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Downton Abbey: A New Era (brief non-spoiler review followed by possibly unhinged spoilery rant) Cannoli Send a noteboard - 22/05/2022 03:36:52 AM

Downton Abbey, the entertainment franchise, is a perfect embodiment of the British aristocracy it depicts: it probably served a purpose at some point, but that time is now long in the past. Someone they listen to HAS TO tell them to stop: they already look ridiculous.

This is not a good movie, story-wise. It's like Avengers Endgame: a collection of things that happen for the gratification of the fans, even if they add up to a story that is less than the sum of its parts, and a lot of the decisions to make those moments happen don't really make sense. They try to lampshade some of those, but generally only succeed in drawing the audience's attention to the plot holes. Some of the issues in the movie are not satisfactorily resolved, but are also not the sort of thing that would make sense to carry on in a sequel.

The main premise of the movie seems like they had something in mind, started spit-balling things that could happen to bring that about and ran with one, even if it does not make much sense. The other main plotline is clearly driven by metatextual irony, for the aforementioned fan service. The movie is shot very oddly. It's mostly a string of rather short scenes in which just a few characters exchange about a paragraph or less of dialogue, to establish one thing or one development or bring out one piece of information, and then we cut to the next thing.

There is also a blatant effort being made to resolve EVERYTHING, give EVERY character a happy ending (generally by pairing up any characters still unattached as of the TV series finale or clarifying nebulous professional circumstances) and to signal what lies ahead in the future in a general sense for those issues which could clearly not be wrapped up in the time frame of this movie. A couple of times the film teases doing something different or actually challenging the main character, but doesn't handle it in a remotely competent manner.

All that being said, it seems to work for it's target audience. I, being possessed of at least one each, eye and ear, both connected to a functional brain, seem somewhat disqualified from that category, but people in the theater with me were cheering at some scenes, laughing with others and actually crying in the end. The last movies I can recall with that level of reaction were the last Spider-Man movie when various special guest stars appeared, or the aforementioned, similarly structurally deficient, similarly fan-service-oriented, Avengers: Endgame.

If you're a big Downton Abbey fan, this is your Avengers: Endgame. If you watched it because people in your family tricked you, be sure to watch it with them, and have fun mocking it to their distress. Or, better, watch it with someone with an objective perspective and have a good time ripping it together.


In no particular order.

The plot is that a French nobleman has died and his lawyers have contacted Lady Violet (Maggie Smith, if you have my occasional troubles forgetting screen names) to remind her that he left her his villa in the south of France. As it turns out, he told her back in 1865 that he was giving the villa to her. She thought he was joking, but he was so not joking that he mentioned it in each of several drafts of his will. Curiously, he had a son in 1870 and his wife and son have been vacationing at the house for years, so despite it being fixed in his mind for over 60 years that this villa belongs to Violet Crawley dammit, he and his family have been using it! And the wife-now-widow and son are sad about having to give it up.

Meanwhile, Granny Violet DGAF. She had three granddaughters. Mary and Edith married well, so their kids will be nobles (actually only the eldest but whatever), but Sybil, the third one, married icky peasant Tom, and the daughter she died giving birth to is heir to jack all. Tom will be fine, because he has just remarried a secret-until-the-last-movie cousin of the Crawleys who is an heiress, so his kids (again, actually one) will inherit his new wife's estate, but Sybil Jr, is still shit out of luck. So Violet decides to transfer the villa to Sybil, so she'll have something of her own. The bastard daughter Marigold to which Violet's OTHER granddaughter gave birth is ALSO SoL, because she is not due any inheritance from HER rich stepfather, but there is no mention of provision for her. Sucks to be Marigold. Really sucks to be Marigold. Her mom gave her up for adoption twice, and then tore her away from the arms of two different loving families, so she's already scarred for life. If we are supposed to assume that her step-dad is going to be generous, well, Sybil Jr's step-mom seems very concerned about her future and very invested in her happiness, so why can't she help Sybil the way Bertie will presumably look out for Marigold?

