This series must end now

Bring on the bulldozers – it’s time to destroy Downton.

The stately English mansion inhabited and occasionally molested by the wealthy is crumbling before our eyes. So, let’s tear them down and put a British chain store on the site instead. Tesco Abbey! I’d much rather munch on a prepackaged sandwich than watch these actors munch on more sets.

A dangerous leaking roof is one of the many subplots in the latest film, titled Downton Abbey: A New Era, but the age of the house is felt more in the cheesy narration.

Movie review

Running time: 125 minutes. Rated PG (some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.) In theaters.

What was once a slick, offbeat, funny, sexy drama series has become The Love Boat in Season 10. Although the love of these wax figures is even lower exciting and noooo than the old show.

There are two simultaneous plots here, both playing like rudimentary fan fiction. The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who is in poor health, is shocked to learn that decades earlier she inherited a villa in southern France from a summer fling. The frog’s surviving relatives invite the Granthams to tour the house and unravel the mystery of the connection.

While Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael), Tom (Allen Leech), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) cavort on the French Riviera cavort Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the servants stay behind in England to oversee a film crew shooting a film in Downton.

The Granthams vacation in France while exploring a newly inherited mansion.
The Granthams vacation in France while exploring a newly inherited mansion.
Ben Blackall

The family thinks Hollywood is cheesy, but they need the money for repairs. However, the ladies’ maids are in love with the famous faces. One actor, Guy Dexter (Dominic West), is a British Californian who resembles Cary Grant (in, um, every way), and the other, Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), is a gorgeous starlet… with an unfortunate one Cockney accent. Because talkies will replace silent films that didn’t involve a person’s voice, she worries about her survival in the industry.

This whole silent-star future angst has been done countless times, from Kaufman and Hart’s 1932 comedy Once in a Lifetime to Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard. “Downtown” creator Julian Fellowes has absolutely nothing to add except clichés.

Laura Haddock plays a silent film star whose Cockney accent prevents her from making it big in talkies.
Laura Haddock plays a silent film star whose Cockney accent prevents her from making it big in talkies.
Ben Blackall

Where there was once drama and class commentary in Downton, there is now endless flirtation and proposal in the film directed by Simon Curtis. Any favorite character who hasn’t yet teamed up with another favorite character does so here. There’s a wedding, a sure-fire almost-affair, a not-quite-gay dalliance, a new romantic partnership, and a lot of surface longing.

After a long period of banality, there are two emotional complications in the last half hour of the film, neither of which have much to do with the rest of the film. The finale is less touching than it should be.

Also, we don’t quite believe the servants anymore now that the actors are famous and overdressed. The separation between top and bottom is thinner than dental floss, and everyone flits around and talks to whoever they want, with no repercussions.

Maggie Smith, right, and.  Penelope Wilton is back as Dowager Countess and Isobel.
Maggie Smith (right) and Penelope Wilton are back as Dowager Countess and Isobel, respectively.
Ben Blackall

The saving grace of A New Era is Smith, who still has our respect and affection. Bonneville, too, feels more at home in this world than his co-stars, but his character’s story comes down to nothing.

Fellowes has lost his zippy sense of plot and dialogue. The jokes in the second film are silly, and it inherits the first’s melodramatic pomp. His HBO drama series The Gilded Age — a smaller Downton set in 1870s New York — is louder than Cape Canaveral on a launch day. His reign as king of costume drama is over.

In the film, Lady Mary says she wanted Downton to “enter the 1930s with its head held high”. The best way for these characters to enter the 2030s with their heads held high would be to finish them. Point. This series must end now

Dais Johnston

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