Kevin Doyle and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey: A New Era
Kevin Doyle and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo: Ben Blackall / 2022 Focus Features)

Just as we’re all getting into HBO’s new “American Downton,” a.k.a. The Gilded Age, a new preview of the latest iteration of Downton Classic drops. Yesterday, Focus Features released the first full-length trailer for Downton Abbey: A New Era. The clip is packed with new details we haven’t seen in the initial teaser, including a whole heretofore unknown plotline.

Now that we’ve had a day or so to watch the new trailer over and over, we’re ready to dive in and overanalyze all the upstairs/downstairs drama.

We know from the teaser, released back in November, that the second Downton Abbey film will revolve at least in part around the revelation that Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess has “come into the possession of a villa in the South of France,” which has something to do with a man she met years ago. The implication, of course, is that she had some kind of youthful fling with this mysterious man. (I mean, we know Violet got around in her day. Remember that deposed Russian prince or whatever?) It’s unclear whether she and this man “met” before or after her marriage to the previous Lord Grantham, but in the new trailer we learn from Isabel (Penelope Wilton) that they only “spent a few days together.”

Still, no one has any clue why this guy would just up and gift her a villa—it’s actually not even clear from the trailer whether he’s still alive, but I think it’s safe to assume that he’s died and bequeathed it to the Dowager. And there is the suggestion of something…untoward. “It doesn’t look good for Papa if she felt the need to keep it a secret,” we hear Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) muse.

So, Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Edith and that duke she married (Carmichael and Harry Hadden-Paton), Branson and his new wife (Allen Leech and Tuppence Middleton) and Carson (Jim Carter) are all off to the Riviera to uncover the secrets of the Dowager’s past. We see an unidentified couple (I think this is Jonathan Zaccaï and Nathalie Baye) welcoming them to “the Villa of the Doves,” and Lord Grantham asking Zaccaï’s character why he invited them there. Now, if I were speculating wildly, I might wonder if the fact that Lady Edith—who herself once concealed an illegitimate child—is the one wondering aloud about how the Dowager’s secret looks for Lord Grantham might indicate something about Zaccaï’s character. Like, is he the Dowager’s long lost secret lovechild? I mean, I have no idea how that would work, but like I said, it’s been done in the Downton-verse before so…

Laura Haddock and Michael Fox in Downton Abbey: A New Era
Laura Haddock stars as Laura Haddock and Michael Fox in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo: Ben Blackall / Focus Features)

Now, the big reveal in the new trailer—and if this was previously reported elsewhere, I sure didn’t know about it—is that, in a pretty meta turn of events, the Crawleys agree to allow a film to be shot at Downton Abbey. This, then, not only accounts for the glamorous platinum blonde (Laura Haddock) seen arriving at the estate in the teaser, but also for the presence of Hugh Dancy, who plays the film’s producer and director Mr. Barber, and Dominic West, who appears to play the film within the film’s leading man.

So, while everyone else is off in France, it seems that Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is taking the lead on the film front. “You’re the captain now,” Lord Grantham tells her. Which, again, is a clever bit of metanarrative in that this is exactly how people in Mary’s position would have managed to keep their ancestral estates profitable in the 20th century. Downton Abbey itself is filmed at just such a place!

Also, it looks like Mary’s relationship with Dancy’s character might not be purely professional. There’s no sign of her husband in this—you really have to respect Matthew Goode’s resolute refusal to participate in anymore Downton Abbey nonsense—and Barber asks whether there’s “trouble in paradise.”

“You don’t need me to tell you that marriage is a novel full of plot twists along the way,” she tells him. I mean, when it comes to Downton one might replace “novel” with “soap opera,” but we get the point. And hey, if Hugh Dancy is our Matthew Goode consolation prize, well, we could all do a lot worse!

Dominic West and Rob James-Collier in <i>Downton Abbey: A New Era</i>
Dominic West and Rob James-Collier in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Image courtesy of Focus Features)

And speaking of plot twists, while the whole film crew and pushy Hollywood types and temperamental actors running around smashing things has the downstairs staff all discombobulated, it looks like there might be sparks flying between Thomas (Rob James Collier) and West’s character. The two of them seem to share a meaningful look at one point in the trailer. Which, ok fine, another fleeting, probably unconsummated flirtation for poor sad gay old Thomas, who I suppose we all knew wouldn’t end up happily in love and cohabitating with that gorgeous royal butler from the first movie. Oh well.

The trailer ends with a classic Dowager Countess mic drop. Chatting with Isabel about, presumably, the new-fangled talkie being filmed at Downton, Violet quips that she thought the best thing about films is that you didn’t have to hear what people were saying. “It would be even better if you couldn’t see them either,” she says—possibly referencing the fact that the release of Downton Abbey: A New Era has been pushed back to May 20?

Additional random observations and questions:

  • As we saw in the teaser, former Irish socialist revolutionary chauffer Tom Branson finally marries an appropriately aristocratic (and yet also slightly outsidery) woman: Lucy Smith, the illegitimate daughter of Crawley cousin and royal lady in waiting Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), from the first movie. I’d assume A New Era opens with their wedding.
  • As fans have already pointed out, Hugh Bonneville looks super tanned in the new trailer. And actually, if you go back and look at the teaser, the scene in which Violet breaks the news about the villa was clearly reshot.
  • Wasn’t the Dowager supposed to be dying or something at the end of the first movie? What happened to that?
  • Is Daisy married to a footman yet? Any footman? Does anyone care?
  • I detect almost zero Mr. Bates and exactly zero Baxter in this trailer, thank god.
  • What little Molesly there is in this is still entirely too much Molesly.
  • I miss Mary’s bangs.