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Downton Abbey: Season Five

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Downton Abbey - Seasons 5 - Blu-ray Review

4 stars

Romance - past romance, present romance and the promise of future romance - is in the air for As the Abbey Turns

For a program that began its life intending to be merely a seven-part miniseries that ended on the brink of World War I (and which then won six Emmys), Julian Fellowes' Downton Abbey has dwarfed instead into an international phenomenon that audiences just can’t get enough of.  Currently prepping for its sixth season, the series has been a huge sensation around the world and has brought PBS the highest ratings in its broadcast history.  Need we say more about the power of this show?  The fifth season of the historical melodrama continues along the lines of the previous seasons advancing a year in time and following through with the handful of stories Fellowes so expertly juggles.

Season Five begins in 1924.  The radio is the latest miracle, a new Labour government heralds changes throughout the land, and Downton's traditional ways are besieged on all fronts.   Things are changing and no one knows exactly what the future will bring.  Robert, Mary and Branson must navigate these shifting sands together to ensure the future of the estate for generations to come.  Downstairs, all of the servants must consider what effect social changes may have on their working lives.  No one, from Mr. Carson to Daisy, will be left unaffected by the changes.  The Crawley family and the servants who work for them remain inseparably intertwined at they rise to greet the changing face of their expressionistic world.  This is the fall of the British aristocracy after all.

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Penelope Wilton, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James- Collier and Brendan Coyle, the set contains the season’s nine episodes (which includes the Christmas episode “A Moorland Holiday”) on three Blu-ray discs.  The Blu-ray set has the advantage of being the original U.K. version, not the shorter one currently being seen here in the U.S.  This is a beautifully crafted series that never gets redundant in its handling of class and antiquated attitudes as the world they once knew crumbles around them.  More love, more death, more of what makes this show so addictive.

Some critics question the authenticity of some the characters for the time period.  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; it is my belief that THAT is the point; to humanize the stale past preconceptions.  To me, there has to be an 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.

Season Five marks another successful and satisfying season of Downton Abbey.  The comedy, the drama, and the continuing romance inside and outside of The Crawleys is enough to continue with the praise of the show.

Downton Abbey - Seasons 5 - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey | Original UK Edition

Available on Blu-ray - January 27, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (3 BDs)
Region Encoding: A

These 1080p transfers (AVC codec) framed at the widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  Sharpness is usually excellent (only an occasional shot that’s less than exemplary) with gorgeous color and believable and appealing flesh tones.  Black levels are outstanding with very good shadow detail, and contrast is consistently maintained.  Overall, these transfers offer better clarity and detail than the high definition television broadcasts.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix offers a full and surprisingly enveloping listening experience.  Dialogue has been superbly recorded and has been placed in the center channel.  The music by John Lunn and the sound effects in both London and Yorkshire are well placed and never intrude on the dialogue.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • No

Special Features:

The supplemental material continues to be both charming and interesting (like the show itself).  Things get started with a special that looks at the one-hundredth day of filming.  Actresses Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) take us through their day beginning in hair and makeup and then later on as scenes are staged and rehearsed and later shot. Other members of the cast and crew also comment on the day’s activities.  The second featurette focuses on most of the cast along with creator/writer Julian Fellowes, production designer Donal Woods, executive producer Gareth Neame, and historical expert Alistair Bruce commenting on the season’s highlights including the fire, the hunts, a racing sequence, and the climactic wedding preparations.  A Day in the Life of Lady Rose follows actress Lily James behind the scenes and the final treat is a brief montage of sights to see in Great Britain.

  • Behind the Scenes Day 100 (10 min)
  • The Roaring Twenties (27 min)
  • A Day in the Life of Lady Rose (8 min)
  • Visit Britain (1 min)

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