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Downton Abbey: Season 3(TV) (2012)
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 3 and the Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray release, see the Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on January 23, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt
» See full cast & crew
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray Review
Upstairs. Downstairs. I'm the guy with the bouillon spoon.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, January 23, 2013
Returning American network shows have the benefit of a summer hiatus, typically three quick months set aside for producers to get their act together and map out a creative battle plan that will carry over 20+ hours of television. "Downton Abbey" elects the opposite route, securing nine-month-long absences between seasons, creating a voracious appetite among superfans for all things Crawley. The extended period allowed for anticipation is incredibly brave, especially now with the program a permanent fixture of message boards, award shows, magazine articles, and personal diaries, creating an intimate universe of admiration and expectation that's turned the series into a smash where most efforts fail miserably. Emerging from the erratic but undeniably attractive second season, "Downton Abbey" picks up the baton for another round of heartache, frustration, humiliation, and doubt, sprinting ahead with a robust third series that corrects many of the minor, heartburn-inducing mistakes that ate away at the previous season, while establishing a bold new realm of mortality that's sure to keep the faithful at the edge of their seats, possibly hurling pillows at the screen in disgust.
After the WWI blues of "Season 2," "Season 3" returns the Crawleys to a sense of peace, though the relative atmosphere of familial accord doesn't last for long. After all, creator/writer Julian Fellowes wouldn't be doing his work if everything went according to plan, and the man has a grand old time introducing new conflicts to Downton Abbey concerning marital strife, political unrest, and the great financial unknown. The latter is a particular discomfort for the main characters in "Season 3," finding the Crawleys facing the possible closure of their beloved estate, with Fellowes teasing the audience with talk of downsizing -- the upstairs gang moving their history to a more affordable residence, possibly without a downstairs to lean on. And don't worry about the servants, their lives are rich with misery and mystery, as Fellowes takes considerable time to develop the characters further, using groundwork laid in the previous two seasons to advance these weary souls in believable directions, adding considerable suspense to an already bewitching brew of backstabbing, unrequited love, and toxic gossip.
Overall, it's business as usual for "Downton Abbey," yet "Season 3" reveals a certain restraint with the screenwriting, finding Fellowes easing on his urge to rush through subplots, allowing certain events to play out more organically while juggling the emotional needs of all the personalities. It's a relief to spot focus where there once was impatience, keeping the episodes more evenly paced, flowing beautifully from one show to the next. While the narrative takes on its fair share of whoppers (a positive development, I assure you), there's no Patrick Crawley/Major Gordon nonsense to completely derail momentum. Fellowes keeps a tight ship for this round, perhaps relieved that the expanse of war is finally behind him, allowing intimate family business to return to the forefront.
Once again, the cast is made up of stately professionals and promising newcomers, each finding their place on the "Downton Abbey" map with ease. The ensemble is simply miraculous, without a false beat in the bunch. Maggie Smith slays with her one-liners and St. Louis Arch of an eyebrow as Violet, Michelle Dockery finds a fine line between wifely suggestion and privileged berating as Mary, and Jim Carter proves himself invaluable as downstairs manager Mr. Carson. A surprise arrives for "Season 3" in the form of Laura Carmichael, who finally receives a chance to blossom as an actress, with Edith a Fellowes priority, celebrating the young woman's developing sense of independence and wallowing in her incredible bad luck. There's also the much ballyhooed addition of Shirley MacLaine to the cast, and while her American curveballs are welcome to counterbalance all the mischievous English wit, she's only in the series for two measly episodes. Don't get attached.
"Part One" (79:02, Original UK Airdate – 9/16/12)
It's March of 1920, and Downton Abbey is preparing for the marriage of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens). To his horror, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) discovers a major investment has failed, threatening his estate maintained with wife Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) money. A pregnant Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) has returned home for the nuptials, accompanied by former Downton chauffer Tom (Allen Leech), who's turned into a political supporter for Irish rights, disturbing Violet (Maggie Smith) with his tenacity and volume. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) finds love with Anthony (Robert Bathurst), an older man who's overwhelmed by the attention. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) finds his position as valet threatened when newcomer Alfred (Matt Milne) joins the downstairs crew, which also finds Daisy (Sophie McShera) upset about her lack of promotion. Housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) still clings to hope that imprisoned husband Bates (Brendan Coyle) will find justice. And a special visit from Cora's mother, Martha (Shirley MacLaine), brings American friction to the uptight Crawley household.
