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Annual Downton Box Set
on 10 November 2013
A new series of Downton is an annual treat, and as usual this year it is followed by the DVD compendium released just in time to give as a very welcome Christmas present. This includes the 33 episodes to date. There are seven episodes from the first series, eight each from the second, third and fourth, plus the 2011 and 2012 Christmas specials of which the first was a dramatic masterpiece, but the second did not deliver in the same way in the opinion of most people although it ended dramatically.
The four series so far have taken us from 1912, just after the sinking of the Titanic, up to 1922. Each of the four series to date has had a slightly different background. Series 1 takes us to a very formal setting within the household with much concern about match making for the Crawley daughters to find them suitable partners which will secure the financial future of the estate. However, those above stairs are generally shown in largely a sympathetic light in their relationship with their servants below stairs and this sets the scene for the whole subsequent series.
The second series takes us through World War 1. Downton Abbey has been converted into a convalescent home for servicemen injured in the conflict. This quite different scenario provided the script writers with some interesting stories and the series runs from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 up to the end of the war in 1918.
The first Christmas special and the third series take place from late 1919 into 1920. The first features a very dramatic trial and this was probably the single best episode so far. In the third series the household is far more back to the life of an aristocratic family as it was in the first series although the estate faces major challenges in the post war period and a need to embrace change if Downton is to survive.
The second Christmas special sees most of the action move to Scotland, and a tragic conclusion which shocked most viewers and rather put a blight on Christmas Day for many. The fourth series takes us a little further into the 1920s and some relaxation of the divisions between those above and below stairs is obvious, although it still all looks like a rigid division to our contemporary eyes.
A major source of story lines for the script writers has been the interaction between those below stairs and those above stairs. Quite a few of the main characters in both groups have been in Downton from the beginning and there are some very strong performances. However, I am not sure things would be the same without Maggie Smith as the matriarch of the family and she continues to dominate any scene she is in.
If you are interested in the additional features, this DVD set includes all the extra features which were on the individual season releases. These amount to several hours of additional viewing.
Personally I have been an avid follower of Downton Abbey from the first series and have seen every episode to date. I have now started to enjoy reruns of the earlier episodes. However, if you have missed out so far, then this DVD set is an excellent introduction to probably the best costume TV drama in recent times. Prospective purchasers should be aware that there will be a further Christmas Special later this year which is not included on this DVD set and there will inevitably be further seasons of the show, so whilst this is the definitive box set to date it will not remain so.