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Downton Abbey: A New Era review: Dame Maggie Smith's presence towers

Our movie man James King reviews Downton Abbey's latest installment

All your favourite characters might be back in this sequel to the 2019 film but that subtitle A New Era isn’t just there for the sake of it. This is a story about comings and goings, about shifts in the outside world and in the world of the Crawley family. It’s business as usual yes - but even the grand walls of Downton Abbey can’t keep out the winds of change forever.

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If the first Downton movie was mainly about a royal visit then this second has two stories going on. First of all, we learn that the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) has inherited, out of the blue, a villa in the South of France, leading to a number of the family and staff heading to the Côte D’Azur to find out more.

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WATCH: Check out the trailer here

Secondly, a film production led by director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) hires the mansion as a location for a movie, so those who aren’t across the channel must now deal with technicians and actors taking over their beloved building.

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The Crawleys go to the South of France

Believable? Not entirely. But the speed at which the film sprints through the stories leaves you with little time to debate the finer points (probably for the best). The result is fun whilst you’re watching though hardly something that sticks in the mind much longer than the end credits. It’s a soufflé of a film, light and frothy and barely nourishing - but undeniably tasty.

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The film is out on 29 April

The costumes, the scenery and two charming performances from newcomers Laura Haddock and Dominic West (playing fictional movie stars Myrna Dalgleish and Guy Dexter) are all standouts. There is also an enjoyable amount of knowing digs about actors taking over a stately home to make a film, plus a deliciously cheeky quip concerning Carson and Lady Bagshaw, played by real-life couple Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton.

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Dame Maggie Smith steals the show

Ultimately though, all of those things - the frantic pace, the perfect frocks, the crafty jokes - fall by the wayside when Dame Maggie Smith is on-screen. She might have to share the film with an ensemble cast but her presence towers over the proceedings. More than any other character, the Dowager feels three-dimensional and worldly. More than any other actor, Dame Maggie brings weight and wit to her lines. Yes, it’s another Downton Abbey movie packed to the rafters with style but it’s she who really brings the substance.

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