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Downton Abbey: Season 4(TV) (2013)
From the sinking of the Titanic to the end of the First World War, the secure and ordered world of the beloved estate is rocked as the lives of the inhabitants of Downton Abbey are shaped by intrigue, crisis and romance. Season one sets a lavish stage of beautiful scenery and architecture, and a class structure rigid yet just beginning to give way at the beginning of the 20th century, and of the Great War. Season two picks up two years later, in 1916, as the war rages on over Europe, and grand Downton Abbey has been converted into a convalescent hospital for wounded veterans of the brutal combat. In season 3 the Great War is over and a long-awaited engagement is on, but all is not tranquil at Downton Abbey as wrenching social changes, romantic intrigues, and personal crises grip the majestic English country estate.
For more about Downton Abbey: Season 4 and the Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray release, see Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on January 21, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Brian Percival, Andy Goddard, Catherine Morshead
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt
» See full cast & crew
Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray Review
Life is for the living.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, January 21, 2014
There were moments during the course of the third season of "Downton Abbey" where it felt as through creator/writer Julian Fellows was trying to turn his beloved creation of manner and misconduct into a slasher film. There was a sizable body count of main players as the program concluded its most successful year, generating a divisive response amongst fans, especially those who promised themselves to noble Aryan knight, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). The demise of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) was equally shocking, though, to be fair to Fellowes, it appears he didn't have much of a choice when it came time to shed characters for actors who no longer wanted to be a part of the production. Keeping the turbulent tone of Season 3 in mind while embarking on this latest journey of refined melodrama is important, as Fellowes has elected to soften the majority of the narrative this time out, possibly hoping to lure back viewers left cold by all the senseless carnage of the previous year.
As Downton Abbey enters the Jazz Age, much to the disappointment of the older generation still rigid in their aristocratic ways, the season warms up to a theme of progress, introducing machines and memories that urge the upstairs and downstairs crews to consider a new dawn of convenience and partnership. It's an evolutionary process that helps the season focus on the internal strife of the players, largely refusing grand displays of tragedy (a few juicy disasters remain) to rebuild the series as one concentrating on community. There's Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her newfound widow status, Tom (Allen Leech) and his discomfort with upper class life, Carson (Jim Carter) and his pained memories of the one that got away, and Lady Edith's (Laura Carmichael) continued bad luck with love. Conflicts are familiar but also freshened, avoiding staleness as Fellowes plunges deeper into these lives, with many of the players facing romantic options previously unthinkable. Hardships are constant, humiliations persistent, but a palpable warmth emerges from these nine episodes as the creator begins to truly enjoy the universe he's created. Fellowes finally seems comfortable with "Downton Abbey" instead of madly plotting to make sure the season is packed with incident.
As usual, the ensemble is stellar here, displaying an emotional ease with the characters that's richly defined. The unit is incredible together, bouncing lines and looks off one another with well-honed timing, making sure every eyebrow arch and pause is in perfect condition. Dockery is a standout in Season 4, capturing the maturation of Mary as she sheds her protective shell to become part of Downton's financial future. Carmichael nails concealed torment as Edith's arc finds the young woman facing a complicated future without a partner. Joanna Froggatt communicates crippling shame as Anna's tiny world is rocked by violence. And there's always Maggie Smith as the irresistibly dismissive Violet, only this year, the abrasive lady is allowed to discover the comfort of friendship, creating wonderful scenes with Penelope Wilton as Isobel.
"Part One" (69:23)
It's February 1922, and in the aftermath of Matthew's death, Mary is paralyzed with grief, unable to properly care for her infant son, George, while the house rallies to bring her back to life. Retrieving a discarded note, Hughes (Phyllis Logan) plans to save an estranged friend of Carson's from a life of poverty, hoping to reawaken Isobel's philanthropic spirit in the process. Edith continues her maturation into a formidable woman of the age, furthering her romance with Michael (Charles Edwards), who's hoping to whisk his love away to Germany for a proper divorce from his current wife, freeing him to immediately remarry. Thomas (Robert James-Collier), sensing something unwelcome about the new nanny, proves his instincts correct, impressing Cora. Seizing an opportunity to return to Downton, Edna (MyAnna Buring) reapplies for a position with the downstairs staff, leaving Hughes, Carson, and Tom to question her motives. And kitchen innovation makes an appearance when an electric mixer is put to use, delighting Daisy (Sophie McShera) and confounding Patmore (Lesley Nicol).
