Downton Abbey: A New Era (PG) **
Casablanca Beats (12A) ***
The Velvet Queen (12A) ****
Perhaps the best that can be said about Downton Abbey: A New Era is that it is compulsively pleasurable. Again written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes (Simon Curtis is directing), this sequel to the big-screen spin-off of the hit TV series brings back much of the original cast for something of an extended farewell. in which everyone more or less lands on their feet. Inheritance issues, social scandal, illness and the arrival of a populist new art form dubbed by a disapproving character as “kinema” could appear as potential obstacles in the road for both the ultra clan -privileged Crawley and their beloved servants, but, as is often the way with the wealthy, the bumps are all they are and fans can walk into the cinema knowing that no great tragedy will befall them. one of the characters they grew to love over the new film’s two hours – plus runtime.
There certainly wasn’t the massive culling implied by the “New Era” subtitle. Indeed, the film could have been more accurately subtitled “End of an Era” given that nearly all of the plots revolve around the original series’ key characters, starting with Maggie Smith’s ailing Dowager Countess, whose The mysterious legacy of a villa in the south of France allows Fellowes to keep alive the classic British tradition from film television of sending half the characters on holiday so that stuffy Brits can be confused by strangers – or, in this case, prove a bit tedious as the Crawleys (led by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) come face-to-face with the affluent chic of a French Marquis whose family they are about to evict from their sumptuous property on the Riviera. Potential conflict established, Fellowes chooses to resolve it almost immediately so that all the characters can swing in the sun being nice to each other.
Meanwhile, back at Downton, Crawley’s eldest daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), oversees the arrival of a film crew who have rented the estate to shoot a new silent film starring a dashing heartthrob. matinee (Dominic West) and a squeaky voiced diva (Laura Haddock) who saw the writing on the wall with the emergence of talkies – a development that allows Fellowes (clearly a little uninspired) to trash elements of his Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park and, most outrageously, the entire plot of Singin’ in the Rain. Mindless quips about the downgraded nature of the film industry duly follow as the film strives to give Lady Mary a chaste flirtation with the film’s director in a movie (Hugh Dancy) while also giving ground floor a bit of glamor by having them replace pesky extras who stop showing up for work when the production runs out of money and can’t pay them. The fact that this final plot twist is framed as a dream-come-true moment says a lot about this film’s sympathies. Maybe this fantasy isn’t so enjoyable after all.
The optimism of children finding their voices for the first time gets an interesting update in Casablanca Beats, a hip-hop-flavored coming-of-age drama about a group of Moroccan teenagers learning to question the repressive attitudes and adult hypocrisies they see all around them. Set in an arts-oriented youth center in Sidi Moumen – an economically deprived suburb of Casablanca compared by one of the children present to the Bronx, the tough New York neighborhood from which hip-hop emerged in the 1970s – the film first revolves around the arrival of Anas (Anas Basbousi), a former rapper whose streetwise style does not appeal to the center’s administrators. After establishing him as an inspirational teacher who breaks the rules, writer/director Nabil Ayouch cleverly passes the mic to his young cast as they learn to use rap to express who they are while negotiating complicated family lives, religious obligations and gender inequality. It’s a tried-and-true formula, but with the actors all playing fictionalized versions of themselves, it feels like there’s more at stake here than in the average Fame knockout.
In The Velvet Queen, French writer Sylvain Tesson joins wildlife photographer and filmmaker Vincent Munier on an epic trek across the Tibetan Plateau in an attempt to catch a rare glimpse of snow leopards in their natural habitat. Co-directed by Munier and Marie Amiguet, what follows is part philosophical inquiry into the value of isolation and part majestic nature documentary, perfectly attuned to the richness of the surrounding ecosystem and manages to convey it. through a combination of jaw-dropping cinematography. , the plaintive score of Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, and its creators’ understanding of the delicate balance that exists between them and the wildlife they observe. They are the heavy intruders, Tesson admits at one point, and it gradually becomes apparent that they are being watched every step of the way by the animals they are on a quest to observe. Given this intriguing theme which really concerns who, the film is oddly uncurious as to why Tesson joined Munier (he released his own account of the expedition, The Art of Patience, in 2019 and the directors have perhaps assumed that his extraordinary story is better known outside of France than it actually is). But as a nature film that goes beyond the format’s visual and narrative cliches, it’s no less absorbing.
Downton Abbey is on general release from April 29; Casablanca Beats is on selected and on-demand release from Curzon Home Cinema from April 29; The Velvet Queen is on select and on-demand release from modernfilms.com from April 29th.