on January 6, 2014
If you are on Season 4, you know if you love this show or not. But for those of us with Prime who do not want to wait, the show is available on PBS's website - new episode each week until the series is over. You have to sit through a couple of 30 second commercials, but I am ok with that.
With a global audience of over 125 million, Downton Abbey Season 4 is probably the most anticipated show this year. This number of followers is set to increase as Chinese State TV has, apparently, just started to broadcast it, although what the average Chinese television viewer will make of the antics of the Crawleys I shudder to think! This time round we pick up six months on from the tragic end to the Series 3 Christmas Special.
Downton has moved with the times, and, as usual, great care has been taken to make the setting, including all the small details, correct for the period. Hence clothes and hair styles have changed and advances in technology, such as the telephone and even new fangled electric kitchen gadgets are evident. The cast has all the significant characters who survived the last series, so Maggie Smith continues as the matriarch who dominates every scene she is in, and Shirley MacLaine makes a welcome reappearance after her all too brief involvement in the previous series. Seeing her sparring with Maggie Smith must be one of the more memorable aspects of this show. There are some new faces to look out for, one of whom is Kiri Te Kanawa, the New Zealand opera singer as well as a couple of other well known characters in cameo roles.
More of the scenes this time round have been filmed on location in London. Meanwhile at Downton itself, the antics and interaction of those `below stairs' continues to contribute some very interesting story lines and their trials and tribulations are, in many ways, one of the most interesting aspects of the show. Above stairs initially Lady Mary is, understandably, rather subdued whilst Lady Edith really seems to be coming into her own having, perhaps, been somewhat overshadowed previously. The producers have publicly promised no more deaths, at least for a while, but I will not be giving away any key parts of the plot here as I certainly do not want to spoil anyone's enjoyment!
Downton Abbey has certainly continued to go from strength to strength and has confounded those critics who thought it would peter out after a couple of series. If you enjoyed the previous seasons then Season 4 is unlikely to disappoint, and there is every sign that the show is set to continue. I do not believe any announcement has been made about Season 5 yet but apparently some of the key figures have already signed contracts for it. However, personally I would not be surprised to see it run up to the 1930s in due course. I certainly hope so!
For those of you interested in additional features this set includes 'The Making', The Downton Diaries and New Arrivals.
Edit in January 2014 - Just to clarify following a number of comments on the review. This review was written when Season 4 was released in the UK three months ago. The set issued in the UK did not include the Christmas Special episode which is the finale as it was not aired until December 25th. However, this North American issued set being released on Jan 28th certainly does include the Christmas Special (even though it is subtitled UK Edition!) ie this set as sold here does include the Christmas Special. Hope this makes sense.
on November 25, 2013
UK Edition means uncut. Region 1 is USA and Canada
Region 1: U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada, and Bermuda
Region 2: Japan, Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, including Egypt
Region 3: Southeast Asia, East Asia, including Hong Kong
Region 4: Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean
Region 5: Former Soviet Union, Indian subcontinent, Africa, North Korea, and Mongolia
Region 6: China
Region A/1: North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
Region B/2: Europe, Greenland, French territories, Middle East, Africa, Australia and New Zealand
Region C/3: India, Nepal, Mainland China, Russia, Central and South Asia
on January 6, 2014
For those who don't just swoon over something out of habit, I think most actual viewers will acknowledge (with regret) that something is definitely off about the opening episode(s) of DA's Season 4. To me, the first hour was just tedious with a now very unsympathetic Mary, who actually seems more disgruntled than grieving. Her self-absorption carries a bitter bite and less interest than usual in anyone but herself, including her child. However, the second hour picked up, along with Mary's spirits.
Overall though, that unmistakable vital edge we have become accustomed to with DA was sorely lacking, rendering the whole rather flat, acting included. The scenes in the downstairs area particularly palled for the first time, especially some in the kitchen. Same great people, but the fire is missing. Even Maggie Smith's parts were lackluster. There's a point where the best actors cannot overcome trite dialog and boring recycles of old themes.
I had understood formerly that Julian Fellowes is involved in at least one other large project, and perhaps that explains what seems a lack of due diligence to this one. Even with that, he seems to be diminishing his main characters in stature and depth while escalating devious and underhanded elements. His current presentation appears to be going in the way of his "Gosford Park," where everyone was foibled - and worse.
Whatever it is, overall and in several key areas like the writing, directing and now some of the acting, unless this one picks up with continuing episodes, it is destined to end in a fizzle, a shadow of its former self.
Regardless, I will cherish my first two seasons DVDs as they will always carry the vibrant pulse and excellence that set Downton Abbey apart.
on January 6, 2014
My wife and I loved Downton Abbey from the first episode. To an extent, we still think very highly of it.
But we watched the first two episodes of Season 4 last night and, when they ended, heaved a big "meh."
