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Downton Abbey: A New Era — Do We Need More?

Highclere Castle, the set of Downton Abbey, in the summer.

“I should have thought the best thing about films is that you can’t hear them, it’d be even better if you couldn’t see them either,” the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) remarks at the end of the new trailer for the second Downton Abbey film A New Era. It is the kind of classic, witty remark that the character is known for, sharp as a knife, to cut through any tripe about how much better the modern age is. Yet, it also poses a question about the kind of film this new Downton Abbey sequel is: an arguably pointless appendage to a series that is already very complete without it. 

There are two clear motives when sequels get made – fan service and money. Whilst it would be lovely to think that it is the former driving most of them, unfortunately, it seems more and more it is just cold hard dollars pushing studios to create more of the same content. It does work for them. It is a safe bet to get bums on seats as there is already a huge fanbase out there that will ram into the cinema to see the new film, and the buzz around a new film that is popular will only attract more viewers. The first Downton Abbey film made almost $200 million in the box office on a TV sized budget of only $13 million.

It is not the only series with many extensions too. Disney had pushed the Star Wars universe in almost every direction imaginable with TV shows from The Mandalorian to Boba Fett to Visions and of course, its new set of Star Wars films that were met with mixed emotions from its fans. The Harry Potter series has done the same thing with the recent Fantastic Beasts films. We’ve seen prequels to Breaking Bad (Better Call Saul), and even to The Big Bang Theory (Young Sheldon).

My issue isn’t that these sequels and prequels exist, it is just when they have clearly been made without a microgram of imagination. Fantastic Beasts for me definitely falls into this category, as it was made with no purpose other than greed for more money (unless it is secretly a ploy to occupy JK Rowling with something other than spewing transphobic word vomit on Twitter.)

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However, Downton Abbey’s first film got it right. It is an extension of their world. The setting moved forward in time and the King’s visit posed a challenge unseen before in the series. Yes, it did at times feel a little like a nativity play where everyone in the class needs to have a line, but when a series has been running for such a long time and has so many characters, it is always a challenge to condense it into a 122-minute run time without leaving anyone out. 

I will go and see Downton Abbey: A New Era in the cinema (as long as it is playing in Austria where I am currently undertaking my year abroad). It will be familiar and comforting, especially when I am in a foreign country. Of course, I can’t yet comment on the plot, but from the latest trailer that has been released, between a cast and crew taking over The Abbey to shoot a film, a holiday to the South of France and the long-lost love of the Dowager Countess – there seems to be enough going on. Yet with the same cast, only older, it will still feel like coming home. 

It may be motivated in part by money, but as long as they are taking enough care to interest and entertain the fans, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

Image courtesy of Richard Munckton via Flickr

By Alexa Sambrook

Alexa Sambrook is a second year French and German student. After joining The Student at the start of Semester 2 of her first year, she wrote for the Features and TV and Film section. She was made TV and Film editor in May 2020 and works alongside Aron Rosenthal. She is passionate about building community in the section at this time.