Home > Reviews > DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA – John Lunn


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The enormously popular small screen adventures of the Crawley family continue their transition to the big screen with a second cinematic outing, Downton Abbey: A New Era, written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Simon Curtis. As we all know, Downton Abbey is a British drama series charting the lives and loves of the aristocratic Crawley family and their various staff and servants, all of whom reside at the titular estate in northern England. It’s a blend of domestic drama, historical and political intrigue, and scandalous romance, dressed up with upper-class British pageantry, and it was wildly popular and successful both domestically and in the United States. The original series debuted in 2010, and was followed by the first theatrical film in 2019. This new film, set in 1928, tells two parallel stories: one regarding Maggie Smith’s character Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who has unexpectedly inherited a villa in France; and one where a film crew arrives at Downton to make a silent film starring screen lothario Guy Dexter (Dominic West), which sends everyone into a tizzy. The film stars the familiar cast of regular Downton actors – Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter – and was a popular success upon its UK opening.

The score for Downton Abbey: A New Era is by Scottish composer John Lunn, who scored every episode of the original series, and scored the first movie too. Lunn has been writing music prestigious British television series since the 1990s, but Downton remains by far his most well-known work outside the UK. As I have written elsewhere, Lunn is a master at creating that instantly recognizable BBC English costume drama sound, which takes the musical seeds of composers like Elgar and Vaughan-Williams, but dispenses with the adornments and presents simple, effective, emotional cues that instantly evoke a specific time and place. Downton Abbey: A New Era continues that sound with a series of excellent orchestral pieces that accompany the two intertwining stories, but it also gave Lunn a chance to bring some new sounds into the Downton palette: a subtle Gallic touch for the scenes set in France, and some period jazz for the Hollywood film crew that comes to town.

Much of the score is built around the show’s memorable main theme, but what I like about this score in particular is what Lunn does with it in terms of creating different emotional frames of reference. In the opening moments of “A New Era,” for example, Lunn re-arranges the theme as a slightly forlorn piano solo backed with soft strings, before shifting into a lovely, lyrical, pastoral passage that owes a debt to ‘The Lark Ascending’. The interplay between the strings and woodwinds during the rest of the piece is just delightful, magical textures that flit and dart with a great amount of lively energy and good humor.

Cues like “Côte d’Azur,” the subtly comedic “Le Chapeau de Carson,” and the gorgeously wistful “Violet Mon Adorée,” are gracefully romantic, bright and beguiling pieces in waltz time that represent Lady Grantham’s ‘mysterious romantic past’ in the sun-kissed climes of the south of France. “Le Chapeau de Carson” has an especially Gallic flavor through its use of traditional accordions, and couldn’t be more perfectly location-specific if it was riding a bicycle while wearing a hooped shirt, a beret, and had a string of onions around its neck. “Violet Mon Adorée,” on the other hand, seems to have a longing, melancholy undercurrent amid the lovely interplay between piano and woodwinds, hinting at unfulfilled relationships and long-forgotten regrets.

Meanwhile, cues like “Kinema” and “Then You’re In Luck,” have a jazzy sound, peppy and upbeat, one part George Gershwin, one part Max Steiner. They are full of vivacious string runs and big-band brass, and often have a sultry Hollywood sweep and sheen in some of the phrasing. The prominent use of pizzicato runs and effervescent xylophones in the percussion section is immediately redolent of the period, and they give the whole thing a can-do spirit full of pizzazz and spunk. Related to these are the dreamy-sounding “Guy” and the subsequent “The Handsome Mr. Barber,” which have all the charm and romantic appeal of a screen matinee idol, a wash of swooning strings and Hollywood Golden Age fantasy. There’s a touch of more serious drama too in “The Gambler” – the name of the film being shot – which captures the sense of panic and trepidation among the film crew when the studio pulls out a lot of the funding, leaving the whole project in jeopardy.

“All Aboard” combines both ideas in one cue – representing the split in the story as half the cast head off overseas, while the half stay at home in with the film crew – and Lunn artfully switches between one theme, then the other, with great dexterity. Not only that, there are two period song covers, “Crazy Rhythm” and “Am I Blue,” which were arranged by Lunn and are performed by the British jazz and soul vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett, who also appears on-screen performing the songs in character.

The finale of the score – from “Good News, Bad News” through “The Last Farewell” and “Cortege” – is especially emotional, considering the context of the scenes it accompanies. As was the case with the opening sequence, elements of the main Downton Abbey theme weave throughout the trio of cues, turning the nine-minute sequence into something quite poignant. I love how Lunn plays around with the main theme’s underlying chords in “The Last Farewell,” and how the sense of grief and loss builds throughout the cue, and then how in the stunning “Cortege” he combines the strings with an appropriately angelic and wholly beautiful choir, as well as what appear to be some references to Violet’s theme from the series, acknowledging the passing of one of Downton’s most beloved characters.

The brief but satisfying “Next Generation” allows everyone to catch their breath and regroup, and look forward with some optimism and positivity, before then the 7-minute “Downton Abbey Suite” gives Lunn the chance to take everyone on a final tour of his main theme in the grandest fashion, ending the score on a wonderful high.

Downton Abbey: A New Era is a superb score, and anyone who has enjoyed any of the music in the series prior to this will want to add this one to their lists immediately. John Lunn is a master at this sound; lush, emotional, dramatic, and evoking a time and place in English history through stylistic and tonal references to the late-romantic era composers working at the time. The French influences and the Hollywood jazz sounds add new depth to the overall Downton palette, and the way they combine with that terrific main theme, and then rise to an emotional and moving finale, help make this one of the best scores of its type this year.

Buy the Downton Abbey: A New Era soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A New Era (5:23)
  • Kinema (1:55)
  • Côte d’Azur (3:15)
  • Guy (1:58)
  • All Aboard (1:41)
  • The Handsome Mr. Barber (1:57)
  • Crazy Rhythm (written by Irving Caesar, Joseph Meyer, and Roger Wolfe Kahn, performed by John Lunn & Cherise) (2:13)
  • The Gambler (2:05)
  • Le Chapeau de Carson (2:01)
  • That I Do Remember (2:34)
  • First Draft (1:15)
  • Am I Blue (written by Harry Akst and Grant Clarke, performed by John Lunn & Cherise) (3:18)
  • Then You’re In Luck (3:09)
  • Violet Mon Adorée (3:26)
  • Good News, Bad News (2:07)
  • The Last Farewell (3:27)
  • Cortege (3:25)
  • Next Generation (1:14)
  • Downton Abbey – The Suite (7:06)

Running Time: 53 minutes 29 seconds

Decca Records (2022)

Music composed by John Lunn. Conducted by Alastair King. Orchestrations by Alastair King. Additional music by Chris Egan. Recorded and mixed by Paul Golding. Edited by Mark Willsher. Album produced by John Lunn.

  1. Anna Matson
    May 30, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    Loved the movie and the soundtrack.I hope there will be a continuation of “Downtown Abby The New Era”.

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