With the financial crash of 1929 on the horizon, it felt like a fitting way to end an aristocratic family saga that had surely exhausted every soap staple over six television series. But, after snagging an estimated £160million at the box office ( from a £15million budget), Julian Fellowes was always going to return to his writing desk.
The title hints at a new franchise but this hugely entertaining instalment doesn’t stray too far from its winning formula. While the previous film found broad comedy in a royal visit, this takes the well-trodden path of the British TV spin-off and heads to foreign shores.
It’s 1928 and the ailing Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) still has enough energy to drop a bombshell. She’s been bequeathed a villa on the French Riviera by a mysterious amour from the previous century.
As the will is being contested by his bitter French widow, Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) pack sun hats and nautical blazers and head off to the south of France. Meanwhile, a leaky roof has compelled Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) to hire Downton out as the location for a film crew, led by Hugh Dancy’s director and his Hollywood stars (Dominic West and Laura Haddock).
Simon Curtis (Elizabeth McGovern’s husband) pays lip service to his role as this film’s director with swooping drone shots over the grand old house. But really, this is just an extended episode of the posh soap, replete with births, a wedding, a death and the airing of long-held secrets.
At Monday’s night premiere, the rapt audience stayed to the very end of the credits, as if hoping for a Marvel-style teaser for the next spin-off. It probably sent Fellowes rushing back to his keyboard.
Downton Abbey: A New Era in cinemas now.