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DOWNTON ABBEY: SEASON 5
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Frogatt, Lily James, Rob James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Matt Milne, Lesley Nicol, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton
Creator: Julian Fellowes
Audio: Dolby HD Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: PBS
Features: See Review
Length: 8.75 hours
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Love is a far more dangerous motive than dislike.”

Show ****

There may not be a more thoroughly satisfying show on television right now than Downton Abbey.

This unlikely period drama has a huge audience on both sides of the Atlantic, and actually helped make PBS a more equitable player in the highly competitive ranks of broadcast television. But why?

For starters, it is escapist entertainment at its finest. This is not some dull history photoplay, but a rich, sumptuous world long forgotten that is realized to minute detail…it is like a personal time machine to a place where the world was ordered, mannered, and civil…not to mention indescribably beautiful.

It is also amazingly written by creator Julian Fellowes. This is a show with a big vision, and by the fifth season, the characters have already progressed forward in time by 12 years. It has warmth and humor, and even a little sadness as we realize we are watching a sheltered world take its last stand against modernity and commonality.

And the cast is amazing…British actors, American ones, they all come together to populate this world with characters we love (and hate), but who are as real to us as anyone we know in our day and age.

As mentioned, the fifth season moves us forward. The year is 1924. The first World War has ended, but all is not at peace in Europe or England…or Downton, for that matter. The Labour Party has just taken control of the government, promising to end the way of life that Robert Crowley, the Lord Grantham (Bonneville) and his family has known for generations. The show has been hinting for seasons that we are going to see this world in decline, and it is beginning to feel closer than ever.

When we saw them last, Robert’s valet Mr. Bates had left viewers wondering whether or not he might have been responsible for a murder. As this season progresses, the police seem to be getting closer and closer, while we at home still don’t know; could he have done the ultimate deed in defense of his wife Anna, who had suffered a horrible violation at the hands of a guest?

There is Tom, the one-time chauffer and full-time Irish activist who found himself married into the Crowley family and way of life and promptly widowed. Although a place of status is secure, his restless connection to his true beliefs make it an awkward fit. The appearance of a loud, rude and unapologetic Socialist teacher doesn’t make things smoother for him.

There is Rose, the young niece who represents modernity in everything from her love of jazz to her embrace of new technology, such as the “wireless” that gives Robert pains. She embarks on a new adventure of love, and finds how hard it can be with social prejudices in 1924.

There is Lady Mary, Robert’s widowed daughter, still trying to find love for herself, in amusingly more aggressive and modern ways, leaving her handmaiden Anna in possession of some…intriguing souvenirs.

And there is Cora, Robert’s American wife…dutiful and kind, but perhaps just a little naïve, as she faces but fails to recognize a friend’s improper advances until almost too late.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Downton without the elder staples of the Dowager Countess Violet and her companion Imogen. Love couldn’t possibly find those endearing ladies at their ages…or could it?

And downstairs, we still have the ever-scheming and closeted Barrow, who is hiding a new secret, but for once, one that will garner viewers’ sympathies. But his penchant for mischief reaps some amusing and proper awards over the course of the season.

The affable assistant cook Daisy is beginning to learn of a world of greater things, while the head cook Mrs. Patmore mourns not only the loss of her nephew from the War, but the tarnishing of his memory as well.

And overseeing the world below and above remain the dutiful Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Both are aware the world is changing, and that not even the hallowed halls of Downton can stand against the changes forever.

Without giving too much away, I will conclude by saying the season’s final episode has many beautiful, heartfelt, funny and affirming moments to make it one of the best single offerings I’ve seen on television in a while. Not everything is resolved, and we leave these characters on the precipice of great changes…but we also leave them with great anticipation for the future.

Video ****

There is no show on TV that is more beautiful to look at than Downton Abbey, and this high definition transfer doesn’t disappoint. The scenes are rich and warm, and filled with color and the kind of detail that ensure you will be lost in this world in no time. Absolutely flawless.

Audio ***1/2

The stereo mix is actually quite vibrant for a dialogue-oriented show. The music is rich and full, and there are some surprising and welcome moments of dynamic range in certain scenes. Everything is expertly balanced and cleanly presented.

Features **

The extras are all on the third and final disc. They include three featurettes: a behind-the-scenes visit with Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore), a look at the Roaring Twenties and the changes it brought to the world and Downton, and a Day with Lady Rose. There is also a promo on visiting Britain.

Summary:

Downton Abbey has become a phenomenon, and deservedly so. This is a beautiful historical drama filled with wonderful characters, intelligent writing, wit, humor, sadness, and humanity. It is far and away the best show on television right now, and this fifth season shows no sign that the series is slowing or running out of ideas. Oh, that the winds of change might be stayed just a little longer.

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