When “Downton Abbey” first aired, I wasn’t watching. It was blog entry by Roger Ebert that piqued my interest. Since then, I have watched all six season, bought the complete collection and even added two teddy bears (Violet and Cora). I, of course, saw the 2019 film and so seeing this film, “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which was directed by Simon Curtis (“The Art of Racing in the Rain” and “Woman in Gold”) was a no-brainer. I had to see and while I don’t regret seeing it, the film itself isn’t perfect, but definitely a must-see for the Downton Abbey fan.
If you need to figure out what happened from over the six series/seasons, the Downton Abbey people have a video for you:
Put on your three-piece suit or opera gloves and your best frock and settle in. There will be a whiff of scandal, a wedding, a proposal and a death. For “A New Era,” the year is 1928.
Tom Branson has finally found a new love. He’s marrying Miss Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the illegitimate daughter of Maud, Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). Who is Lady Maud?
Lady Bagshaw was introduced in the first film. She was born a Crawley and is a first cousin to Robert’s father, who was dead at the beginning of the series and has never appeared. Maud’s father was Robert’s great uncle and her husband, David, died in the first Boer War (1880-1881). From him, she inherited Brampton Estate.
In the 2019 film, Violet was scheming to get Maud to leave her estate to Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Violet’s son, because he is her closest living relative. The Downton Abbey set had been estranged from Maud, and this explains why during six season, we’ve never been introduced to her. But Maud (Dowager Baroness Bagshaw) is a lady-in-waiting for the Queen Mary who visits Downton Abbey in 1927, the main action in the 2019 film.
As a widow, Maud had an affair with Jack Smith, her husband’s man servant. That led to her surprise pregnancy which she hid from her father by traveling to the United States. Jack and his mother raised the child, Lucy, but Jack died during the second Boer War (1899-1902). Jack and Maud never married because of Maud’s “cowardice.” Maud, as her godmother, took her in and Lucy as posed as her maid.
All this is revealed during the film as Lucy and Tom (Allen Leech) become acquainted. Tom is the former chauffeur and widower of Robert and Cora’s youngest daughter, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), who died giving birth to Sybil Branson. (Sybil died in 1920, Season 3, Episode 5.) This, of course, only changes Violet’s campaign slightly. If Robert isn’t going to inherit, then Violet wants Tom to inherit through marriage to Lucy.
A New Era
At the beginning of “A New Era,” we immediately understand that Violet has been successful. The year is 1928. Tom marries Lucy and all the familiar faces are there except Mary’s second husband, Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode). Evidence of his presence comes in the way of their one-year-old daughter, Caroline. He’s off somewhere in search of cool cars and adventure, leaving Mary alone for this film and can Mary be alone long?
Violet, having succeeded with matching Tom to Lucy, has moved into Downton, due to her declining health. Her son, Robert–the seventh Earl of Grantham, announces that his mother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, has requested the whole family be present. She has an intriguing announcement. A man, the late Marquis de Montmirail, has left her a villa in the South of France. She’s a bit coy about the details; it seems she met him briefly and he wrote to her that he’d be going to do so, but she didn’t take him seriously and, after all, “Do I look as if I’d turn down a villa in the south of France?” Violet has decided to leave the estate to Tom’s daughter (Lucy’s stepdaughter), Sybbie.
There’s another intriguing offer in the air of Abbey. A film director from British Lion production company has called; a Mr. Barber wants to set his silent film, “The Gambler,” at Downton. Robert (and Carson), thinks this is horrific, but Lady Mary is in charge and she gives Robert a quick tour of the attics. Downton needs the money.
So a movie comes to Downton Abbey, but Mrs. Hughes devises a place to get Carson out of the way. Carson will travel to the South of France because Robert, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and her husband Bertie (Harry Hades-Paton), Tom and Lucy as well as Maud are going to investigate this recently inherited estate, since Violet is too ill to travel. Carson doesn’t speak French, but he says, “I found that when dealing with foreigners, if one speaks loudly and slowly, they will bend to your will.”
