They’re British and they’re back, all but turning themselves inside-out for another silver-screen installment.
Most of the original cast and crew of the beloved television series “Downton Abbey” — centered around a fictional estate owned by the aristocratic Crawleys — has returned for a second go-round.
Virtually all of the fabled franchise’s central players are on hand, save for Henry, whose actor Matthew Goode was preoccupied with the new Paramount+ limited series “The Offer.”
Director Simon Curtis, who proved his chops most notably with “My Week with Marilyn” a decade ago, is at the royal helm for “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” By this point, Curtis has earned a spot among self-assured, consummate craftsmen.
The pristine premise at hand is a movie within a movie, circa 1928: While members of the Crawley clan visit southern France for a bequeathed home, their eponymous fortress is the setting for a film whose crew ends up needing help from the residents and servants.
At front and center, deservedly so, is dowager Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), who has gotten word that she’s legally entitled to a mansion in Villa Rocabella. The gift, courtesy of a Frenchman with whom she had a dalliance roughly a half-century ago, sparks a tempest in a teapot among the panoply of participants.
Also planted four-square amid the proceedings: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), keeping her roving eye in check while Henry is away; Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), whose medical condition only compounds the stress that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) endures while wondering about his biological father.
Laura Haddock and Dominic West are the fresh faces — as the visiting Hollywood silent-picture stars — who stir up mini-dramas of their own.
It wouldn’t be “Downton Abbey” without one Jim Carter, returning with gravitas intact as Mr. Carson, the irrefutable butler whose duties entail accompanying the elites to France. (“They better be warned: The British are coming.”)
There will be a lion’s share of subplots among clandestine love interests, one of which ought not be described as plausible. A handful of downers come about; they won’t all get ironed out by Curtis’ tendency toward heavy-handed control.
As the show’s purists already know: The “Downton” productions are well-acted, well-polished, well-costumed. It’s a period piece that sidesteps the typical pratfalls of being described as bookish and stuffy.
Anybody with a taste for the TV series’ amenities ought to feel properly fed after the latest big-screen version winds down at the two-hour mark. Bon appetit.