Downton Abbey: A New Era (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

The Crawley family goes on a grand journey to the South of France to uncover the mystery of the dowager countess's newly inherited villa.

July 13, 2022 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Downton Abbey was a show that ran from 2011 to 2016 on PBS. And, until this disc arrived, that’s about all I knew of it. Well, that’s a bit misleading, I’d heard of its success but not enough to actually go check it out. In 2019, the first film came out. I missed that one as well. But I figured that I’d give this a chance by way of watching the most recent film. Maybe that’s not that intelligent, but a good film shouldn’t need the viewer to rely on having seen the show. It should stand on its own. And, I suppose, that’s the biggest compliment that I could pay this movie – it manages to entertain and not isolate the viewers who need to have seen the show’s run (or prior film).  Add to this, the movie features a lot about the making of movies, in particular the silent cinema, so for me it was killing two birds with one stone.

There are two “dual” plots at play. The first finds a film crew wanting to use Downton Abbey as the locale for their latest production. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) does indeed allow it as the estate is in need of some houskeeping. The money earned from the film would help in tidying the place up. When the staff meets Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), they’re beside themselves. But the actors are also in the midst of realizing that talking movies are changing the way movies are made and they could be obsolete. Switching gears we find Violet (Maggie Smith) who has unexpectedly inherited a French villa from a man she knew in the past. It’s unclear to her son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) why. Robert goes to meet the wife and what he finds out, isn’t what was expected. There are also some smaller story arcs involving Mr. Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) deals with a healh issue and Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) ends up working with the film crew.

I’m sure that die-hard fans of this series will get more out of this than I did. But I stand by what I said in that even for the uninitiated (like myself), it wasn’t that difficult to catch up. It’s like a soap opera, you can not watch for years on end and be caught up in a day or so. And I have to admit that I enjoyed the film-making backdrop of this one. It certainly had echoes of Singin’ in the Rain, though without the song and dance numbers. Or humor. I suppose my only complaint was the size of the cast. And that wasn’t exactly a secret given the amount of faces on the cover of the disc. Then again, I realize that was the format of the show. Fans will be pleased with this outing and I’ll go out on a limb and say that what made the series and first film a success is (still) at play here.

Video: How’s it look?

Having never seen a single episode of this show (or the first film) I really had no expectations what to expect visually. What I did know was that it’s a high-profile film from a major studio being released on 4K. So, suffice it to say – it had all that going for it. The 2.39:1 HEVC 4K image did not disappoint. I found the film to look lively and vibrant with much more color than I’d anticipated (part of me was equating this show with those glum “murder/mystery” shows from the 70’s).  Detail is tack sharp, though with some of the more elderly members of the cast – that’s maybe not so much a good thing! HDR offers some nice color improvements over the Blu-ray, but I’m sure either way you go, this one will satisfy. Who knew England could look so good?

Audio: How’s it sound?

I have to admit that there was a bit of a chuckle when I turned the box over and saw that this has a Dolby Atmos mix. It’s just…not the type of film that I’d associate with such a thing. That being said, it’s not that bad really. It works. Granted, this isn’t one that will have you turning the volume down on the receiver, but it’s a nice, solid-sounding mix that’s understated. And again – it works. Vocals are crisp and sharp lacking any distortion. The English have never sounded more refined. All in all, it’s a quite capable and pleasing mix that caught me off guard – but in a good way.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – Director Simon Curtis checks all the boxes as he tells of the sequel, the cast and everything in between. Being a “rookie” to this universe, some of it likely passed me by, but for those that can’t get enough of this – here it is.
  • Good To Be Back – The cast is happy to be back at the estate and making their next film. Hear what it was like for them to see one another again and learn about their character’s continuing story arcs.
  • Return to Downton Abbey: The Making of A New Era – A production as large as Downton Abbey: A New Era takes incredible preparation, people, and craftsmanship. This in-depth making-of piece delves into the work that each department contributed to bring this film to life.
  • A Legendary Character – Take a look back at the legendary character that is the Dowager Countess of Grantham and see why Maggie Smith was born to play the role.
  • Creating The Film Within The Film – Take a deeper dive into the making of the film within the film, highlighting the extra research and details that were taken into consideration, from set design and vehicles to the plethora of period-accurate film equipment and props.
  • Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia – Learn the real history behind Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, and why it was a perfect vessel to play the cross-channel ferry in the film.
  • Spill The Tea (Time) – Sit down with Allen Leech (Tom Branson) and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) as they spill all the details of what life on the set of the film was really like.

The Bottom Line

I’ll go out on a limb and say that I did enjoy this a bit more than I expected to. I won’t say that it made a fan out of me and I have no real intent to go back and watch the series, but a viewing of the first film might be in order. For fans of the show, this one offers up more of the same and Universal’s disc looks and sounds good with a smattering of extras that might make a purchase a no-brainer.

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