"Part Two" (49:35)
Hunting for a little modern adventure, Rose (Lily James) convinces Anna to accompany her on a trip to a nightclub, only to fall for the first man she meets, commencing a ruse that finds the young woman posing as a Lady's Maid to disguise her position. Carson is forced to confront his former friend after reflecting on the fatigue of a grudge. Thomas and Edna conspire to make trouble for Anna, disturbing her relationship with Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Bates (Brendan Coyle) masterminds a plan to borrow money from Violet to help pull Molesley (Kevin Doyle) out of debt, trying to restore what's left of his dignity. And Robert (Hugh Bonneville), having discovered a letter of financial intent written by Matthew to Mary before his death, must contend with the concept of his daughter as part owner of Downton, creating unease in the household as the widow regains her confidence, aided by Tom.
"Part Three" (49:37)
Excitement comes to Downton with a party planned around the arrival of a famous opera singer (Kiri Te Kanawa). Also joining the guest list is Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), whose obvious affection for Mary clouds his awareness of her continued grief, making courtship difficult. Edith brings Michael to the party hoping her love will bond with Robert, only to find her father dismissive of such attempts. Edna, still hung up on Tom, decides to make a fresh play for his heart, only to be welcomed into his bed. And Anna, after days of tentatively embracing the attention of Green (Nigel Harman), Gillingham's valet, is tormented by his sudden violent ways, forced to turn to Hughes for help.
"Part Four" (49:34)
In April 1922, Rose aches to leave Downton for a trip to London, returning to the hospitality of Rosamund (Samantha Bond) before setting out to find trouble at a jazz club. Meeting singer Jack (Gary Carr), a black man, Rose is smitten. Anna deals with the fallout of her troubles with Green, electing to shut out the world and Bates to protect herself and her husband from additional harm. Bates, flummoxed with the treatment, becomes increasingly worried about his once loving wife. Gillingham works to win over Mary, hoping to appeal to her romantic side, promising a life beyond her sadness, forcing the widow to consider a fresh start with a new man. And Edna, after making an attempt to keep Tom in her life for good, feels the sting of judgment as her actions are shared amongst the downstairs staff.
"Part Five" (48:54)
Exposed to the art of English cooking by Daisy, Alfred (Matt Milne) takes a chance to brighten his future, selected to test his newfound love of the culinary arts in London. In the interim, Carson reluctantly fights to keep Molesley in the Downton loop, offering the unfortunate man an opportunity to take Alfred's job. Maid Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) joins the downstairs team, quickly controlled by Thomas's wicked ways, talked into spying duties. As Downton's future is sullied by financial concern, Robert attempts to preserve the old ways of the estate by bailing out one of its tenants, testing Mary and Tom's modern approach to ownership. At the behest of Isobel, Violet takes on a new gardener, only to find expensive knickknacks missing after he begins employment. And Bates and Anna manage to reconcile and restate their love, only to the protective valet, the issue is far from closed, vowing to find the man responsible for his wife's psychological and physical pain.
"Part Six" (49:35)
Unable to contact Michael after his arrival in Germany, Edith grows concerned. Her anxious feelings are amplified when she receives monumental news that alters her life forever. Rose, eager to reunite with Jack, hires the singer and his jazz band to play at Downton during Robert's birthday celebration, triggering discomfort once his race is revealed to all. As a pair of government inspectors arrives in town, Mary welcomes them to stay at Downton, developing a slight attraction to Blake (Julian Ovenden), a man of steadfast politics who challenges the widow, bringing her out of her shell. And Bates and Anna continue their effort to put the past behind them, still fighting persistent hesitations, while the maid's ghastly secret slowly works its way around the house.
