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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Downton Abbey Season 3 (Blu-ray)
Downton Abbey Season 3 (Blu-ray)
PBS // Unrated // January 29, 2013 // Region A
List Price: $54.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted January 29, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Downton Abbey Season 3 Blu-ray Review

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Downton Abbey is now one of the most successful television series in the entire world with over 13 million viewers tuning in to the series in the United Kingdom alone. That's not even taking into account the record viewership of Season 3's premiere in the U.S. to the sound of nearly 8 million more viewers.

This series has become one of the most successful series in the history of television as a medium that is used for creativity and storytelling.  Downton Abbey began airing in the United Kingdom in September of 2010 and it recently finished airing its third season on television. The work of filming and producing a fourth season will be underway in February 2013. Absolutely nothing seems to be slowing this down (a plot element related to an unfortunate loss of a cast member may shake things up a bit in Season 4 though).

The television series is currently in the middle of Season 3's broadcast for American audiences watching the series on PBS. Downton Abbey's third season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in America. The series is presented in its original, uncut format from the United Kingdom broadcasts (which should be comforting for viewers still annoyed by episodes being presented differently on television in America in an edited format when Downton Abbey first premiered within the United States).

Downton Abbey has become a potent force in the ever-changing television landscape. This is one altogether unique series of amazing merit. Downton Abbey is part history, part costume-drama, and part romance (among other genre elements) and it is an undeniably clever and entertaining journey which takes a delicate and sophisticated look back at the social order (disorder included) that permeates in British history.


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The story has a central focus around the Crawley family and their "home" of Downton. These characters and storylines are well-developed and explored. The series remembers to revolve around the upstairs family members and the downstairs residents who are employed by the Crawley's as well. The show explores the relationships between these unique characters in surprising ways. The storylines are well-developed for both sides within this world and the ultimate effect is that creator/writer Julian Fellowes can thereby emphasis various historical elements in a greater capacity as a result.

The series has an ensemble cast that consists of both veteran performers and relative newcomers on the always expansive television series with what seems to be one of the largest casts on a television series.

The cast consists of Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier, Phyllis Logan,  Lesley Nicol,  Sophie McShera, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Allen Leech, and Kevin Doyle.

One of the things that is remarkable and this series is the way in which it is able to paint some truly fascinating character portraits of people in a time period where the literature of the time wasn't necessarily able to discuss certain characteristics and qualities of people because of a constraint resulting from the social norms of the time-period. For one, the series talks about societal issues that were often glossed over to some extent: about homosexuality, about the societal consequences of sexual encounters in a time without condoms or birth control pills, about the harshness of social values interfering between a chance at love between people in romantic unity but at different ends of a social spectrum.


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These are only some of the issues covered throughout the Downton Abbey series. These issues may have been talked about in literature, but a character or storytelling aspect would not have been as frankly stated and explored in the actual time-period. This makes it interesting to find characters verbally discussing and acting in ways that reflect an element of the time period in different ways than what one may normally be accustomed to seeing in a costume drama. The series takes a unique course in that regard.

Another fascinating aspect to this story is that it is a brand new storyline and with characters a audience doesn't already know prior to the onset of the Downton Abbey series. Most modern television productions based in the early 1900's are exploring stories already written or told previously. It's a refreshing change of pace to experience a story that is new to television. It hasn't been told before. Thereby, we begin to experience all of the dramatic turns taken as a unfamiliar audience.

Fundamentally, the relationship between the audience and the new story that is being told is one of the greatest strengths of this series. It's not just something repeating the tropes of storytelling already familiar to everyone in the audience. It's almost akin to experiencing a serial by Charles Dickens or the like as it became available in installments. In this instance, viewers are presented with a new chapter in the Downton Abbey "book" as being relayed from the wonderfully gifted writer Julian Fellowes. This is not a typical series in any way and the story is essential to why it became and remains one of the most successful television series of our modern times.

Season 3 has a lot of surprising paths taken in the storyline. Some of these elements are going to annoy audiences outright and other elements are going to keep audiences glued to their TV sets with full anticipation of what happens next as the episodes unfold and the anticipation for a 4th season builds.


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This season features an abundance of two plotline elements: a death and a funeral. I won't name names, but I will say that one central character dies this season and it had nothing to do with the series writer and creator wanting it to go down that way. Series contracts expired this year, and one core cast member decided not to renew and stay on the show and it leaves a certain air of wonderment about what will happen next that isn't exactly comforting given some of the plot directions taken beforehand. I am, however, confident that Julian Fellowes will make it work somehow. This series has so many wonderful cast members and characters - there is so much talent involved with this production that Downton Abbey is sure to be interesting no matter the direction it finds itself taking next season. 

Season 3 does a wonderful job of exploring these characters even more so than previous seasons. Many characters become much more fleshed out. The story takes new directions and explores a number of characters previously left unexplored to such levels. This includes a plotline around cook Mrs. Patmore finding a potential mate, Thomas turning a new leaf within the household, Lady Edith Crawley coming into her own more with a new job, and Isobel Crawley helping a former maid and prostitute to find a new direction and establishment in life. The romance of course also brews further between Lady Mary and Matthew, who experience some big and surprising changes over the course of the season. The young romance and family tensions continue to rise between Sybil and Tom versus the rest of the Crawley family. These are incredible parts of Season 3's immensely satisfying storylines but it's only a part of the proceedings. Fans of Downton Abbey will be pleased.

There are so many magnificent aspects to this series creation.  At the top of the list remains stellar writing by creator Julian Fellowes. The direction is by Brian Percival, David Evans, Jeremy Webb, and Andy Goddard in this third season. Each director brings a high quality filmmaking style to the proceedings.


