Downton Abbey — a sprawling, lavish Edwardian mansion nestled in the Yorkshire landscape — needs an heir. Dame Maggie Smith stars as Violet, the stubborn Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of Downton. Hugh Bonneville stars as her son, the stoic, unflappable Lord Crawley; Elizabeth McGovern is his far-sighted American wife, Cora. From Academy Award®-winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park
). A star-studded cast round out the glittering, gossipy, and beguiling men and women of this epic tale!
's first two seasons are packaged in a splendid boxed set that every fan of the series, and any historical drama, will love. Season one sets a lavish stage of beautiful scenery and architecture, and a class structure rigid yet just beginning to give way at the beginning of the 20th century, and of the Great War. Season two picks up two years later, in 1916, as the war rages on over Europe, and grand Downton Abbey has been converted into a convalescent hospital for wounded veterans of the brutal combat. Throughout both seasons, the storylines involving the wealthy Crawley family and their servants are captivating, richly developed, and all too human. Season one focuses, as it must, on quickly giving biographies of the main cast members and their roles in the stately home of Downton Abbey. Standouts include Hugh Bonneville as Lord Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern as his American wife, Lady Cora. The Crawleys' three daughters quickly show their distinct personalities and passions--and passion they are determined to have. Downstairs, the servants include Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates and Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow the footman, whose rising position in the household is threatened by Bates's return; Thomas immediately begins schemes to undermine Bates. Maggie Smith steals every scene she's in as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. The bons mots fly out of the countess's mouth and she is wickedly funny as the elder stateswoman who has seen it all and is shocked by absolutely nothing. If Smith tends to chew the scenery, it doesn't really matter--since Downton Abbey
has scenery to spare.
This boxed set is rich with extras. Fans will be captivated by the making-of featurette showing the details as originally envisioned by series creator Julian Fellowes (writer of Gosford Park and the TV series Titanic). Another feature examines the incredible attention to period authenticity paid to costumes, dialogue, and décor. Another short feature examines the many love stories unfolding--and given urgency--with World War I as the backdrop. And the transformation of the stately home into a humming wartime hospital is also fascinating. All in all, there are more than 15 hours of immersive entertainment in this five-disc set--best put on another pot of tea before you settle in. --A.T. Hurley