Before the Crawleys depart, the movie crew and the film’s director and stars arrive. The glamorous Myrna Dalgleish is shrill and rude. Her co-star Guy Dexter (who apparently lives in Hancock Park) is charming but he has his eyes on one of the downstairs denizens, hoping for some romance. And so does director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy).
The Crawleys in France fill face off with the new but congenial Marquis de Montmirail (Jonathan Zaccai) and his mother, the frosty dowager (Nathalie Baye).
While some parts feel rushed, I don’t believe that any Downton Abbey fan will be disappointed. It’s lovely that one of the characters who has often been used for comedic relief finally finds his calling. Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) tries to play matchmaker so there may be another marriage in the offing. I would have loved to see more of Thomas Barrow with young George (son of Mary and Matthew and heir to Downton Abbey), but the children are sidelined in this film. The Downton Abbey children as of the beginning of “A New Era” film are:
- Sybbie (only child of Tom Branson and Lady Sybil Branson), born in 1920.
- George Crawley (only child of Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley) born in 1921.
- Marigold (illegitimate child of Lady Edith with Michael Gregson) born in 1922 or 1923.
- Caroline (daughter of Henry Talbot and Lady Mary) born in 1926.
- Peter Pelham (son of Edith and Herbert Pelham) was born in 1927 or 1928. Edith was pregnant at the end of first film.
If there’s sequel film to “A New Era,” expect more financial woes. The Great Depression begins the next year, in 1929. When the Great Depression ends in 1939, a decade later,
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” was released in the UK on 29 April 2022 by Universal Pictures and was released in the US on 20 May 2022 by Focus Features.
The Gambler and Gosford Park
The filming of “The Gambler” is very meta because the estate where the series is filmed, Highclere Castle, the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnavon, has doubtlessly profited and been able to maintain its glory because of the connection with this TV and now cinematic series. The series was originally planned as a spin-off of “Gosford Park,” a 2001 Robert Altman film with a script written by Julian Fellowes.
“Gosford Park” was filmed at Wrotham Park (exterior, staircase, dining room and drawing room), Syron House (upstairs bedrooms), Hall Barn for Lady Trentham’s home. Set in 1932, “Gosford Park” looks at the dependency of the aristocracy on the servant class, but also the sexual mores as they pertain to a murder mystery. Maggie Smith played the dowager Countess of Trentham, Constance. Constance is the aunt of the cool Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is married to serial rapist poster boy for sexual harassment in the workplace industrialist Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), who is the murder victim. Constance is dependent upon an allowance from Sir William which he intends to cutoff. Her maid, Mary MacEachran (Kelly Macdonald), is pivotal to the plot. Mary learns from Lady Trentham, that neither Sylvia nor her sister Louisa wanted to marry Sir William, but the family needed his cash to maintain their father’s estate. To resolve who should marry him, they cut cards. Mary figures out that Lord Stockbridge’s valet, Robert, took his position in order to get close to Sir William. Robert confesses to her that he is Sir William’s son, but he doesn’t know who his mother is. Mary realizes why the housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren) is feuding with the cook, Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins) and who Robert’s mother is and who murdered Sir William.
In “Gosford Park,” there is a bit of Hollywood meta plotting, too. Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) is a film director from the US who is researching for a potential film. He’s a from of Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), Sir William’s cousin, who is a British film star. Weissman’s “valet,”Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe), is really an American actor doing research for a role.
Richard E. Grant, who played a first footman in the film “Gosford Park,” has appeared on “Downton Abbey” as Simon Bricker (4 episodes in 2014). Jeremy Swift, who was also a footman, later played Septimus Spratt, the butler for the Dowager Countess Violet, and the secret columnist (Miss Cassandra Jones) for The Sketch magazine for three seasons of “Downton Abbey.”
