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COLUMN: Escape to ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis reviews new Downton Abbey film
Movie poster at the advance screening of “Downton Abbey: A New Era” at the International Cinema in Vancouver. (Photo: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

George Gershwin once said, “Life is a lot like jazz … it’s best when you improvise.”

Considering the current state of the world, improvisation was precisely what was called for when I was invited to the advance screening of “Downton Abbey: A New Era” at the International Cinema, in Vancouver.

As expected, Julian Fellowes, mastermind of the blockbuster Downton Abbey TV series, successfully transitioned his fictional characters through the decades to 1928, an era of major societal and international upheavals.

Frequently tongue-in-cheek, Fellowes manoeuvred this stand-alone Crawley family saga to remind audiences that European travel was becoming the “in” thing, romance was alive and kicking, and emotions, well, (no spoiler alert!) let’s just say that most of the audience shed a few tears.

Faced with substantial structural Downton Abbey repairs, the practical Lady Mary Crawley (now wed to the absent car-racing Henry Talbot) realizes that agreeing to Hollywood filming rights within the estate will plug both family finances and leaks in the attics. Not only does the decision shore up the estate’s focal point (the photogenic estate house), it serves as a catalyst to nudge family members and servants towards lifestyles previously uncontemplated, plus test new talents.

Horizons expand, roles evolve, history consolidates, and bricks and mortar remain undiminished.

While Mary deals with Downton, the Dowager Countess, Lady Violet, played by the inimitable Maggie Smith, reveals a youthful dalliance that has resulted from her inheritance of a villa in the South of France. With the Crawley daughters, Edith and Mary, and their children socially and financially secure, Lady Violet directs the Earl of Grantham (eloquently played by Hugh Bonneville) to head for France to secure the (eye-popping, of course) villa. This is to be her legacy for “Sybbie”, her great-granddaughter via her late granddaughter Sybil and successful former Irish estate chauffeur Tom Branson.

Stumbling blocks at home and abroad offer the family various challenges embellished with wry humour and clever commentary. Lady Violet’s possibly racy past raises eyebrows and questions - not the least of which is, how racy was it?

Of course, for those of us with itchy feet, the majestic British countryside and sweeping French vistas were - to say the least - travel inspiring.

Downton Abbey was filmed in a variety of appealing British locations, which include Highclere Castle (a Hampshire Jacobean estate house), picturesque Bampton Village, Oxfordshire, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, and Cogges Manor Farm, an historic Witney, Oxfordshire farm.

During the filming in France, you’ll admire the Villa Rocabella in Le Pradet in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. If you are unfamiliar with this region, let me just say one word: Go! A gold star, absolutely favourite region, in my view.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” ticks all the right boxes if you yearn for 1920s elegant couture, admire the early years of jazz, are fascinated by photography, and appreciate slick tongue-in-cheek repartee and travel. Re-set, relax, escape, dream, admire … and plan a special journey at home or abroad. Improvise. Turn off the the telly and jazz up your life. You’re worth it!

Three of my favourite Downton Abbey quotes: “I’m a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose,” Violet, Dowager Duchess of Downton. “All alone with plenty of money and a house in Eton Square. I can’t imagine anything better,” Lady Mary Crawley. “You are being tested. And you know what they say my darling, being tested only makes you stronger,” Cora, Lady Grantham.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founding publisher and managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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