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Hall reviews Downton Abbey: A New Era
A new era

This week on "Justin Hall At The Movies," I'll be reviewing the next chapter of the Granthams on the big screen in "Downton Abbey: A New Era."

The original Downton Abbey blew me away despite my never seeing a single episode of the television show, so you can imagine I walked into this sequel with fairly high expectations.

A New Era proves to be a worthy but less satisfying entry largely due to a somewhat murky plot and an overabundance of characters, but it's the actors who still bring the same level of charm and delight and they slip into their roles with relative ease. They're impossible to dislike.

This second chapter picks up in 1928 and Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) lets the family know that she recently inherited a villa in the south of France from a gentleman she once knew. The family has been invited to visit, but Violet chooses not to go due to her age.

Instead a few of the others go including Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and while they're there, they discover a stunning revelation which I won't reveal.

Meanwhile, a film crew arrives and wishes to use Downton Abbey as a place to shoot a new film. The entire household meets the big stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and the flamboyant albeit arrogant Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock). While the former captivates the household with his acting abilities and all-around good nature, the latter is detested due to her sense of entitlement and that entitlement is further threatened when Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is chosen to dub Myrna's dialogue in order for the character to sound more American.

As before, the movie gives each actor a chance to shine particularly the staff as they jump at the chance to see a film being made on the estate and some of them even get acquainted with the actors on more ways than one.

I have a feeling that I may be in the minority of liking the fact that while the first movie was crowded with so much story and characters at least there were enough elements to make it highly enjoyable by the end.

The film is certainly great-looking with its outstanding production design and terrific costumes in which the Downton Abbey still feels like a real place brimming with a lot of wit and energy.

I guess the biggest weakness the movie makes are the aforementioned plot threads and characters which still need a Venn diagram in order to keep everything in check. Sometimes I couldn't keep straight who was supposed to be where or doing what with whom. The film's structure doesn't really have a great ebb and flow.

Nevertheless, I'm giving it a mild recommendation because the actors are so earnest and committed and they still seem like they're having fun with these characters.

It's undemanding fan service. Take it or leave it.

Grade: B - (Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.)

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