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Downton Abbey: Seasons 1 – 4 Limited Edition - Blu-ray Review

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Downton Abbey - Seasons 1-4 - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

On Sunday, January 4th, PBS and Masterpiece debuted the newest season of the popular British show, Downton Abbey.  For PBS that meant 10.1 million viewers joined their network as Season Five opened.  For those in the dark on this insanely popular sumptuous costume drama, there is the limited blu-ray release of Downton Abbey: Seasons 1 – 4 offered.  The 11-disc set includes every episode of the first four seasons of this award-winning series and, for anyone who enjoys solid television writing, is a must-own.

Written and created by Academy Award winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria), Downton Abbey is a charming narrative set in post-Edwardian England following the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants from pre-war England through the storms of World War I, and into the social upheaval of England in the 1920s as the lives of the Abbey’s inhabitants are shaped by romance, heartbreak, scandals, rumors, blackmail, and betrayal.  The show boasts an all-star cast featuring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens, Penelope Wilton, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James- Collier and Brendan Coyle.  This prestigious cast brings the world of Downton to life with splendour and passion.

Opening in England with the tragedy of the Titanic and on into the years leading up to the First World War, Downton Abbey is one hell of a complicated community.  The house has been home to the Crawley family for many generations, but it is also where their servants live, and plan, and dream, and they are as fiercely jealous of their rank and duty as anyone.  Some of them are loyal to the family and committed to Downton as a way of life, others are moving through, on the look out for betterment or love or just adventure.  The difference is that they know so many of the secrets of the family, while the family knows so few of theirs due to the social barriers of the period. 

For all the passions that rage beneath the surface, the world of Downton Abbey is a secure one; full of serenity and order.  At first glance, it seems this lifestyle will last forever.  Little do they - family or staff – know that the clouds of the conflict that will change everything are already over their heads.  The series has garnered enough critical attention to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and has unseated Brideshead Revisited as the most successful British costume drama series.  I am not one for period pieces but, from the opening swell of composer John Lunn’s theme song “Did I Make the Most of Loving You?”, I was quickly hooked – in spite of its sympathetic nature toward class-based societies of early 20th century Britain.

This is a beautifully crafted series that never gets redundant in its handling of class and antiquated attitudes.  Some critics question the authenticity of some of the accents.  Others question just how well researched the program is.  Fellowes suggests that the scripts are based on documented fact and is proud of his cast – even if they are, as others have suggested, too contemporary with their performances.  To me, there has to be a air of naturalness around the actors and their performances or else any show runs the risk of being too foreign and too alien to its audience.  I believe the ensemble cast of Downton Abbey is more than a success; they are THE event and one of the keys to making the show as popular as it is worldwide.   The Blu-ray set has the advantage of being the original U.K. version, not the shorter one seen here in the U.S.  This stylish new package, which is a great gift idea, lacks any new bonus features, but does contain all of the original supplemental material from the pervious editions.  Add everything up and you have a total of 34 hours of entertainment in one package.

Winner of two Golden Globes, nominated for more Emmys than any British TV show in history (46 nominations to date, 10 wins), there really is no reason why you shouldn’t be watching.  The lavish period-drama returns to its rightful Sunday night throne with the grace and beauty of Downton Abbey.  This Blu-ray set is the ideal way for those not yet up to speed on the series to catch up with it, and is therefore highly recommended.

Downton Abbey - Seasons 1-4 - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Limited Edition | Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey | Original UK Edition

Available on Blu-ray - October 21, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Eleven-disc set (11 BDs)
Region Encoding: A

The 1080p-AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation of the series throughout these 11 discs submits a viewing experience with moments of pure HD glory.  Black crush is troublesome throughout the series, largely solid or clotted, without the type of texture the cinematography intends. There is a wide amount of spectacular detail presented here. Absolutely exceptional detail is found in the mid- and long-range shots.  The wide shots of the English countryside and the exterior of the Abbey are pretty breathtaking really. There's just so much to take in visually in those scenes and the 1080p presentation presents it in all its glory.  Close-ups, as long as the area is well-lit, are just as sumptuous. Fabric, textures, and facial features are all very clear.  In short, most of the presentation here is great, bordering on amazing.  The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix supplies a standard audio experience for the program, which never demands nor receives a sense of sonic expanse.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None but that’s all covered in the overwhelming supplemental material.

Special Features:

Filled with cast interviews, character looks with the writers, behind the scenes information, and plenty of scenery, the supplemental material is exhaustive – especially for one package deal.  Season One starts off with only two brief featurettes but by the time Season Four rolls around there is so much information about how the show is made that any lack of foresight in the beginning seasons is quickly forgiven.  There are discussions with costume designer Caroline McCall about dressing the actors for the show. There's also some fascinating discussion about how scenes with multiple characters and conversations are handled and filmed.   There’s a lot to be discovered that fans just might lose themselves as they go exploring down the rabbit hole.

  • Making of Downton Abbey (13 min)
  • A House in History (10 min)
  • Fashion and Uniforms (11 min)
  • Romance in a Time of War (13 min)
  • House to Hospital (8 min)
  • Behind the Drama (49 min)
  • Downton in 1920 (17 min)
  • The Wedding of Lady Mary (13 min)
  • The Wedding of Lady Edith (16 min)
  • The Men of Downton Abbey (9 min)
  • Shirley MacLaine at Downton Abbey (9 min)
  • Behind the Scenes: Cricket Match (7 min)
  • Behind the Scenes: Journey to the Highlands (13 min)
  • Downton Diaries (13 min)
  • Making Of (12 min)
  • Meet the New Cast (9 min)

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