Within the first 15 minutes of this movie, I can already understand why so many fans are obsessed with this franchise. For one, there's the brilliant writing, which weaves in real-life events (like the end of the silent film era) while tackling themes that range from classism to family dynamics and, most importantly, the inevitability of change. It's clear that quite a few members of the family prefer to cling to tradition—especially considering their reactions to the filming project. But that also serves as a wakeup call for the family, given how quickly the cast, director and crew have to adapt when they discover that "talkies" are now all the rage.
Maggie Smith's epic delivery of witty one-liners makes her an easy favorite, and the chemistry between Lady Mary and Jack Barber is thick enough to cut through. Sophie McShera also shines as the ambitious downstairs cook, Daisy, who manages to singlehandedly save the day by having a bold pep-talk with the movie's star. But aside from these standout performances, the film also delivers plenty of drama and touching moments. In the south of France, for instance, Violet's son, Robert, learns something troubling about his mother's past and gets hit with another curveball when his wife shares a long-hidden secret—one that drives him to tears.
It certainly packs an emotional punch, but this particular scene—especially Cora's claim to have "loved him first"— is just one of several moments where I recognize the need for more details. I thought, "How exactly did their relationship begin? And what did she do to win him over?!" Then of course, there is Barrow hinting at his romantic history, and I can't help but wonder about his backstory, especially as a gay man living in the 1920s. But though I had (and have) questions, A New Era is still enjoyable without having the full context. With fascinating plot lines, compelling characters, picturesque landscapes and elegant period costumes, it still has all the makings of a good standalone film that's worth watching.
Now, excuse me while I finally binge-watch the entirety of Downton Abbey.