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Downton Abbey: Season 2(TV) (2011)
Downton Abbey tells the story 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 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 know so few of theirs. But for all the passions that rage beneath the surface, this is a secure world, serene and ordered, and, at first glance, it seems it will last forever. Little do they know, family or staff, that the clouds of the conflict that will change everything are already gathering over their heads.
For more about Downton Abbey: Season 2 and the Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray release, see the Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray Review
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt
» See full cast & crew
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray Review
Life during wartime.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, February 11, 2012
When I was assigned to review "Downton Abbey: Season 2," I was filled with dread. I find most costume dramas difficult to process, most constructed so frigidly that interpretation becomes a chore, not a rewarding challenge. Also creating terror was my moderate awareness of the program, gathered primarily from award show recaps and the occasional social media pledge of devotion. Not wanting to be left out in the cold, I crammed season one in anticipation of this release, ready to swallow whatever televised dry biscuit creator Julian Fellowes was intending to serve. Seven episodes later, I was deeply in love, completely blindsided by a program boasting refined social graces on the outside, while the inside exposed the beating heart of a sublime soap opera, offering immaculate emotional pull and full-bodied attention to a multitude of characters, creating a thickly sliced, yet overwhelmingly effective British drama -- a viewing experience that was much more than droning talk of matchmaking and sips of tea. Suddenly, the prospect of viewing season two wasn't a brutal professional obligation anymore. It became an absolute necessity.
When we last left "Downton Abbey," the sinking of the Titanic killed off leading heirs to the estate of Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, marvelously noble and vulnerable) and Cora, Countess of Grantham (a sly Elizabeth McGovern), leaving their three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), to sit patiently while others decided their marital future. While the blue-bloods, including the wry Violent, Dowage Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith, killing in every scene), worked to bring distant cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens) and his bossy mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) into the inheritance position, the servants who run Downton Abbey had other demands. With butler Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Hughes (Phyllis Logan) taking command of service around the estate, footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and lady's maid O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran, subtly softening the wicked character) plotted incessantly, bitter to both the privileged and the pleasant, while head housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) found love with the enigmatic valet Bates (Brendan Coyle). Also about in the basement: daffy kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera), bossy and blind cook Patmore (Lesly Nicol), and lovesick William (Thomas Howes).
War was declared at the end of season one, forcing season two into a troubling position of expansion, required to deal with the societal mechanics of WWI and how this distant conflict affects the smooth service machine of Downton Abbey and its definitive stance of aristocracy. Creator Julian Fellowes shatters intimacy painstakingly established in early episodes to supply a wide playing field for the growing ensemble, closely tracking each character as they encounter select horrors of war. From frontline assignments to household duty, the dynamic of the house is gradually altered as the seasons change and the years pass, with the Crawley sisters developing independence, while the servants encounter their own trials and tribulations, clinging to tradition and employment as an era of comfort draws to a close. Fellowes scripts skillfully and often bluntly (keeping viewers up to date with off-screen happenings), supplying wit and worry in equal measure, highlighting the passions of each participant, while reinforcing the exquisite melodrama and layers of rumor-mongering and accusation the series is known for. The material is familiar (reminiscent of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and Fellowes's own "Gosford Park"), but the execution is fluid and unexpectedly emotional, sustaining a soul behind the habitual veneer of sophistication, meeting characters capable of extraordinary complexity in minimal screentime. Season two only reinforces the elegant writing and dazzling technical credits, working overtime to manufacture a consistently engaging and heartbreaking series that happily invites the viewer to participate in its conflicts. Perhaps the period details confuse on occasion and the period English vernacular is lost on today's ears, but the soul of the show remains as intoxicating as ever. Even with a wider canvas of wartime tragedy providing a fresh distraction, "Downton Abbey" remains an addictive and rewarding watch.
"Part One" (67:05, Airdate - 9/18/11)
It's November 1916, and World War I rages across Europe. For Lord Grantham, time served in an honorary military position encourages frustration, watching as Matthew and former employee Thomas head to the front line, observing the horrors of combat firsthand. Looking to make a difference, Sybil requests assistance from Isobel to join the war effort as a nursing student, a revelation that delights Cora, while Mary and Edith tend to their stagnant romantic lives and acceptance of modern devices such as the automobile. Bates, after thrilling to the idea of a martial life with Anna, is brought back down to Earth by the arrival of his estranged wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy), a scheming woman threatening her husband with rumors concerning Mary if he doesn't immediately quit his position at Downton Abbey and return to London. And Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is hired on as a housemaid, bringing along her attitude to help shake up the complacent servants.
