Julian Fellowes loves the British aristocracy. Much more than fellow and Englishman Peter Morgan (who gave us The Crown, The queen, and half a dozen films, shows, and plays about Queen Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor), Fellowes defined his career by chronicling Britain’s upper / lower class system in the early 20th century. He first gained worldwide attention in 2001 when he collaborated with Robert Altman Gosford Park, a fading social satire set in an English mansion in the 1930s. He then created Downton Abbeya massively successful series focusing on, you guessed it, an English mansion at the turn of the century, only without trademark cynicism and masterful direction from Altman.
Six seasons and one sleeper hit a feature film later, Fellowes returned with more servants and stiff upper lips with Downton Abbey: A New Age. What was once a cunning look at the often strained class relations, when British society slowly awoke from the Victorian era, has now been transformed into a long-winded fan service, with characters whose stories long ago wrapped up standing around trying to find something, anythingto do while the threat of real change is incited but never delivered.
The result is a film that has a surprising but unfortunate resemblance Sex and the City 2another sequel to a surprisingly successful theatrical extension of a beloved series that had no reason to exist other than to make money. New Age it’s not as bad as that movie, but it’s just as boring and memorable, which can be worse because you don’t have anything to make fun of while you wait for the movie to end.
In the first Downton Abbey film, the main plot revolved around the anticipated arrival of King George and Queen Mary, who united both master and servant with the common goal of imposing royalty. New Age repeats that plot point but replaces real Kings and Queens with Hollywood royalty, as Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, watching paint dry) agrees to allow a film crew to film a silent image there to fund a badly needed roof repair. Meanwhile, the widow countess (Maggie Smith, clearly enraged she has to play this role again) suddenly reveals that she inherited a villa in the South of France, which sends half of the cast on an ultimately pointless quest to find out why someone who met Violet Crawley. half a century ago he would have left her such a generous gift. The answer is even more disappointing than you might think.
There is also death, birth, marriage proposal, homage to Singin ‘in the Rain, a clumsy (and anachronistic) stand against gay injustice, and a character who is about to die but is saved by a deus ex machina so sudden it may give you a whip. It seems like a lot is happening, so why does the film feel so dull a drag? The director, Simon Curtis, directs in the Downton Abbey house style, which is part of the problem. New Age doesn’t feel like a movie but two lost episodes awkwardly slapped together. The pacing is relaxed, which drains all the narrative energy of the image.
Much of the returning cast goes through their roles, with most given nothing new to do other than stand around and wait for their next turn in front of the camera. Best performer is Thomas Barrow of Robert James-Collier, who has a full mini-story with resolution, something that escaped the character in the series. Of the new additions to this film, only Dominic West as the closed mutafilm star Guy Dexter has anything like a pulse. It’s no coincidence that these two characters both share the same romantic plot and are most effective of the overflowing, mostly beige cast.
New Agethe incorporation to Downton AbbeyThe rigid formula of is unfortunate, as there is real potential for the franchise to deal with more juicy material than hastily devised romantic plot and inciting deaths and disasters that never really come. A good part of the film is sometimes ugly characters who apologize to each other and make up for earlier sins. The most notable victim of this is the widow herself, who became one of the most popular characters in the series precisely because of her bad returns. Here, swayed by a deadly disease introduced in the last film, she was de-fused, and that’s miserable: No one wants to see Maggie Smith act. beautiful. Where’s the fun in that?
The film ends on the edge of the 1930s, just around the time Gosford Park was set up. That film found mature material in its probe of a dying class system that would not last much longer. Fellowes tease changes several times through New Age, but does not act on it. Nothing changes in this film, and the result is an unnecessary film as petrified and stale as the upper-class society once ruthlessly dissected Fellowes.
Downton Abbey: A New Age premieres today in theaters nationwide.