"Part Two" (49:28, Original UK Airdate – 9/23/12)
In April of 1920, Mary has returned to Downton from her honeymoon with Matthew, hoping to join forces with Violet and convince Martha to use her wealth and save the estate from its eventual sale. When Thomas attempts to sabotage Alfred's good name, O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) steps in to protect the overwhelmed man, while the rattled footman finds love with Martha's maid. Edith openly defies her father's wishes by remaining fixated on Anthony, finding the two coming to terms with their May-December relationship, a reality that makes Robert greatly uncomfortable. And while Downton Abbey attempts to survive a party where everything, from food to proper evening attire, goes horribly wrong, Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) deals with a breast cancer scare privately, barely able to conceal her fear.
"Part Three" (49:44, Original UK Airdate – 9/30/12)
In May of 1920, as Edith eagerly awaits her wedding day to Anthony, Downton Abbey is transformed into a house of celebration, perhaps for the last time, much to Mary's frustration, doing whatever she can to convince Matthew to accept a tainted inheritance. Mrs. Hughes finds word of her possible diagnosis spreading throughout the house, with Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) especially wounded by the news. Bates is confronted with a nasty plan of revenge in prison, while Anna continues her inquiry into his troubling case. And Thomas attempts to exact revenge on O'Brien with a nasty rumor, once again generating tremendous animosity between the two.
"Part Four" (49:33, Original UK Airdate – 10/7/12)
As tensions mount for Bates in prison during June of 1920, his inability to contact Anna drives the woman to thoughts of abandonment, fearing the worst. Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) attempts to persuade a former Downton maid, Ethel (Amy Nuttal), to face barbs of judgment in exchange for financial relief cast doubt on her philanthropic endeavors. Matthew, having joined Robert as master of the house, discovers troubling evidence of Downton's mismanagement. Carson decides on a handsome new footman, James (Ed Speelers), which pleases the house maids and Thomas, who takes a shine to the fresh face. And Sybil is left to question her own husband when Tom's radical efforts to establish a free Ireland turn to violence, requiring Robert to negotiate his safety for the good of his daughter.
"Part Five" (49:35, Original UK Airdate – 10/14/12)
In July of 1920, Edith's futures brighten when she receives a job offer to become a newspaper columnist, repulsing Robert, who's suspicious of their intentions. Thomas begins to intensify his flirtations with James, while Daisy, sensing new maid Ivy (Cara Theobold) shares these feelings, employs resentment in her managerial approach. And as Sybil begins the process of delivering a baby, Robert and Cora clash over the choice of a suitable doctor, a contest that tests the household during a tense time of unexpected medical complications.
"Part Six" (49:31, Original UK Airdate – 10/21/12)
July of 1920 continues with the trials of Ethel, who struggles to reclaim her past life in service when others, including the Crawleys, insist on judgment and fear due to her previous acts of financial desperation. The religious upbringing of Tom and Sybil's baby is called into question when the father's Catholicism rears its ugly head. A Crawley lawyer is dispatched to investigate Bates's murder case, giving Anna hope. And marital discord between Cora and Robert chills Downton Abbey to the bone, requiring Violet's intervention to restore a sense of harmony during an impossibly dark time.
"Part Seven" (49:35, Original UK Airdate – 10/28/12)
Carrying on through July of 1920, Thomas's homosexuality is revealed to part of the downstairs staff, which delights O'Brien and disgusts Carson, with the resulting friction disorienting the men of the house. Matthew takes radical steps forward in his management of Downton Abbey, a brash attitude that rankles Robert, who also has to deal with the promise of a christening involving Tom and Sybil's baby. Matthew struggles with the possibility of infertility and Mary grows anxious to have a child of her own. And Edith travels to London to figure out her future as a journalist, a move the prompts Violet to work out a plan to remove Ethel from the village, allowing the disgraced maid a fresh start in a new city.
