Nonetheless, Violet’s declining health does not allow her to travel back to this place from her distant past, but Violet’s son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville, “Paddington 2”), accepts an invitation to visit the villa by the current Marquis de Montmirail (Jonathan Zaccai), the late owner’s son. While he seems eager to welcome the Crawleys, his mother (Nathalie Baye) is angered by the prospect of losing her winter home.
Robert is keen on the visit if only because it will remove him from Downton as his historic home is taken over by a film crew. His daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, “The Gentlemen”) — who’s now in charge of the family affairs but understandably is still somewhat deferential to her father — convinces him that allowing the movie industry inside their hallowed halls is worth the inconvenience and any distastefulness, as it will pay for the repairs to Downton’s leaking roof.
And so Fellowes, who wrote the script, and director Simon Curtis split up the cast for much of the affair, sending Robert; his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern); their daughter Edith (Laura Carmichael); their aforementioned retired butler, Mr. Carson; and a few others to France, while leaving Mary and most of the servants to remain at home to accommodate the cast and crew of “The Gambler” — and to make sure they don’t destroy the place.
(Mr. Carson is not needed in France, mind you, but after uttering statements such as “A movie production?!? At Downton!?!,” Mary schemes with his wife, Phyllis Logan’s Mrs. Hughes, to get Robert to include him in the expedition. “We’ve got to get rid of him,” Mary says, and Mrs. Hughes concurs.)
Although the villa storyline is potentially more consequential to the family due to information that emerges about Violet and the late Marquis de Montmirail, there’s more fun to be had around the movie shoot.
Servants Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) and Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) are among those highly excited to meet the stars of the picture, Guy Dexter (Dominic West, “The Affair”) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock). However, one of them proves to be unsophisticated and sometimes downright rude.
On the other hand, the director, Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy, “Hannibal”), is a complete gentleman, and we sense a spark between Mary and him from the moment they meet. This could prove to be problematic as her husband, Henry Talbot, is off on an adventure. (The actor who plays him, Matthew Goode, has said that filming the recent Paramount+ series “The Offer” kept him from a “Downton” appearance.)
Unfortunately for Jack, he’s directing a silent film as “talkies” are quickly becoming the preferred choice of the movie-going public. Mary offers an obvious suggestion to save the film when it runs the risk of being shut down, which causes an issue for Myrna — while also revealing a hidden talent possessed by Mr. Molesley.
Guy, meanwhile, takes an interest in Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier, “The Ritual”), who has settled into the job of butler and doesn’t know quite what to make of the suave Hollywood star.
Because Fellowes (“The Gilded Age”) and Curtis (“Goodbye Christopher Robin”) are so concerned with giving all of the actors at least a moment or two, none is truly able to shine. Furthermore, the typically terrific Bonneville has trouble finding his footing even as “A New Era” as a whole does — but the actor does turn in excellent work during a late emotional scene.