Downton Abbey - Seasons 1 & 2
I'm guessing that most of you have at least heard of "Downton Abbey," the award-winning British television series about a colorful aristocratic family named the Crawleys and the staff that mans their sprawling ancestral home. Featuring scintillating performances by Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith and written by the acclaimed Julian Fellowes, this lush period drama has essentially rendered the American glitterati a tawdry second-rate band of bores compared to the magnetism and intensity of this early 20th century fictional fete.
Both seasons of the show are now available as a limited set on Blu-ray, and thankfully, they represent the un-cut UK version of the show - not the occasionally chopped up PBS version to which you may have been subjected on the American airwaves. That means, for the initiated, you've got a chance to catch up before Season Three premieres in the States in January; and for fans, it's an opportunity to both watch some remarkable special features and also relive the post-Titanic to post-Great War evolution of the Crawleys and their twisted little world.
On the discs are all sixteen episodes - seven from Season One, and eight from Season Two (including the Christmas special). Performances are, in a word, magnificent, and you'll enjoy the opulence of the costumes and sets; but the story is also the star, with remarkable stories of love, loss, life, death and betrayal echoed above the ground, where the aristocracy wrestles with challenges of inheritance, class degradation and politics, as well as downstairs, where the have-nots must balance careers in service with moral and ethical issues of simple survival.
Features include a terrific documentary on the making of the series - which features Fellowes as well as the bulk of the cast (interviews with Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are among the most engaging), as well as a roughly ten-minute history of Highclere Castle (which stands in for Downton), and behind-the-scenes docs on costuming and developing Season Two on the romance and war fronts.