"Part Eight" (69:38, Original UK Airdate – 11/4/12)
Closing July of 1920, the annual cricket match between Downton Abbey and the neighboring village is about to take place, with Robert excitedly dreaming of victory with his ragtag team of servants and family members, including a most reluctant Tom. Edith returns to London (with Matthew in tow) to sort out her floundering romantic life, bringing along cousin Rose (Lily James) at her insistence. Through acts of deception, Rose inadvertently introduces the Crawleys to the Jazz Age, while Matthew takes a moment to discuss his infertility with a doctor. And the saga of Thomas takes a few unexpected turns when the hated man finds an ally in Bates, complicating O'Brien's methods of manipulation.
"A Journey to the Highlands" (96:40, Original UK Airdate – 12/25/12)
To clear their minds after bouts with tragedy and war, the Crawleys travel to Duneagle Castle in remote Scotland to spend time with Rose's family. The holiday proves to be a tense one for Mary, who's dealing with an uncomfortable pregnancy, while Edith comes into contact with newspaper editor Gregson (Charles Edward), who's fallen in love with the young woman. Back at Downton Abbey, a village fair creates excitement with the downstairs crew, with Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) finding herself wooed by a shop owner. And for Tom, time alone in the big house encourages fierce introspection, finding his uncomfortable position between a radical and joining the establishment questioned by Edna (MyAnna Buring), a maid who has feelings for the former chauffer, leaving the poor man confused.
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation for "Downton Abbey" is a bit of a disappointment, boasting an intermittently murky image with solidified black levels, which robs the frame of glorious costuming and set design details fans have come to adore. Dense hairstyles and distances are also thick, preventing a full survey of creative highlights. There's also an issue of ghosting/stuttering, which was a problem some (not all) viewers detected with the "Season 2" BD set, blurring quick movement, perhaps most evident on the first and last episodes. When characters are standing still, the image retains fine detail, with full light illumination offering satisfactory facial particulars, making the ravages of age and highlights of glamour easy to study. Colors also show some spirit, with an adequate read of primaries, though general shadow detail illness pulls most hues down a notch in vibrancy. Skintones are appropriately porcelain, and the crisp episodes are free of any damage.
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio mix retains a basic presence, blending scoring needs with dialogue exchanges, and while the balance isn't sophisticated, the simplicity fits the needs of the show. Voices sound crisp and purposeful, with the group dynamic managed without distortive overlap. Echo and intimacy are preserved, along with outdoor atmospherics. Music is supportive with clean instrumentation, maintaining reservation until dramatic emphasis requires an increase in intensity. There's no feel of immersion, but the essentials are cared for.
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Outsiders will politicize the program, endlessly debating its meaning and impact as a series observing privilege and detailing class warfare. I don't begrudge the public any opportunity for debate, but I choose to view "Downton Abbey" as a soap opera, which is what I believe Fellowes is truly aiming to construct with this work. It's high drama with exemplary textures and period details, with luminescent performers and razor-sharp dialogue, all funneled into a frothy, furious ocean of disasters and tight-lipped joy. It's a mercilessly entertaining show that almost feigns regality and subtextual profundity to cover for its true desire: to provide an emotional roller coaster of chest-seizing reactions. Bring Kleenex, cocktails, and a substantial amount of soft things to throw at expensive things for this round, people. Fellowes isn't screwing around anymore.
Downton Abbey: Other Seasons
Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray, News and Updates
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• Downton Abbey: Season 3 Blu-ray - September 22, 2012
PBS has announced the Blu-ray release of Downton Abbey: Season 3 for early next year. The 3-disc set will include all eight original UK edition episodes, a 45-minute behind the scenes featurette and more, and streets on January 29, 2013.
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