Downton Abbey - Seasons 1-5

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 27, 2015

Downton Abbey - Seasons 1-5

If you're already getting excited for January and the American premiere of "Downton Abbey"'s sixth and final season, today's arrival of the Season 1-5 boxed set will whet your anticipation to a super-keen edge.

"Downton Abbey: Seasons 1-5" on DVD holds up well when played on a Blu-ray and viewed on a hi-def television. The series itself -- more than a decade in the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their cadre of devoted servants, and the grand manor in which they all live.

Taken overall, the series is a sympathetic, luxurious look at a vanished way of life, when the ruling class literally dwelt at the top level of both home and society, while the working class grubbed away beneath them. World War I set drastic social changes into motion; the arrival of the 1920s only accelerated those changes. If the series possesses a master arc, it deals with how the English nobility slowly faded away as a prosperous middle class rose. This meant the end of great houses and entire communities centered around the doings (and the patrician wisdom) of wealthy and powerful families. (But don't worry. If today's ruling class have their way, the future will come to resemble the past.)

Upstairs, patriarch Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) heads up a family that includes his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and his three daughters, the eldest of whom is the icy Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). (Sons-in-law and grandchildren accumulate as the series progresses.) The jewel in this family crown remains the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, a champion of the old ways with a scalpel-sharp tongue, played with brio by Maggie Smith.

Downstairs, Mr. Carson, the butler (Jim Carter), and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper (Phyllis Logan), work in tandem to oversee a workplace family of servants that includes the bitingly witty cook, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), married couple Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanna Frogatt, respectively; he's the valet, and she's the lady's maid, and fortune is seldom kind to them), and the closeted, tormented, and correspondingly villainous Thomas Barrow, a guy who's never so bad that he doesn't also show a few redeeming qualities, bit never so good that he can escape his tendency to sabotage others.

Fans will relish the chance to refresh themselves on what has come before: The weddings, births, deaths, guest stars, and endlessly soapy story lines that are buoyed up with a sense of charm and a peculiar stripe of nostalgia. Neophytes will have the chance to dive in and get a sense of why the show has commanded such an enthusiastic global audience. The extras will ensure that even the most zealous fan will have plenty to chew on, with a raft of featurettes offering glimpses into the early seasons, the show's production, the cast and crew, and more.

The extras are literally too numerous to enumerate here. Suffice it to say, they peek into every aspect of the show, its historical and social milieu, the story lines, cast and crew, and guest stars. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes is among those interviewed, as are the producers, who reveal that it was Fellowes' film "Gosford Park" -- a prototype for the series, really -- that tuned them on to the notion of a TV series of this type (even though it's been done before on British TV, with the long-running "Upstairs, Downstairs"). Fellowes, evidently, had to be coaxed into it -- but then the series took off in a way no one expected.

Now you can enjoy every episode thus far of "Downton"'s glorious flight, and prepare for its bittersweet goodbye.

"Downton Abbey: Seasons 1-5"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.