The Crawley’s and their house staff weather the storm as tradition is set aside in the name of progress. Mary and Edith are still hoping for an eligible match to come along. Edith is now running her magazine full-time and hoping to contain the secret Marigold’s parentage. Mary flirts with dashing racecar driver Henry Talbot. Meanwhile Tom Branson returns from America hoping to rejoin the family. Violet and Isobel feud over the future of the village hospital. Robert deals with his worsening ulcer. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes find themselves challenged by their new marriage. Daisy tries desperately to help Mr. Mason find a new situation when he is evicted from his farm. And that’s only the first few episodes. In this final season we see storylines drawing to a close as the Crawley’s and their staff march bravely into the post-war age.
2016, Color, Not rated, 9 Hrs (9 episodes)
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern
It seems that British period drama is always trying to top itself. For years the benchmark production was the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve watched that near-perfect mini-series dozens of times and in my view, it hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still as fresh as the first time I saw it on my first-ever DVD player; which came after many viewings of a worn-out set of VHS tapes. Nothing really competed with it until Downton Abbey came along in 2011. Impeccable sets, splendid costumes, period-correct props, the characters’ mannerisms; it’s hard to imagine a more-entertaining look at English society in the early 1900s.
The theme of the series hasn’t really changed since Robert first learned of the sinking of the Titanic. The Crawley’s are clinging hard to old traditions as Europe’s changing times mean the end of the aristocracy. Many families have had to sell their estates or cut back severely while those in their service move on to new opportunities. Some of the Crawley’s staff are trying to stay the course but others look to greener pastures as they are forced to grow and evolve.
Knowing that this was to be the final season, the producers have done a superb job of tying up loose ends and bringing the story to a natural and satisfying conclusion. It will be a shame not to receive my Downton Abbey Blu-rays next January, butby raising the bar so high, it has simply opened the door for the next great period series to come from across the pond. Poldark anyone?
Image quality is rich with detail and saturated color but I though most scenes looked a bit hazy with a general lack of delineation between contrasting shades. I also saw clipping of black detail which was most obvious in the servants’ black uniforms. Compression artifacts appear here and there as banding in the sky, especially at night. For a TV show, these flaws are not unexpected but considering the lavishness of the production, it’s a little disappointing.
Audio is clean and clear with well-placed dialog but there is occasional sibilance from both male and female voices. It’s also a bummer not to have a 5.1 mix. There just isn’t enough information there to provide the ambient cues that create an immersive viewing experience. Again, it’s not different from many TV shows but a series like this deserves a better transfer.
Three bonus features are included – Farewell to Highclere Castle in which cast and crew reminisce about their experiences working on the show; The Cars of Downton, which covers the many vintage autos seen on the show; and Changing Times at Downton, a brief retrospective of the characters and their evolution during the series. The features total just over 30 minutes.