Gambling was also nearly the ruin of Downton Abbey, but brought Lady Edith’s love, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), into the good graces of her family (Season 4, Episode 3). But remember, Gregson went to Germany in an attempt to gain citizenship and divorce his mentally unstable wife. He died there in 1922 in what seems to be related to the rise of Sturmabtellun, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) was founded in 1921.
There’s also a reference to the past. a conversation between Matthew and Mary. When one characters in “A New Era” says, “I feel like Andromeda chained to a rock,” this harks back to Season/Series 1, Episode 2. Mary and Matthew are in the formal dining room.
Mary: “I’ve been studying the story of Andromeda. Do you know it?”
Mary: “Her father was King Cepheus, whose country was being ravaged by storms, and in the end, he decided the only way to appease the gods was to sacrifice his eldest daughter to a hideous sea monster. So they chained her, naked, to a rock…“
Violet laughs and interjects: “Really, Mary, we’ll all need our smelling salts in a minute.”
Matthew: “But the sea monster didn’t get her, did he?”
Mary: “No. Just when it seemed he was the only solution to her father’s problems, she was rescued.”
Matthew: “By Perseus.”
Mary: “That’s right. Perseus, son of a god. Rather more fitting, wouldn’t you say?”
Matthew: “Well, that depends. I’d have to know more about the princess and the sea monster in question.”
Perseus was a son of Zeus. His mother’s father, Acrisius, cast Perseus with his mother into the seas because it prophesied that Perseus would be kill his maternal grandfather, Acrisius. With the help of Hermes and Athena, he slayed Medusa. Andromeda’s mother had claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids, so the Poseidon sent the sea monster to punish the mother for her vanity. The sea monster was turned to stone from viewing Medusa’s head.
In the first film, there’s a reference to Sisyphus when Mary asks Carson to help out because she feels like “she’s pushing a rock uphill.” Michael Engler, the director of the first film, had directed four episodes of Downton Abbey.
By the time of the film, “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” Adolf Hitler had already been found guilty of treason for an attempted takeover of the Bavarian government (November 1923) and although he was given a sentence of five years ,he served only nine, using that time to write “Mein Kampf,“which was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1927. (An abridged version is published in 1930.) Hitler was prohibited from making speeches in Bavaria and other states until 1927-1928. He will become chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Where We Were in 1927-1928
The Year 1927
In January, the Harlem Globetrotters played their first road game (Hinckley, Illinois) and Britz Lang’s “Metropolis” was released in Germany. Louis B. Mayer accounted the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
There’s a diamond rush in South Africa in March.
Six foreigners (including on British sailor) were killed in Nanking (Nanking Incident). This is the capture of Nanking by the National Revolutionary Army (國民革命軍), the military arm of the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) from 1925-1947.
In April the Bell Telephone Company transmits an image of the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. It’s the first demonstration of television.
In April, Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 renames the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This acknowledge that the Irish Free State is no longer part of the UK.
Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight (New York City to Paris) in The Spirit of St. Louis in May (20-21).
Sacco and Vanzetti are executed in Boston (23 August 1927).
In October, the Al Jolson film, “The Jazz Singer,” came out and was the first feature-length film with synchronized singing and speech.
The first Laurel and Hardy film, “Putting Pants on Philip” is released.
“Show Boat” opens on Broadway in December. The first Asian commuter metro line, the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, opens.
The Year 1928
In February, Scottish inventor John Loge Baird broadcast a television signal from Don to New York (Hartsdale). It was the first transatlantic television signal.
The 1928 Winter Olympics were held in Switzerland (St. Moritz) and Norway’s Sonja Henie wins her first gold meal in figure skating.
In March, the Chinese warlord Shi Yousan sets fire to the Shaolin Monastery, destroying some of its artifacts.
In April, an attack against Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in Milan kills 17 bystanders.
In May, Iliot Ness becomes a part of the Chicago crime enforcement organization, combating organized crime during Prohibition.
