A Few Words About A few words about...™ Downton Abbey - Season One -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Feb 25, 2012.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Ever have a feeling that you're late to a party?


    What could all the fuss possibly be about Downton Abbey? Yet another UK television series in the mode of Upstairs Downstairs, possibly blended with a bit of Bronte, Alcott or Austen, and a pinch of Gosford Park.


    I presumed that while there had to be some quality to it, that it was UK soaper in Edwardian dress.


    Early this morning, I was at a testing lab, having recovered the plastic strip that seals and identifies the program, and taken it in as the possible culprit.


    What I discovered was shocking, and obviously a ploy by PBS to get an audience to sit through the long UK version of this Edwardian drama.


    The aforementioned strip was identified as containing a chemical which does not permit the viewer to turn away from the program, once it beings, and whilst in viewing mode.


    Six hours of Downton Abbey had gone by, encompassing the entire first season, seemingly in the same time as most two hour feature films.


    Performances by thespians with us for decades, such as the venerable (and delightful) Maggie Smith -- when will we be getting Jean Brodie on BD from Fox? -- to the likes of Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, to the list to newcomers like Laura Carmichael, Michelle Dockery and Jessica Brown-Findlay (the three daughters). Other stand-outs -- Rob James-Collier, Lesley Nicol, Phyllils Logan, Jim Carter (you may not know the name, but you'll recognize the face) and Dan Stevens.


    We've seen many of these faces before, especially in UK television productions, and they're all stand-outs.


    I count 20 leads in the first season, who work as an ensemble. While one might have concerns regarding not being able to tell the players without a program, there is no need. Cuts go quickly from scene to scene, and everything follows beautifully. By the end of the first episode, we know everyone, with more to come.


    The other lead in the series is Highclere Castle, which stands in for the Crawley's ancestral home, and in which the majority of the interiors are shot as a practical location. The kitchen area and servants quarters are sets at Ealing, the home of those great Guinness comedies.


    Watching this series, I could not get the concept out of my mind that it held a strange resemblance to a film based upon a 1936 novel. And in one exterior shot, I was taken directly to the work of William Cameron Menzies, as a huge tree framed the tiny people beneath it.


    From a purely technical perspective, Downton Abbey 1 gives us an interesting example of Arri's pre-Alexa, D-21.


    Imagery, as shot in 1080p 4-4-4, is stellar with the exception of scenes with lower lighting. These can get quite noisy, whether from post-processing or via the original photography as dealt with by the software linked to the camera. Nothing untoward, just a bit more than one might expect. The interesting point, will be to see is the trend continues into the second season, as a switch occurs to the newer Alexa.


    Whether the show's popularity stems from echoes of British lit, or from my perception of connections to that 1936 novel, really doesn't matter. Much of the credit must go to Julian Fellowes, who has been at this for awhile. But read the credits carefully, and you'll find British cinema royalty neatly hidden away. Directing episodes 2 and 3, is Ben Bolt, whose father was a pretty decent writer. As the head of the production company Carnival Films, is Gareth Neame, whose family has been in the business since Noah's ark found land. His grandmother, Ivy Close, starred in Abel Gance's La Roue. His father Ronald was a superb director and producer, whose CV cannot be held by these pages, for lack of space.


    Possibly I'm simply a sucker for UK drama, as I tend to suffer from occasional bouts of Anglophilia.


    The bottom line seems to be that the show is just that good.


    If one decides to enter the world of Downton, be certain to acquire the original UK versions as opposed to the shorter US versions. Running times should be 368 and 544 minutes. Accept nothing shorter, as it was cut by PBS for broadcast here in the Colonies. Also, beware of something called the Season Two Christmas Special, sold as a standalone, which is part of the long version Season 2 complete series. This could get as confusing as WB different offerings of the Potter series, which run in the hundreds.

    The first season covers the period from 1912 to the beginning of The Great War, and we are witness to the end of an era, as the world goes from one of innocence, and enters the 20th century at full throttle.


    Very Highly Recommended.


    RAH
     
  2. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    Yes, great show. Season 2 seemed to me to have even better pq than season one. In season two it seemed like you could almost reach out and touch the stunningly beautiful period clothes. I don't recall that feeling as much in the first season, but maybe I was just too much drawn into the plot to notice. Great show. May it have a very long run.
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The first season is the one that won six Emmys Awards (back in September) so you ARE late to the party, but welcome, welcome. It is SO easy to get invested in all these wonderful characters and eager to find out what happens to them next.


    Season Three is now in production, but we likely won't see it until 2013. Lucky Brits will likely get it this fall.
     
  4. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I keep thinking about how incredible it must be for some of the youngest actors in the group to get to work with the veterans on a continuing basis.
     
  5. haineshisway

    haineshisway Producer

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    I, too, just discovered the show about three weeks ago with the season one Blu-ray from the UK (I bought it lest I get cut versions, which I'd read about - more in a moment about that). This is a godsend for PBS, as it's turned into their Mad Men. But it's much better than that show, with much more consistent writing. The direction is terrific, the actors are amazing, every one, and the production values are top-notch. It's completely addictive. I'd read certain comments on certain sites that season two wasn't as good, but it's every bit as good. Occasionally, in order to keep drama going in a story line they will result to something a little hoary, but I don't mind because it's always very well done. Now, as far as I can tell, none of the Blu-rays sold in the US are of the cut versions that air on TV. If I'm wrong about that, someone please correct. I will say that the quality of the UK disc is a little more to my liking than the US version, plus it doesn't have the annoying Masterpiece Theatre opening. Finally, the Christmas at Downton Abbey movie is included with season two on the US Blu-ray but not on the UK season two Blu-ray - there it must be purchased separately. Love this show large. My favorite character in the show is probably an odd one, but I just love the character and the actress who plays her - Anna, as played by Joanne Froggett.
     
  6. jseabough

    jseabough Agent

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    Love this series. Bought both DVD sets 1 and 2.. Can't wait for next season when Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as (Elizabeth McGovern's mother.
     
  7. jseabough

    jseabough Agent

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    Link to top 10 Maggie moments from Downton Abbey
     
  8. jseabough

    jseabough Agent

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    Bruce, I am with you. I love Joanne Froggett (Anna). I remember seeing her in the first episode of a UK series BAD GIRLS. She was only in the first maybe second shows of that series but she stood out. Very good actress.
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    She is superb. But there are is no one in this cast that is not up to snuff.


    RAH
     
  10. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    I just finished watching season 1 via Netflix streaming. It was only standard definition, but the story kept me involved enough to not notice the picture. Then I ordered the season 1/2 blu-rays plus the Christmas special from Amazon.co.uk for $45 total.
     

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