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I was especially impressed by Percival as a series director. He is someone to watch as a director attached to future projects in television and film. Percival helmed the prior season's triumphant Christmas Special (which was every bit as good as a theatrical film) and the first few episodes within Season 3.  I hope to see a return from him next year as he was one of the greatest film talents involved. He manages to bring an epic scope and sense of adventure into a series I'd initially never expected to have flairs of epic and romantic flourishes. Yet it absolutely does.

John Lunn contributes some beautiful music to the proceedings. I never consider it to be any overly complex work in terms of scope but it makes up for that with memorable themes you might find yourself humming along to in addition to the delicate theme music.

Everything about the scope and production of this series is remarkable. Nothing about it even feels as if it was created for television consumption. The production is cinematic and greatly engaging on every level. The cinematography for Season 3 was done by Nigel Willoughby.

Downton Abbey has fantastic work in cinematography during each season but season three might actually be the most beautifully filmed season so far. This element is no doubt aided by stellar costumes by Caroline McCall, who has been involved on the show for some time, but who is replacing the Emmy-nominated costume designer Susannah Buxton (who decided to move in some other directions). This change doesn't seem to have had a negative impact on the show, because the costumes are still elegant, impressive, and well worth being exciting about for a costume drama fan who is most looking forward to the theatricality of the series costumes. 


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Season 3 of Downton Abbey turned out to be as impressive and engaging as the first two seasons were. In some ways, the series actually seems to be getting better and better as it progresses and pushes the envelope forward even more in development. The unfortunate loss of one of the lead characters on the show is certainly disappointing and potentially devastating news for this series.

This series has an impressive cast that delights fans and a writer/creator who seems to be telling us one of the most fascinating historical period pieces in television history. The show also has some of the greatest technical talents behind the scenes and a multitude of quality directors helming the production in a great crescendo of entertainment.

What's next for the series? Only Julian Fellowes knows (if even), but I'll remain optimistic about the future of Downton Abbey for now. This is unquestionably one of the best television series being produced now. I would even go so far as to call it the Lost of costume dramas as the audience awaits future episodes with a comparable sense of excitement and anticipation. I wouldn't miss an episode. Downton Abbey is great television.


Click on an image to view a Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Downton Abbey arrives on Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p High Definition presentation that is in a word: stunning. This is one of the best and highest quality presentations ever given to a series, let alone to a costume-drama. This is one impressive set in the video-quality department. The picture is almost perfect and the mesmerizing visuals are enhanced by the stellar costumes, a wonderful world of lavish locations, and the brilliant cinematography by Nigel Willoughby. Everything shines radiantly with this stellar presentation. Colors are vibrant and the image remains crisp and looks beautifully modern in technological innovation.

Audio:

The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio isn't quite on par with the video presentation in that the audio doesn't have as much expansion and enthralling moments of aural immersion but it does give audiences a proper lossless audio presentation with clearly audible dialogue and crisply clean and pleasant sounding music and effects.


Additional Screenshots:

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Extras:

There is an abundance of supplemental material included on this Blu-ray release (all of which is presented in glorious High Definition). The highlight of the set is the Christmas episode special that aired after the season 3 finale. The special was entitled A Journey to the Highlands and its essential viewing for all fans.

It's a great episode in most respects but this is the episode in which a major question mark seems to be left dangling for audiences regarding an important character on the series. I guess it's still a wait and see element, but this episode is certainly well-made, engaging, and important alongside the series run of episodes.

The rest of the supplements included on this release are as follows:

Behind the Drama (48 min.) is an enjoyable if fairly light exploration of the making of the first two seasons of Downton Abbey. This special was clearly made prior to Season 3, based upon a number of responses given from the cast and crew. Writer/Creator Julian Fellowes discusses his creative process somewhat and gives some details about actual details of historical events which cropped up into the show (including a surprising tidbit about a humorously bizarre moment from Season 1). The actors and actresses give opinions about their characters (some of which are kind of funny in reflection, because of the growth some of these characters experience in Season 3).

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the responses. It was wonderful hearing more about the creativity that goes into the making of Downton Abbey. I especially enjoyed hearing some more about behind the scenes elements (including exploration of the costume design element of the series).

Downton in 1920 (17 min.) discusses the time in which the series is taking place and the way the time was changing in terms of technological advancements and cultural changes and how this is something that plays into the time frame of the series.

The Wedding of Lady Mary (13 min.) is a making of featurette focused on filming the Wedding scenes with Lady Mary and it goes in detail about the town and location used, as well as the secretive nature of filming these moments for the show.

The Wedding of Lady Edith (16 min.) is a piece exploring the making of the scenes with Edith's wedding ceremony.

The Men of Downton Abbey (9 min.) explores the male characters and perspectives of the series with cast interviews about their character arcs.

Shirley MacLaine at Downton Abbey (9 min.) is a featurette about the casting of the famous actress in her supporting role on Downton Abbey.

Behind the Scenes: Cricket Match (7 min.) is a making-of featuring interviews with various series actors about the Cricket Match scenes.

Behind the Scenes: Journey to the Highlands (13 min.) takes a look at the Christmas episode which aired following the season finale and covers the making of the episode as well as the shocking conclusion to the special episode.


Click on an image to view a Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution

Final Thoughts:

Downton Abbey is one of the most creative, ambitious, and involving series on television today. It's no wonder the series now has over 20 million fans just between U.K. and U.S. broadcasts alone. It's a genuinely brilliant example of how television can be the perfect medium for any complex story.

The show's greatest strength is the writing and it's something that keeps the audience in a mode of constant anticipation. Wherever this series heads to next it will be an interesting event.  Fans of costume dramas and complex character-driven stories will enjoy visiting Downton Abbey on Blu-ray with a stunning presentation that perfectly suits this modern class act just fine. 

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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