Blu-ray review: Downton Abbey - Season Four
REVIEW: (Universal Pictures, M)
When Downton Abbey started I raved about it.
It treated history with respect and delivered upstairs/downstairs style stories which were played out in manor houses in every county across the country.
The fictional Downton estate's story mirrored those of every country house at the beginning of the 20th century whose equilibrium was shattered by the First World War. There young men went off to war, many never to return. Their women forced to step up and do their bit for the war effort, creating a more equal society than could ever be dreamed of just a decade before.
This all came at a cost, which would lead some estates to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond . . . never to recover.
The first three seasons of Downton dealt with all of this with aplomb before killing off heir apparent Matthew Crawley in the 2012 Christmas special. Actor Dan Stevens wanted out, leaving Julian Fellowes with no choice but to unceremoniously write him out of the story in a car crash. He survived the trenches to die in a roadside ditch.
At that point Downton Abbey most definitely changed gear from historical drama to soap opera. It had been heading that way in Season 3.
Season Four opens six months after Matthew's death, depriving the viewer of a funeral or any other form of farewell and an inconsolable Lady Mary Crawley.
It's 1922 and Lady Mary is still in mourning and has withdrawn from the world. "Matthew is dead 50 years before his time," she utters.
Now I'm not getting at actress Michelle Dockery here, but in this short season she goes from never wanting to socialise with men again to having a handful of suitors on the go.
And she is playing games for their affections.
Not only does this show Lady Mary's complete disrespect for the husband she has just lost, but in the world of Downton it shows her suitors complete lack of awareness of social conventions.
At the same time His Majesty's Inland Revenue department is circling the ancient abbey like a vulture preparing to swoop after a kill. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) doesn't want to worry his grieving daughter with such matters but wears the weight of the world on his shoulders. "She is broken and bruised and it is our job to wrap her up and protect her from the world," he says. His mother, the dowager of Downton (Maggie Smith), heartily disagrees. "No Robert it is our job to bring her back to the world."
You have just got to love Lord Grantham.
This season was written to pull in the viewers, which is I suppose the point of any show, but in my view it is to the detriment of the Downton story and is jarring enough in places to pull you out of the story.
Thankfully 2013's Christmas special contained some of that old Season 1 and 2 magic, but if the story of this great house goes the same way as so many others the Crawleys will eventually lose Downton in Season 5 or beyond. This is good viewing, just not as great as what has come before.
Blu-ray extrs make this worth buying, however, with some behind the scenes material featuring an almost unrecognisable cast.
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