The First Two Seasons of "Downton Abbey" Deserve All the Accolades They've Received Review

You will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Downton Abbey. From conservative housewives to liberal gays, everyone has fallen in love with this British period drama. And now the show is available in a beautifully packaged limited edition Blu-ray set containing the first two seasons of this “Guinness World Record-holding (highest critical review rating for a TV show)” series.

The show begins with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, resulting in the death of the heir to the sprawling Yorkshire country estate Downton Abbey. And so begins Robert Crawley’s (Hugh Bonneville) quest to find who’ll take over the earldom and his wife’s fortune when he dies. That heir apparent turns out to be Robert’s distant cousin Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), whose arrival into the world of Downton proves to be fraught with drama as he learns to face his pre-conceived prejudices against the aristocracy when he stands to come into the incredible fortune.

Created by Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey is about more than just inheritance; it captures the delicious upstairs/downstairs drama in the post-Edwardian aristocracy. Along with the Earl of Grantham upstairs is his American wife the Countess of Grantham, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Upon marriage, her considerable fortune was tied to the Downton estate, giving her just as much urgency to find a suitable male heir for the title since she unfortunately produced only female children. The oldest of her daughters is proud Mary (Michelle Dockery), who spends the first season flirting with Matthew while also pursuing other male suitors as possible heirs. The other Crawley women floating around Downton are sour Edith (Laura Carmichael) who enjoys battling for men’s attention with Mary; revolutionary Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) who enjoys fighting for women’s rights to vote and wear the latest fashions and Robert’s mother the indomitable Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) who enjoys putting down all those who are inferior to her (read: everyone).

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) run the downstairs with skillful precision, not an easy task given all the servants they manage. The perpetually cross Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) and the devious Thomas (Rob James-Collier) spend their time plotting against the servants they don’t like while trying to advance their downstairs status. New valet—and gimp—Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) gets the brunt of their mischief in the first season while he balances a budding romance with the kind lady’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt).

Fellowes manages to expertly juggle this crowd of characters with balanced storytelling and character development. Plots develop quickly and are—usually—resolved quickly, as well, as the show manages to go from 1912 to 1920 in only 16 episodes. He incorporates historical events—World War I, the Irish rebellion, the Spanish flu pandemic—into the story, showing how these events would have affected a family such as this.

Season 1 deals mostly with who will inherit Downton; there are complicated rules of inheritance that feel harder to grasp each time they are brought up. But the season is also balanced with a playful mischievous as the staff gets into all sorts of trouble and the Dowager Countess battles Matthew’s mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) over medicinal minutiae and flower trophies. It’s in the second season that Downton Abbey develops into a true melodrama with war, romance and scandal in every episode.

With the third season currently airing in England (and Shirley MacLaine arriving as Cora’s mother for some delicious verbal spars with the Dowager Countess), now is a great time catch up on (or re-watch) this pop culture phenomenon. The set includes all of the first two seasons including the “Christmas Special” episode, which serves as a true season finale for the second season (and only dwells on Christmas for the first ten minutes).

This is one show that actually deserves all of its accolades—including the Golden Globe award and numerous Emmys—and will go on to garner even more. Just be sure you have ample free time ahead of you when you begin; because once you start this series you won’t be able to stop until you’ve finished every episode.

Bonus Features

The 5-disc set includes a “making of” featurette; “A House in History” which looks at the search for the estate used in the show; and historically-focused featurettes on the costumes (“Fashion and Uniforms”), relationships (“Romance in a Time of War”) and set design (“House to Hospital”) of the second season.

"Downton Abbey Seasons One & Two" is on sale October 2, 2012 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Andy Goddard, Ashley Pearce, Ben Bolt, Brian Kelly, Brian Percival, James Strong. Written by Julian Fellowes. Starring Amy Nuttall, Brendan Coyle, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt, Laura Carmichael, Lesley Nichol , Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Penelope Wilton, Phyllis Logan, Rob James Colliers, Rose Leslie, Siobhan Finneran, Sophie Mcshera, Thomas Howes.

John Keith • Staff Writer

Writer. TV Addict. Bibliophile. Reviewer. Pop Culture Consumer. Vampire Enthusiast. LOST fanatic.


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