'Downton Abbey: A New Era' Shifts Its Release Date To May

Most of the core cast of DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era
Most of the core cast of 'Downton Abbey: A New Era' (Credit: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC)

The gift of the 2021 lockdowns in the U.K. is that they cleared the schedules of every Downton Abbey actor, making it possible to bring back the entire ensemble for a second big-screen production much quicker than they might have otherwise managed. The first film spent a couple of years rounding up everyone involved in the original TV series and herding them like cats into one filming spot on the schedule. (And even then, there were a couple who didn't make the cut, like Cousin Rose.) Though the resulting 2019 film was a box office smash, everyone expected the same would be true of a sequel, so the quick turnaround in 2021 for a Christmas release of Downton Abbey: A New Era seemed almost too good to be true.

It was. Christmas was a little too ambitious, so Focus Features slid the movie down the calendar to early spring, a sensible decision in the days of low caseloads and few variants. But then December and the omicron variant arrived, and since then, the box office has been unkind to everything that doesn't have an entire Spider-Fam reunion. Though there's hope that things will turn around by winter's end, studios are getting nervous about February releases, and Focus Features has decided it will not take the risk and inside push back its current release calendar to be safe.

First to move is Academy-Award winner Graham Moore's directorial debut, a crime drama known as The Outfit, starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Initially slated for Feb. 25, it will move down a month to the Mar. 18 berth. Mar. 18, as fans will realize, was Downton Abbey: A New Era's release date. In response, it will also slide down the calendar, putting it firmly in the late spring, arriving first in the U.K. on Apr. 29 and the month later in the U.S. on May 20, 2022. Both films are expected to play well with older audiences, many of whom have been reluctant to return to theaters, especially with current concerns about COVID.

Allen Leech as Tom Branson and Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Smith in DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era,
(Credit: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC)

It's pretty good news for both films, as The Outfit was originally opening against the highly anticipated Peter Dinklage-starring Cyrano, a musical adaptation of the famous love story that's already garnering rave reviews. Bumping its release date will still mean competition from indie quarters, including Sundance acquisition Alice, A24's thriller X, and Zachary Levi drama The Unbreakable Boy, but none of those have quite the same buzz. Meanwhile, Downton Abbey: A New Era moves to a relatively empty weekend, facing only Warner Bros' kiddie animation DC Super-Pets.

The move does mean fans will have to wait a teensy bit longer to watch the Crawley clan, who are heading on a "grand journey to the South of France to uncover the mystery of the Dowager Countess' newly inherited villa." But as a summer-esque adventure, it seems more fitting for the pre-Memorial Day slot than the cold of March anyway. The entire core cast will return, with new additions Imelda Staunton and Tuppence Middleton, plus guest stars Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, and Dominic West.

For those still not going to theaters, a reminder that Focus Films' current exclusivity deal with theaters enforces a 17-day window before heading to PVOD, meaning the film will first reach streaming rental status on Jun. 6.

Downton Abbey: A New Era will arrive in U.K. theaters on Friday, Apr. 29, and follow in the U.S. beginning Friday, May 20, 2022.