There are a number of problems with Season 4 of Downton Abbey:
CAUTION: MIGHT BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
1. Thomas is still there, and still a colossal pain in the ass. Despite being one of the most despicable people at Downton Abbey, nearly universally disliked by every other character, Thomas is still employed at D.A.
2. Now that Miss O'Brien is gone (she left in the middle of the night without telling anyone), Cora Crawley needs a new Lady's Maid. Enter Edna, who more or less tricks her way back into D.A. by answering an ad to be Miss O'Brien's replacement. The character was without scruples when we last saw her; she's not improved now, and quickly forms an alliance with Thomas.
3. So, once again, Thomas is paired with a woman - this time Edna - to wreck havoc on the other servants at D.A.
4. The problem with that is two-fold: (a) the person they chose to stab in the back is Anna. Anna! The sweetest, most compassionate and kind member of the staff; and (b) the Earl and Countess of Grantham actually believe Thomas and Edna when they speak ill of Anna. Cora Crawley, apparently not the sharpest crayon in the box, always took the side of Miss O'Brien, too. But now she's taking the side of a brand new Lady's Maid against Anna! How can that be? Can Cora and Robert Crawley really be that bad a judge of character? When Robert confronted Bates to tell him to keep Anna in check, my wife and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Would Robert have done that? Does he not know what kind of people Bates and Anna are?
5. The fact that we now have nearly the same configuration of characters we did in Season 1, with the nearly the same conflict, tells me that Julian Fellowes is out of ideas. Now he's just recycling what came before, only setting it in a new year (1922, if I recall the super on the screen correctly). Characters who do not change, who remain the same, are really bad, two-dimensional characters. Cora Crawley hasn't changed. She's still a dimwit. Thomas hasn't changed. He's still a manipulating scuzz ball. Bates and Anna are still the moral center of Downton Abbey. But now that Thomas and Edna are set on attacking them, I'm afraid we're ready to stop watching.
We enjoyed Season 1-3 and watched them religiously. A few of them made us cry. We really got into the characters and the stories.
But something feels really off about Season 4. Or maybe something feels precisely on. Everyone is exactly the same. And if all Julian is going to do is recycle the same conflicts (usually with Thomas and his female cohort), then we've got better things to do with our time.
on May 20, 2013
I stumbled onto the first season of Downton Abbey quite by accident and enjoyed following both "families" upstairs and down. The writing is excellent and the story lines amusing and engaging. I enjoyed all of the seasons since and was surprised by the deaths of Sybil and Matthew, but not shocked. Both lead further into great drama and add the suspense of the "cliff hanger" for the next season to begin upon. The addition of the naughty cousin Rose may make some new inroads with the story line. With Mary now widowed with a son, and Tom now a widower with a daughter, who knows what tangled plot may now ensue? There is always more backstabbing and sneakiness to be sure between the likes of Thomas and Miss O'Brien, so I think all is not lost. Maggie Smith as the Matriarch is pure gold. She's my favorite! If a face could launch a thousand ships, her expressions could easily wipe out an entire Navy!! She's no sourpuss...she's just a powerhouse! She can say more with one look than most can say with pages of dialogue. I look forward to season 4 and hope there will be more.
on January 14, 2014
Killing off Matthew is a MAJOR err on the part of the producers and directors. The elders in this season are becoming comical instead of compelling. The fury to add NEW characters to this season are seem to be shallow and of no real interest. Let's face it, in the past episodes we cared about the good guys and despised the the mean-spirited, corrupt characters. Now we're beginning to think it's the writers who are mean-spirited and struggling to find issues to keep the series going.
It would have been far more entertaining to see Tom and Matthew work together to save the Abbey and to work for women's rights in merry old England. It would have been far more entertaining to see the doctor and Matthew's mother become an item and work together. It would be far more entertaining to see Daisy become the landowner of her father-in-laws estate and build to something large and in competition to the Abbey or at least the Abbey needing her services.
The niece or whoever she is, is just plain boring, we don't care if someone would kidnap her. In fact, please do we've had enough already.
Season Four is starting off with a whimper. Good thing Sherlock is beginning soon.
