is an audio track that capitalizes on the grand swelling of massive orchestras and familiar tunes, hitting audiences right in the chest with a somehow grander rendition of the Downton Abbey theme we heard with each new episode. Hearing the lossless, Atmos-mixed arrangement in my full setup after streaming the show in stereo on Peacock felt special. This is a wonderfully mixed track that lives up to the Atmos name, creating a subtle, living atmosphere of sound, as opposed to a loud, assaultive use of the speakers that bigger, badder films would utilize.
Though there are some good special features on hand here, they’re certainly not the type you would expect with a “Collector’s Edition” (I refuse to let this go). Special features include:
- Audio commentary with director Simon Curtis
- Good to be Back – Featurette
- Return to Downtown Abbey – The Making of A New Era
- A Legendary Character – Featurette
- Creating the Film within the Film – Featurette
- Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia – Featurette
- Spill the Tea (Time) – Featurette
I don’t know if A New Era is exactly the right subtitle to give this Downton Abbey sequel as it feels more like gently closing the door on a previous era more than anything else, I think there’s something to be said about the special staying power of The Little British Show That Could, and how with a little care, we can continue to return to the comforting world of the Crawley’s time-and-time again, given they continue to provide the same charm and comfort we all need from a film like this. I’m interested to see the actual new era of this franchise (it should be as big as Star Wars and Marvel), and I believe that this film, more than the first, could usher that in a lot more successfully. Universal’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is nothing of the sort, but as a standard release for a first run film, this does a fine job providing an excellent 1080p transfer of the film and decent enough special features in an age where that’s dying (I suppose we’re entering a new era of physical media). I suppose you already know whether Downton Abbey: A New Era is going to be your jam or not, which makes my job much easier, as I am also one of those people.
Available on digital June 24th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital July 5th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Downton Abbey: A New Era webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.