"Part Seven" (49:35)
Word has reached Downton that Cora's brother is in financial trouble, requiring Robert to travel to America. Bates, unwilling to leave Anna, passes valet responsibilities to Thomas, who's keen to leave. Violet falls ill with bronchitis, urging Isobel into action, becoming a nurse to her prickly friend, refusing to leave her side. Edith, troubled by her current situation, turns to Rosamund for help before she considers her options. Mary and Blake develop an odd bond over a pack of pigs. And Green returns to the estate as Gillingham endeavors to catch Mary's eye once again, commencing an evening of tension as Hughes confronts the ghoul and Bates plots his next, possibly murderous, move.
"Part Eight" (69:55)
As the annual bizarre on the Downton estate enters its preparation stages, Rosamund and Edith plan a getaway to Switzerland to ease the young woman's rapidly developing troubles. Baxter, feeling the pinch from resident creep Thomas, finds a friend in Molesley. Mary, concerned about Rose's relationship with Jack, travels to London to confront the singer as word of an engagement arrives. Daisy confronts her true feelings for Alfred as he leaves Downton for good. And Gillingham returns to remind Mary of his true feelings and desire to break off his current engagement, while Baxter's secretive past is discovered, making him more appealing to the warming widow.
"The London Season" (96:18)
Traveling to London to celebrate Rose's presentation as a debutante in the summer of 1923, the Crawleys and their staff embrace the parties and freedom of the big city, rubbing elbows with royalty. Also arriving in town from America is Martha (Shirley MacLaine) and Harold (Paul Giamatti), both uneasy to join the English elite, finding their fortune eyeballed by ambitious romantic partners. Tom, unsure of his budding relationship with local teacher Sarah (Daisy Lewis), is caught by Thomas inside Downton with the forbidden woman, breaking protocol. Hughes finds a troubling train ticket inside Bates's jacket pocket, creating suspicion for the valet when his whereabouts during a pivotal time are questioned. And Carson has the honor of selecting a day of leisure for the downstairs staff, finding Hughes gently suggesting a day at the beach to best serve the interests of the group.
Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation on "Downton Abbey: Season 4" is reminiscent of previous releases, submitting a slightly problematic viewing experience with moments of pure HD glory. Black crush is troublesome throughout the series, largely solid or clotted, without the type of texture the cinematography intends. Costuming, a vital part of the program, is periodically kept out of view, while evening sequences lose some visual information. Some mild motion blur is detected as well. Out in the daylight, and the show looks spectacular, with crisp, communicative colors that bring fabrics, paintings, and greenery to life. Skintones also retain their intended pinkness. Fine detail is valued for facial reactions and production design achievements, while Downton interiors provide necessary depth.
Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix supplies a standard audio experience for the program, which never demands nor receives a sense of sonic expanse. The track is all about the dialogue, providing a buffet of crisp voices and deep emotional performances that carry through without distortion, nicely measured and blended when moments call for a group dynamic. Accents are easy to understand. Scoring cues are successfully supportive throughout the series, boosting dramatic moments when called on, but the music is largely represented as background emphasis, with distinct instrumentation. Jazz hits are ideally represented with clean definition. Atmospherics are immersive, mixing interior bustle with naturalistic exteriors.
Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Awful things happen in Season 4, but Fellowes keeps the body count to a minimum, taking a breather from sudden death, allowing the fan base to relax and enjoy the ride. Season 4 is unlikely to win any new admirers, but it keeps "Downton Abbey" on task as a thinly veiled soap opera, coating its absurdity with a sublime mix of thespian accomplishment, sharp dialogue, and riveting conflict, punctuated with a final moment of tenderness, not abrupt fatality.
Downton Abbey: Other Seasons
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Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Downton Abbey: Season 4 Blu-ray - September 12, 2013
PBS is bringing Downton Abbey: Season 4 to Blu-ray early next year in an original unedited U.K. edition release. Created by Academy Award-winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), the popular period drama follows the trials and tribulations of the Crawley family and ...
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