on February 8, 2014
The series is still wonderful, and I will continue to watch it (for a while longer, at least), but with Matthew and O'Brien gone it just doesn't have the same appeal to me. Anna getting raped was very disturbing, and I'm not sure it was a good move when there are other directions the show could have gone in to create a dramatic situation. I understand rape is unfortunately a fact of life, but I was not happy it was included in Downton Abbey, especially in that day and age when help for a rape victim was mediocre, at best. Also, I found myself rolling my eyes in disbelief when Carson's old buddy shows up again and moves in with Isobel because Mrs. Hughes takes it upon herself to befriend him and orchestrate his salvation. Really? Cora's one-dimensional character is beginning to grate on my nerves. For example, when Branson's seducer, the former house maid Edna returns, gullible Cora hires her on the spot as her lady's maid, based upon the fact she had been employed by Downton previously for about three days before she was bounced by Mrs.Hughes. Edna has little if any experience as a lady's maid and was the only applicant, but 18 year old Rose likes her and encourages Cora to give her a try. Now there's a reliable source when considering who to hire as your closest personal employee! However, Mrs. Hughes, Carson, and Branson agree they simply can't tell poor Cora about Edna's inappropriate behavior toward Branson when she worked in the house before, because Mrs. Hughes did write her a good reference when she left (at Branson's request). They fear if they told gentle Cora the truth about Edna, Her Ladyship might come down with the "vapors" and need a smelling salt, or something! Please! Robert, although I do like him basically, can be too much of a snobby prig for words...has he totally forgotten he would have lost Downton because of his really bad investment if Matthew hadn't come to the rescue? Now at times he doesn't have the insight, humility, or willingness to listen to others who have excellent suggestions on how to profitably run the estate. Mary and the Dowager Countess are the only interesting and multifaceted characters left, in large part because of their superb acting and excellent writers. I also think Isobel adds a lot to the show with her terrific acting skills and interactions with the Dowager Countess. I also love Daisy, and hope they build some story lines around her other than her mooning over Alfred. Thomas is always terrific fun to watch, as his mischievous ploys downstairs and upstairs are usually wickedly delicious. If Mary and her British grandmother go the show is doomed. I love Shirley MacLaine, but her stiff portrayal of Cora's mother is dull and adds nothing. In my opinion, continuing with the deeper progression into Edith's struggles, relationships, and activities is the way to proceed with this character. I enjoy watching this great actress work, and more of her would be most welcome. Some of the most captivating episodes to come will hopefully revolve around who Mary becomes romantically involved with...that's worth continuing to tune in for at least a while longer. I realize this series takes place in a different place, time, and social class than 21st century America, and overall I feel it is a wonderfully researched, written, and acted series that I have enjoyed tremendously. In conclusion, I believe the quality and direction of the first four episodes I've watched of Season Four do not rise to the level of the first three seasons. However, I suppose I'm still mourning the loss of Matthew, Lady Sybil, and the complex O'Brien. I truly hope Season Four will "settle in," and the compass of excellence will be regained.
on April 26, 2015
I was one of those fans who heard about certain things happening at the end of season three and jumped ship. It wasn't until some trusted friends told me to tough it out and it'd be worth it. I can know say it is worth it!!
Don't give up on the Granthams! Season 5 is even better!
I'm not purchasing Season Four because it is such a huge disappointment. Frankly, when Dan Stevens chose to leave the series the intelligent move on the part of Fellowes and the producers would have been to hire another actor to play "Matthew" so that the storyline of his and Mary's marriage and Matthew's moving into the role of running the estate could have been continued because Matthew was the "future" -- he was the young professional class -- an attorney -- who had inherited an estate and married into the aristocracy and at the same time saw that Branson, his Irish servant class brother-in-law, was going to be a partner in the modernizing of the Downtown estate. There were many stories that could proceed from that -- but by "killing" the character of Matthew, Fellowes basically "killed" the core of the series. Frankly, if he was going to kill the Matthew character, he may as well have ended the series altogether because the writing and plotlines in season four so far -- are inferior and reflect bad daytime soap opera writing. Only the Dowager and Matthew Crawley's mother have any good lines and far too few IMO, having Anna raped and then treat Bates like dirt in order "to save him from himself" for fear he would attempt to avenge what happened to her is a moment of "jumping the shark" which no series can afford to do and keep its audience. The introduction of Edna as Cora's maid had no point. The new ladies' maid appears to have a shady past -- so once again we are supposed to believe that the Granthams are so stupid that they'd continually hire terrible people to work for them when very obviously in the past they were smart enough to hire very good staff like Mrs. Patmore, Anna and Bates, Carson, Daisy, Alfred and Mrs. Hughes. The character of Thomas remains static -- he's still a wretched man despite the fact that various members of the family and staff have shown compassion toward him in his time of despair at having been revealed to be homosexual in age when it could result in arrest and imprisonment. Thomas has never been revealed to be a "stupid" man so one would assume that over time, he would change for the better as he realized that the entire world was not set against him -- nonetheless, once again he is thoroughly unpleasant this season and -- worse -- his character is now boring.
I cringe at the knowledge that later this year the godawful Shirley Maclaine and her godawful character will return -- she's like nails on chalkboard -- and this time she'll be toting along Paul Giamatti -- ugh!
I think the best thing we can all do now is enjoy re-watching the first three seasons which were entertaining despite being soap operaish -- because now it's just a soap opera and not terribly entertaining soap opera.