THE PLOT THUS FAR
Downton Abbey—a sprawling, lavish Edwardian mansion nestled in the Yorkshire landscape—needs an heir. Dame Maggie Smith stars as Violet, the stubborn Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of Downton. Hugh Bonneville stars as her son, the stoic, unflappable Lord Crawley; Elizabeth McGovern is his far-sighted American wife, Cora. From Academy Award®-winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park).
Season 1 Bonus Features include “Making of Downton Abbey – A House in History” and “Great British Heritage Pass, a promotional spot for British tourism.”
Season 2 of the Emmy® Award-winning Downton Abbey returns as The Great War rages across Europe, and not even the serene Yorkshire countryside is free from its effects. The men and women of Downton are doing their part both on the front lines and the home front, but the intensity of war only serves to inflame the more familiar passions—love, loss, blackmail, and betrayal.
Includes the Downton Abbey Christmas Special .
Season 2 Bonus Features include “Fashion and Uniforms,” “Romance in a Time of War” and “House to Hospital.”
WHAT WE THOUGHT
The Countess doesn’t know what a weekend is, while the family struggles to find a suitor to produce a wealthy heir. Elizabeth McGovern impresses as the sole American in the cast, while the best of the British crop shake off their Hogwartian cobwebs. Needless to say, this is the most impressive show handled by PBS in twenty five years. I’m not one for costume dramas, but the material rises above that standard. It’s a group dynamic that Americans aren’t accustomed to, but the dashes of subtle class warfare are very appropriate for our society.
In a world of badly shot dramas this at least is shot with care – usually. The women make sure to wear different clothes each week, with the camera often treating them like clothes horses for viewers to admire. The villains are suitably diabolical and the goodies suitably wonderful, often to a laughable degree. The men are marginalised figures who exist to provide the women with drama, permitting the largely female viewing audience a little wish fulfillment. With the advent of the Great War there are even hideously bad war scenes to keep male viewers happy. And for once the drama is conducted without shouting, which was a refreshing for my ears. Modern viewers can admire the lovingly recreated clothes, machines and surrounding and bask in a more civilised era, with the social and physical realities subtly altered to make them more pleasing to the modern mind.
The strict plot details in Downton are standard soap: an entailment conundrum, a surprise heir, daughters that need to find suitable husbands, etc. There’s also a splash of Upstairs/Downstairs thrown in, as considerable time is spent on the lives of the hired help, but these are even less interesting than the lives of the rich people. Modern soap operas are often derided – and justly so – for their ludicrous story lines and unceasing devotion to superficiality, and yet, somehow, when the same type of ludicrous storyline is wrapped up in the veneer of “costume drama,” and set in the recently distant past, otherwise rational people shut off their brains and accept the wooden dialogue, implausible situations, and inane banalities without question. It’s fascinating how the sight of a corset or a horse-drawn carriage is apparently all one needs to disable a human brain.
The Blu-Ray comes with featurettes that cover a wide range of the production. There’s also a tourism spot for the United Kingdom, but it’s nothing major. It’s nice to see that they stuck to a DTS-HD 2.0 master audio mix that’s clean and represents the original broadcast quality. That being said, it’s the 1080p transfer where this release shines. In the end, I’d recommend a purchase to those that don’t already own the standalone seasons.
RELEASE DATE: 10/02/2012