The other major plot is that a movie studio wants to film a movie at Downton Abbey. They offer an apparently astronomical figure and Mary accepts. Lord Grantham and the usual suspects are disgruntled until Mary takes him up to the attic to show him a plethora of pans set out to catch the leaks from the roof. It happens to be raining at this scene and no other, to conveniently make her point. The fee for the filming will allow them to get ahead on the repairs, so that's that. In order to get away from the horror of a tawdry motion picture production in his home, Lord Grantham, his wife, their personal servants, and Tom & his wife, as Sybil Jr's dad and step-mom, accept an invitation to visit the newly acquired villa in France, at the invitation of the son of the man who left it to them. Edith and her husband Bertie tag along because we can't have too many people in one place. They also bring Carson, to keep his harrumphing from disrupting filming. Even though he is retired and lives with Elsie in their house elsewhere. And when they get to the villa, they keep apologizing for bringing so many people, and Grantham even acknowledges unprompted that it makes no sense to bring his butler, but they just keep going with this.

At the villa, the French widow is very unhappy about losing her vacation home but for some reason it feels more awkward than it's actually depicted. Like, they just don't care about her reaction, and their main concern seems to be that the bequest is on firm legal grounds. The son is very accommodating and gracious despite his own regret at losing the villa, and we eventually find out why. Violet had a romantic interlude with his dad way back when, and the date of her visit to him in this villa was nine months before her son, Robert, Lord Grantham, was born. Needless to say, this freaks him right the fuck out, since he doesn't even like to acknowledge that sex, pregnancy and childbirth are things that take place. Edith's idea of reassuring him over his mother cheating on his father and lying about his paternity into his sixties is to point out that since he didn't have any sons, Downton Abbey would eventually have passed to Mathew Crawley, who married his daughter, and produced the current heir apparent, so he has not stolen the inheritance of anyone who is still alive, nor disrupted the passing of the estate and title to its proper recipient. This fails to reassure Robert, understandably, and meanwhile, the French guy thinks he has found a long-lost half-brother, and it appears his motivation in everything is that he is so glad to discover a brother, he is good with letting this new brother's family impose on his hospitality as they take possession of a beloved family house.

Eventually, at the end of the movie, Robert confronts Violet, who insists, with a conveniently discovered letter as supporting evidence, that their affair was purely emotional and never sexually consummated, that Robert is the son of the man he had always believed was his father. How he is going to break the news to his mistaken French brother is never explored. I just can't help feeling sorry for the French family, and confused about why they have been using the house for more than 50 years, when their patriarch gave it away when France was still an Empire. Meanwhile Tom & his wife express their determination to raise Sybil to own her privilege and use her good fortune to help others. How she is supposed to help others through her ownership of a villa in France is not super clear. What it looks to me, is two former servants suddenly finding themselves in lofty circles with a fortune and title of their own, and eager to wallow in it, and basically paying lip service to their humble origins to reassure themselves they have not become assholes, before they dive back into enjoying their newly awesome lives.

Back home, everyone's all giggly about movie stars in the house, but the leading lady is cold and mean. The leading man (Dominic West, who biggest film before this was playing a guard on Padme's apartment in Coruscant in Star Wars Episode I) turns out to be English, so everyone is cool with him, and he begins an unspoken flirtation with Thomas Barrow the Butler, who is gay. Barrow also used to be evil, until I think someone whispered in the showrunners' ears that you can no longer have your main homosexual be evil, unless its a cool sexy evil woman, and the last few seasons and the movies, have been sympathetic depictions of his loneliness and also his efforts to advance his career to become a butler, until Carson got a neurological condition that rendered him unable to carry out his duties, creating a vacancy for Barrow's promotion. And literally every single person in the family and staff of a rural estate where women in pants was scandalous a few seasons ago, are accepting of Barrow's sexuality and sympathetic to him, completely forgetting his history of shitty behavior generally unrelated to his sexuality or hypothetical bigotry against him. He met a guy in the last film, but he's shuffled off between films so Barrow can flirt with the Movie Star. Eventually, he quits his job at Downton to go with the Movie Star as his manservant and concubine.

Halfway through production, Lady Mary becomes emotionally involved with the Director (Hugh Dancy) and thus feels really bad when the studio pulls the plug on the Movie, because talking films is suddenly a thing and a silent film won't make back its budget. Mary suggests making this Movie a talking one. It's within their technical means, but having sound means that now they need a script. Furthermore, they have to try to remember what dialogue the actors have already mouthed at one another in their previously filmed scenes.