"Part Two" (53:07, Airdate - 9/25/11)
It's April 1917, and war continues its wrath, with Sybil and Thomas accepting greater emotional challenges by befriending the wounded they've been assigned to care for. Fearing an overflow of patients in local hospitals, Isobel suggests Downton Abbey as a site for a convalescent home, an idea that rattles Violet to her core. When Carson suffers an anxiety attack after accepting additional duties due to the lack of help around the property, the house is left shorthanded, putting strain on the new hire, war vet Lang (Cal Macaninch). For Mary, feelings for Matthew have come to a boil, complicating interests from newspaper magnate Richard (Iain Glen), while her true love's fiancée, Lavinia (Zoe Boyle), enters the picture. And Edith finds herself drawn to a local farmer when her offering of mechanical assistance turns into attraction.
"Part Three" (53:23, Airdate - 10/2/11)
It's July 1917, and Downton Abbey has been fully transformed into a recovery palace, igniting a battle for control between Cora and Isobel, while Thomas is temporarily promoted to a position of authority over Carson. Fearing difficulties with Lavinia, Mary, prodded along by her manipulative Aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond), seeks to understand the young lady's potentially ruinous connection to Richard. With a visit from a prominent general looming, Lang makes a disastrous effort to fight off his nightmarish war memories, while chauffeur Tom (Allen Leech) prepares an offering of protest that will surely land him in prison, much to Sybil's horror. Bates has resurfaced as a bartender, with Anna seeking him out to learn the latest in the ongoing saga of his marital divide. And William, all set to join the fight, makes a last-minute marriage proposal to Daisy, who doesn't want to break the boy's heart, refusing to share her true feelings for her former co-worker.
"Part Four" (52:54, Airdate – 10/9/11)
It's 1918, and rumor of Bates's return to the area has prompted Lord Grantham to seek out his old friend with hopes to convince him to return to Downton Abbey, inadvertently stealing an opportunity for advancement away from Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Bates's return also stirs up animosity from Thomas and O'Brien, who resume their scheming ways. Learning of a soup kitchen established inside Isobel's home while she's away in France, the servants gather resources to aid the unexpected effort, prompting possible condemnation from Cora. With wartime chaos carrying on, lust remains on the estate grounds, as Ethel finds herself seduced by one of the wounded officers, while Sybil faces renewed romantic interest from Tom. And the household is frozen in horror as word of Matthew and William's M.I.A. status spreads, prompting an uncharacteristic outpouring of feelings.
"Part Five" (53:17, Airdate – 10/16/11)
In the summer of 1918, William and Matthew have returned to Downton Abbey as wounded soldiers, with the former footman facing a dire prognosis, requiring Daisy to step up her efforts of romantic interest -- feelings she simply does not possess. Mary seeks out Richard to explain her past indiscretions, hoping to clear her conscience and protect Bates, who faces renewed wrath from estranged wife Vera. And Lavinia is hit with an emotional dismissal from Matthew, facing a permanent spinal injury that threatens his future as a man and heir to the Crawley estate.
"Part Six" (53:22, Airdate – 10/23/11)
As 1918 draws to a close, the Crawley family is rocked by the arrival of Patrick Gordon (Trevor White), a badly burned soldier who claims to be a potential heir thought lost long ago on the Titanic. With Mary and Richard's wedded life under construction, the pair looks to bring Carson along with them as they move into a nearby estate, leaving the butler torn between his history to Downton Abbey and his devotion to Lord Grantham's eldest daughter. To preserve the upcoming union, Cora and Violet insist Lavinia return to Matthew's life, easing Mary's conflicted heart. And while WWI finally achieves its conclusion, Bates is rocked by word of Vera's death, fulfilling his darkest wishes.
"Part Seven" (53:16, Airdate – 10/30/11)
1919 has arrived, and Thomas is planning to exploit war rationing to his advantage, embarking on a scheme to sell black market goods to the highest bidder. Lord Grantham, finding his household forever changed by the war, shows romantic interest in new housemaid Jane (Clare Calbraith), turning cold to Cora as she plans for the future. Facing a misdiagnosis, Matthew begins to reclaim his life, setting a spring wedding to Lavinia, an announcement that pains Violet greatly, wishing to keep the man's interests focused on Mary. And Sybil, feeling the claustrophobia of Downton life after the taste of liberation she felt during the war, agrees to marry Tom, much to horror of her sisters.
