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"Downton Abbey, Season 4" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-february-2014-downton4

Synopsis

Season 4 begins six months after Matthew’s untimely death in a car crash. Mary is still trying to re-enter the world of the living and having to fend off potential suitors in the process. Tom Branson, the chauffer-turned-agent is working hard to manage the estate by himself and though he is accepted and loved by the Crawley’s, he just can’t seem to fit in. Young Rose MacClare, now living at Downton, has a difficult time resisting jazz and all the trappings of society before she is even presented. Below stairs, the drama continues with the sudden departure of Mrs. O’Brien. Miss Braithwaite returns as Cora’s maid and continues her pursuit of Branson. Mr. Barrow, ever the schemer, is still trying to gather as much information as he can to further his own interests. And Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are just trying to hold everything together as the world rapidly changes around them.

Specifications

  • PBS Masterpiece
  • 2013, Color, Not rated, 8 Hrs 54 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 2.0
  • Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith
  • Created by Julian Fellowes
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Brief
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This near-perfect series continues in splendid fashion pretty much where Season 3 left off. It’s 1922 now and the aristocracy is facing the decline of their fortune in a changing Europe. Characters like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are trying to uphold tradition as their employees learn more about the world and seek to better themselves. This season also includes a difficult challenge for maid Anna and Mr. Bates when she is the victim of a violent attack. And racism is explored for the first time when Lady Rose meets a black bandleader in a posh London nightclub.

As always, the production quality, writing, and acting are without peer. I’m a great fan of British period drama and this series is without a doubt my very favorite. If you enjoy this kind of fare, Downton Abbey is a must-own; my highest recommendation.

Technical

The image is sharp and detailed with just the right level of color saturation to highlight the time period without becoming too drab and flat. My main complaint is the frequent black crush which has been a component in every Blu-ray release of Downton Abbey. Dark scenes often exhibit the “floating head” phenomenon where actors’ faces float in a sea of blackness when they are wearing black clothes. Since the downstairs characters always wear black, you can only rarely see any detail in their bodies. Otherwise, the transfer is quite good with solid contrast and a nice natural color palette. The early episodes take place in winter so things look appropriately gray and cool. If the black crush were fixed, this release could approach reference quality.

It’s a shame the audio is only two channels but it is extremely clean and crisp with a nice wide sound stage. Ambient sounds are used very effectively. Viewers with a good sound system will hear lots of environmental details which increase the sense of immersion. As always, the music is first-rate. The main title melody is cleverly transformed into different variations to serve as transitional material, character themes, and mood music; very enjoyable. The score can easily stand on its own as very listenable music.

Extras

Bonus features are brief but very interesting. There is about 35 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes information with actor and crew interviews and interesting insights into the production. Also included is a 30-second British tourism promotional spot.