Fortunately, Mosley has been fanatically watching the whole thing and also has the ability to lip read, so he can reconstruct the proper dialogue to be dubbed over the extant footage, and has figured out the bones of a script, which he proceeds to write. The male Star does just fine dubbing in his lines, but the Leading Lady (Laura Haddock, Chris Pratt's mom from Guardians of the Galaxy) has a shrill Liza Doolittle accent. Because the Doylist movie producers hope no one has ever seen "Singing in the Rain". Someone asks if she can't just learn to speak like a proper aristocrat and it turns out that her efforts at taking elocution lessons were a failure. Someone else points out that learning that accent can be very difficult, and George Bernard Shaw wrote a play about that very subject.

Fuck you, movie. You're clearly not even trying any more.

So they hit on the idea of having Mary utilize the stick implanted in her butt at birth to record the dialogue for the Leading Lady and she agrees, because that is a thing Mary would ever do (see above re: stick). But her husband is away just like the last DA movie, so she'll accommodate her substitute crush, rather than let the Movie fail so she can get her beloved manor house back and bank the fee as found money.

Robert and Cora come home from vacation to discover Mary recording dialogue and gasp in shock. Cora has been wakened in the middle of the night to help remove a Turkish diplomat's corpse from Mary's bed. You'd think they'd have adjusted their expectations by now. Cora's fortuitous return means that, off camera, she is able to, overnight, coach the Leading Lady in affecting an American accent, so her career in talking pictures can continue. This shrill diva's career prospects are something the movie & characters are more invested in than the French woman who is more or less publicly embarrassed by the revelation that her husband has carried a torch all through their marriage for a woman who could never be bothered to visit the villa he gave her, but now that same rival's juvenile great-granddaughter is making off with their vacation home, or her son who is bending over backwards for his newfound half-brother, who does not remotely return the sentiment, and is repulsed by the idea of French kin (I hope Robert never has to learn that more kings of his country have spoken French than English). It just drops everything to do with the French family once the gang comes home.

Robert and Cora coming home also means that Dr Clarkson can bring the good news that a fatal illness Cora has been hiding was misdiagnosed.
She confessed to Robert during the going-away party their French non-relative threw for them (complete with the first black people on this series since they broke up Cousin Rose's relationship with a Negro singer). Robert just about wept at the idea of losing his mother, his name and his wife in such close proximity and she comforted him by reminding him that she fell in love with him when he was a fortune hunter pursuing her for her money to get Downton solvent again. So now he has to feel bad all over again that he took advantage of her feeling back then, but she assures him that it's okay because he eventually fell in love with her. For someone who says this is okay, she's brought it up rather more than I'd think polite over the series' run.

I am not kidding about the frantic efforts to pair up or kill off EVERYONE in this movie. We have Mrs Patmore and Mr Mason, Daisy and Andy, Tom and Tuppence Middleton's character, whose name I can never remember, because Tuppence Middleton is so English it should be the name of every woman on this show, and finally Mosely and Baxter. They even sort of set up Barrow albeit with a sketchy-as-all-get-out new situation. Cousin Maud and Aunt Rosamund don't get married, because the show likes to dump on Rosamund for some reason (actually, I'm surprised they didn't hook her up with the hilariously varied in competence Dr Clarkson, just to snip off those loose matrimonial ends), but they have a whole scene with no purpose in the film, which breaks the characterization of Carson, simply for a meta-joke about the fact that Imelda Staunton, who plays Maud, and Jim Carter, who plays Carson, are married in real life (Mary also refers to her late first husband Matthew comparing him to a fairy tale prince. He was played by Dan Stevens, who went on to play Beast of "Beauty and The..." which might have been more cleverness in that vein). And they kill off Violet, the Dowager Countess, after teasing that new(ly mentioned) relationship (in her past).

Mosely and Baxter have not progressed in their relationship at all since their shy looks in the last season of the show. A couple of their fellow servants question Baxter about the relationship, and she more or less says Mosely is her OTP and that's it and she's just gonna wait forever if he never screws up the courage to propose. The characters having this relationship talk are Bates and Carson. Like, WTF? There are not two characters LESS likely IMO, to grill a shy middle-aged woman about her love life than Bates and Carson, but for some reason, those two are the only servants present so we need to have them ask the questions to get the dialogue out there.