"Part Eight" (68:15, Airdate – 11/6/11)
As the year passes, Spanish Flu invades Downton Abbey, savaging Cora and Lavinia, while the household attempts to keep order as a wedding is prepared. Thomas, sensing opportunity while Carson is ill, takes charge of the butler role, creating unease among the servants. Lord Grantham, seeing his beloved wife at death's door, rethinks his extramarital options with Jane, while former housemaid Ethel makes a decision about the welfare of her illegitimate child. Faced with a crushing reality, Mary and Matthew come to a conclusion about their future together. And Bates, newly married to Anna, is finally confronted about his possible role in Vera's death.
"Christmas at Downton Abbey" (92:51, Airdate – 12/25/11)
As 1919 closes, the holidays have come to Downton Abbey, with various parties and guests arriving to join the Crawleys in celebration. The fate of Bates and his murder charge hangs heavy over the festivities, with his case going to trial, leaving Anna sick with worry. Mary and Richard find their differences are too much to bear, creating hardship once again for the young woman, while Matthew deals with his grief issues. Thomas goes too far to impress Lord Grantham with his heroism, jeopardizing the life of the family dog in the process. Rosamund is faced with a marriage proposal from a possibly untrustworthy source, irritating Violet. And an Ouija board is toyed with in the servants' quarters, pushing Daisy to fulfill wifely duties she's gradually warming up to, also finding inspiration to pursue a greater role in the kitchen.
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is a balanced BD event, great with fine details emerging from brightly lit sources. Facial textures are especially agreeable, capturing differences in age and emotional nuance, giving the stupendous performances an HD clarity they deserve. It's a softly shot show occasionally employing limited lighting, but a feel for household decoration remains in place, treating the ornate setting with the respect it deserves, giving viewers a full read of time and place. Colors also make a generous impression, finding costuming and outdoor adventurers supplying a rich, even palette, useful for character identity and combat wounds, giving the show an unexpectedly violent snap. Skintones are natural and expressive, seizing porcelain features with grace. Shadow detail is the only real downfall of the presentation, with solid blacks robbing dark costuming of detail, while distances and low-light encounters lack edge delineation. Also of concern is a playback glitch early in episode four, which skips roughly 15 seconds of footage. This could be an individual problem with my copy, but it's wise to be aware of it.
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix is a contained aural presentation reflecting a series that doesn't push too hard on the senses. Leading with dialogue exchanges, the track is perfectly clean, giving life to different accents and speeds of thought, landing insults and confessions with satisfactory sonic aim, sounding full and pleasing. Scoring isn't obtrusive, calmly supporting the dramatics until asked to take the lead, moving along with a crisp piano-based sound that fuses ideally to the onscreen action. Atmospherics are thick but welcome, introducing changes in setting and weather with sound effects that are a little overcooked, but satisfactory. WWI encounters are cranked up a touch to assist in the element of surprise. It's a simple show about human beings, leaving audio flourishes limited, finding a comfortable position without distortion.
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Unlike season one, season two of "Downton Abbey" doesn't end with a cliffhanger or roll with a natural momentum toward future episodes. Instead, there's a sense of peace in the air, leaving the widespread trauma of the second round to rest easily for a change, hinting at new characters and complications to come for the Crawleys. I can't wait to devour another season with these irresistible folks and their daily battering of emotional highs and lows.
Downton Abbey: Other Seasons
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Gold Box Deal of the Day: Downton Abbey Seasons One & Two - December 3, 2012
Amazon's new Gold Box Deal of the Day affects Downton Abbey Seasons 1 & 2. The award-winning PBS series stars Hugh Bonneville (Iris), Elizabeth McGovern (Once Upon A Time In America), Maggie Smith (Hook), Dan Stevens (Vamps), and Michelle Dockery (Hanna).
• Downton Abbey: Season Two Blu-ray - December 29, 2011
Next year, PBS Home Entertainment will bring Downton Abbey: Season Two to Blu-ray. The six-time Emmy Award-winner - it won, among others, the "Outstanding Miniseries or Movie" Emmy - focuses on the lives and loves of both the Crawley family and their servants. ...
Downton Abbey: Season 2 Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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