Fans of the PBS show will gain the most from this second big-screen adaptation that, as the title suggests, is a bit of the passing of the torch. Of course, Robert Crawley the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his American wife Cora Crawley the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) will always be around (they’ve overcome many obstacles during the show’s run) but now its eldest daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) who takes control over the daily operations of the Yorkshire country estate which gets a visit from Hollywood in the funny, sentimental, and delightful “Downton Abbey: A New Era”.

The success of “Downton Abbey” lies with creator, writer, and executive producer Julian Fellowes who after six seasons (2010-2015) and one feature film returns to broaden the Crawley family legacy with a new adventure that pits tradition against the modern age when Hollywood producer and director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) visits the estate to shoot a silent picture starring Guy Dexter (a terrific Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock).

The year is 1928. Robert thinks it’s a horrible idea, “Actresses plastered in makeup and actors just plastered” but he’s reminded quickly by Lady Mary that the estate is in need of costly repairs, primarily the leaky roof, which the money forked over by the studio for renting Downton would more than cover. Former butler Mr. Carlson (Jim Carter) who remains an advisor to the estate also objects to a Hollywood invasion “A moving picture at Downton?!” However, the ladies think it’s a wonderful idea and so the production company gets the green light, and the modern world invades the traditional country home.

There are several subplots at play in “New Era” including one that involves family matriarch Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) announcing that she’s inherited a villa in the South of France from the now-deceased Marquis de Montmirail, whom she last saw nine months before Robert was born (hint hint) almost 70 years ago. She decides to bequeath the villa to great-granddaughter Sybbie daughter of former Downton chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and the late Sybil Crawley.

At the request of the villa’s current owner, the son of Violet’s Marquis (Jonathan Zaccaï), the Crawleys are invited to tour their new real estate acquisition and with Violet too frail for travel, Robert sees this as the perfect escape from the Hollywood invasion. Together with wife Cora, daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), butler Carson, and a few others, they venture to the French Riviera, for fun, sun, and pushback from Madame de Montmirail (played by legendary French actress Nathalie Baye) who is not happy that her late husband bequeathed the villa to Dowager Grantham.

The third storyline involves the end of the silent film era as talkies take Hollywood by storm. This presents a problem for Jack whose silent film “The Gambler” is on the brink of shutting down after the studio decides to cut funding. Lady Mary suggests he turn his movie into a talkie — not good for leading lady Myrna whose thick accent isn’t romantic lead material — so Jack convinces Lady Mary to dub her voice over Myrna’s scenes. Former Downton footman turned schoolteacher Mr. Molesley (a big movie fan) pitches in to write dialogue for the film with the rest of the domestic servants vying to help as extras.

The film also toys with Guy’s sexuality as he shows an interest in former bad boy now Downton’s butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). And speaking of physical attraction, Jack begins to fall for Lady Mary whose husband Henry (Matthew Goode) is nowhere to be found. Goode made an appearance at the end of the 2019 film but due to the actor’s conflicting schedules, his character is reportedly away racing cars.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” plays like a 2-hour season premiere as we once again get reunited with most of the show’s familiar faces. But unlike the PBS series which ran for six seasons, there are no big shockers, the tone is predominately lighthearted, with more humor than usual. Director Simon Curtis (“My Week With Marilyn”) keeps the film moving at a steady pace, and should this be the last time we visit with the Crawley family, Fellowes wraps up the show with an ending that should satisfy fans leaving no stone unturned.

Above all the film belongs to Dame Maggie Smith whose character Dowager Countess of Grantham has “softened” over the years (as we all do). She was once opposed to her late granddaughter Sybil’s marriage to Tom, an Irishman, and former chauffeur, and now she’s making sure their daughter is secured in what could be her final act of kindness. I left the theater with a big smile and an urge to revisit the PBS show which is available to stream on Peacock and Amazon Prime Video.

(3 ½ stars)

Now showing in theaters

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.