Speaking of breaking character, Daisy is a wretched human being and a blight on the screen, but one of her consistent traits is her progressive mindset and being occasionally willing to at least voice support for the underdogs or oppressed or speak up for people trying to advance themselves, even if it is at the cost of the social order everyone else in the household guards with their lives.

But the movie wants one last bit of meta irony, so near the end, the Director of the fake Movie announces they can't shoot the last scene, because the extras have not been paid, and are refusing to show up. So the idea is floated of having the Downton servants appear as extras instead.

And Daisy is thrilled at the idea. Of being a scab! Daisy!

I have no problem with scabs. I fully support their right to work if they want, at terms they are willing to take, regardless of how it disrupts the highly-suspect practice of collective bargaining (I really want someone to explain to me the difference between collective bargaining and price-fixing without resorting to arguments that boil down to "four legs good, two legs bad" ). I would not even have a problem with the story beat where Daisy throws her class solidarity out the window for the superficial win of appearing in the background of a movie, IF I saw the slightest indication that was what they were trying to convey. But this is Daisy's THING. Love her or hate her (and I definitely have a position there, unrelated to her rather uninformed political opinions), that's who and what the character IS. She might be shrill, obnoxious and self-centered, but she really does think about this stuff, and on any episode of the show, she'd be the one person in the servants' hall defending the actors' refusal to work without getting paid, no matter it ruffles the feathers of her coworkers that they are holding things up or disturbing the sensibilities of one or another of the Crawleys.

And if Daisy isn't going to open her trap, Tom or Isabel should. I guess socialism only has an appeal if you are single. For all that he was on death's door in the final season, Lord Merton is still standing upright in the background of several scenes, plus Tom just got married and knocks up his wife in the course of the film, and Daisy is now Mrs Parker, so none of them care about their defining traits. OTOH, I hear AOC is engaged so maybe the GOP's gonna flip a House seat, without even needing to contest an election.

Anyway, the important thing is the servants and Mr. Mason all get to dress up like Lords and Ladies and shoot a scene at the dinner table, so it's all very meta. Also the noble family shows up to watch, so they are the ones standing around while the peasants sit at the table. And Mosely proposes to Baxter while she is dressed all fancy, but there is a microphone nearby, so everyone can hear and laugh at him. His script-writing so impressed the Director that he is offered a job as a screenwriter at a fantastic salary, so only now does he feel comfortable proposing marriage to a woman too old to have children, whose job covers room, board and meals. Never mind that the closest people he has to being friends are a married couple raising a son on their servant salaries and doing just fine.

I also mentioned before that Violet dies. They handle this by highlighting the most contentious aspects of her relationships with everyone, such as her dissatisfaction with her American daughter-in-law that appears only to have ended in the pilot episode, when they agreed to work together to secure Mary's inheritance, as well as her displeasure with Tom marrying everyone's favorite Crawley sister or her squabbles with Isabel. At her deathbed, Robert says he must have been a disappointment to her since he's not as clever as she, which she acknowledges, but magnanimously concedes that he was nicer than she. As if all the other relationships covered by this film did not make that clear (as well as what a low bar "kinder than Violet" is). I repeat, this, is what they choose to discuss in commemorating her life and run in the series.

In spite of all that, I could hear a few people crying in the theater. But we get an epilogue scene after her funeral where we get to see Tom's & Tuppence's new baby and Violet's portrait seems to smile benignly over the family gathering. A part of me honestly wants to see the story of this family go on. They found World War One such an inconvenient disruption to their routine, I would love to watch them cope with the imminent stock market crash, depression, rise of Nazism, World War Two and all the rest.

Like I said above. This film is rife with plot holes, with broken characterization, forced relationships and resolutions to plots, an inconsistent tone and emotional stakes, and a clear focus on fan service and metatextual humor over writing a coherent story or good scenes that can advance more than one character's development or plot point at the same time. This is not even pulp or a guilty pleasure, it's just 100% fan wanking.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
This message last edited by Cannoli on 23/05/2022 at 12:35:53 AM
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Downton Abbey: A New Era (brief non-spoiler review followed by possibly unhinged spoilery rant) - 22/05/2022 03:36:52 AM 108 Views
My mom loves Downton Abbey - 22/05/2022 02:44:06 PM 29 Views
My wife also loved the show. - 22/05/2022 05:53:45 PM 28 Views

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