The Jinan Incident pits the Imperial Japanese Army (with North Chinese warlords) against the Kuomintang’s stouerhn Army. This is not the Sino-Japanese War. The first Sino-Japanese War was 1894-1895; the second was 1937-1945.
Also in May, the first regular schedule of television programming begins in Schenectady, New York (General Electric’s W2XB).
Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to make a transatlantic flight as a passenger in June.
The Summer Olympics are held in Amsterdam (28 July through 12 August). Women’s athletics (track and field) and gymnastics debut. Coca-Cola is a sponsor of the Game.
Margaret Mead’s cultural anthropology book, “Coming of Age in Samoa,” is published.
In September Scottish doctor Alexander Fleming observes a bacteria-killing mold in his lab and this leads to the discovery of what is known as penicillin.
In October, Chiang Kai-she becomes the chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist Government of China. The Iron Lung is used for the first time in Boson
In November, Turkey switches from Arabic to the Latin-based Turkish alphabet. The Emperor Hirohito of Japan is enthroned two years after the death of Emperor Taishō.
Mickey Mouse appears in “Steamboat Willie.” This is the third Mickey Mouse cartoon, but the first with sound.
“The Jazz Singer” (7 October 1927)
The first lines are:
Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! Wait a minute, I tell ya! You ain’t heard nothin’! You wanna hear “Toot, Toot, Tootsie”? All right, hold on, hold on..
The film is about a young Jewish man played by Al Jolson (1886-1950) who sings pop tunes at a beer garden, but his father, a cantor, doesn’t approve. The young man runs away and becomes a jazz singer who performs in blackface. Warner Bros. Pictures.
The members of the newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not allow this film to compete with the silent films. The silent film, “Wings,” would become the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
“Tenderloin” (14 March 1928): The title has nothing to do with the kind of meat you eat. The title refers t o the Tenderloin district of NYC and a dancing girl working at a club named Kelly’s there. The girl is implicated in a crime and the police pick her up, but a local gang wants her taken care of. Warner Bros.
“Glorious Betsy” (26 April 1928): This is based on the true story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Jérôme Bonaparte, who married an American, Elizabeth Patterson. Napoleon did not approve. His marriage was annulled, despite the birth of a son. Jérôme would then marry Princess Catherine of Württemberg and become king of Westphalia. Warner Bros. production.
“The Lion and the Mouse“(21 May 1928): The enemies of a judge plots to ruin him over alleged improper behavior, but his daughter is determined to prove his innocence. This is the first appearance of Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954). The film is based on a play by Charles Klein. Warner Bros. production.
“The Perfect Crime” (17 June 1928): A police inspector solves a crime that may have not been committed. By Film Booking Offices of America (FBO).
“The Singing Fool” (19 September 1928): Al Jolson plays a singing waiter and composer who is in love with two women and goes on to conquer Broadway. To add heartbreak, he sings “Sonny Boy,” to his dying son. This is an adaptation of a C. Graham Baker story. Warner Bros.
“Dinner Time” (September 1928): This is an animated short about a hungry dogs, a butcher and a dog catcher. The dogs win.
“Steamboat Willie” (18 November 1928): This is the third animation of Mickey Mouse (after “Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho”), but the first with sound. Mickey Mouse is a deckhand on a riverboat under the command of Captain Pete. The official release date of this film was 1 January 1929. There was a test screening in May of the silent version, a test screening in July of the sound version. “Steamboat Willie” and Disney’s copyrights to the original design for Mickey Mouse are under threat by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo).
The second Best Picture Oscar winner and the first talkie to win an Oscar was the 1929 “The Broadway Melody” out of MGM. The film is about two sisters who want to leave vaudeville for Broadway. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM). The film made its premiere in Los Angeles (1 February 1929) and was released on 6 June 1929.
Other notable films would be “Blackmail”(28 July 1929 but released in the US on 6 October 1929) which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). The film which is based on a play by Charles Bennett, began production as a silent film. British International Pictures (BIP).