Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Downton Abbey - Series 2 (2011)

YES! AT LONG LAST! Finally, Downton Abbey - Series 2! I had been waiting for this for months! All the cliffhangers you left, Series 1, finally will be resolved, right?! Right?! My mom and I started to watch Series 2 on Masterpiece Theater, but we missed the beginning half of the first episode. We got the DVD last Monday (which came out before the series ended on Masterpiece, hence why I can review the entire series). We just finished Series 2 with the Christmas special a couple of days ago. Here is what I thought!

Note: This review will contain spoilers from Series 1. If you do not want to read about Series 1 spoilers, I suggest watching Series 1 before reading this review. Here is my review for Series 1 if you are interested.
DVD Box Art

At the end of Series 1, Lord Grantham announces that England is now at war with Germany -- the start of World War I. Matthew Crawley has joined in the war effort and has joined the army, having decided at the end of Series 1 that he needs to get away from Downton, leaving things unresolved with Lady Mary Crawley. The year at the start of Series 2 is 1916. The Crawleys receive word that Matthew is engaged to a Miss Lavinia Swire and is coming to Downton Abbey. Meanwhile, Mary is still in love with Matthew. There are many plots in Downton Abbey: Series 2, both with the Crawleys upstairs and the staff downstairs.

Most of the regular cast has returned for Series 2 that were in Series 1. Many of the cast members you may recognize from other period dramas. At the end of this review, I have a list of the actors/actresses that you may recognize from other period dramas. One member of the main cast has not returned for Series 2: Gwen, the maid who wanted to become a secretary, has secured a job as a secretary and has been replaced by new housemaid Ethel (I personally preferred Gwen to Ethel). There is a new addition to the cast for a couple of episodes: Andrew Lang, a man who fought in WWI, has become Lord Grantham's new valet after Bates leaves for a couple of episodes. Spoiler Later in the series when Ethel is fired, another housemaid named Jane Moorsum is hired, but her employment is also short-lived. End of Spoiler We also see the addition of Sir Richard Carlisle, a rich newspaper owner who becomes a suitor for Mary.

There is a lot of character development in Series 2. WWI has changed everything in the lives of the residents of Downton Abbey. Upstairs, Sybil becomes a nurse in order to help with the war effort at home. When Downton Abbey becomes a convalescing house, Edith begins to help out with many of the wounded officers. Mary doesn't do as much until half-way through the series Spoiler when Matthew is wounded. End of Spoiler. Downstairs, William, who has recently joined the army, and Daisy become engaged: though Daisy does not love him, she is coaxed into marrying him by the cook, Mrs. Patmore. Anna and Bates face difficulties when Mrs. Bates shows up and threatens to expose Mary's scandal. And Ethel wants to better her life and doesn't want to be a housemaid forever.

Branson teaching Edith to drive a car.
In Series 1, I really didn't like Edith: she was very spiteful against Mary. In Series 2 however, she becomes much more likable. I think that it has something to do with Edith having something to do. Think about it: in Series 1, Edith didn't really have anything to set her mind to. Sybil was helping Gwen get a job as a secretary; Mary was getting to know Matthew more. What did Edith do? Not much except spread word about Mary's scandal around. Now in Series 2, she finds that she has a talent for caring for the wounded soldiers who are staying at Downton Abbey plus she learned how to drive. Once she was given a "purpose", she focused on that and became nicer. The hostilities between her and Mary break down much more, though they probably aren't going to become best friends in any future series.

Isobel Crawley trying to run Downton Abbey
Isobel Crawley, Matthew's mother, became a little dislikable during this series for a couple of episodes. She became very pushy at Downton. She was a little pushy in Series 1, but it wasn't as annoying as she was in a couple of episodes in Series 2. When Downton Abbey was turned into a convalescing house, Isobel started to take over and "push" Cora out of her position as lady of the house. I understand why Cora was upset: it was her home! Isobel was also throwing in Cora's face that she had nursing experience and Cora didn't, so she should be in charge of Downton. Good thing Cora stood her ground. By the end of the series, when Downton was no longer a convalescing house, Isobel was toned down again.

So, Lavinia... I'm not quite sure what to make of her. I don't hate her, but I don't like her a lot either. Maybe it's because I want Mary and Matthew to get married, but I'm still not sure about Lavinia as a character... She wasn't a bad character, but I'm not really fond of her either. Looking at Masterpiece's Character voting page, most people don't really know what to make of Lavinia either. She was on the "Love" side of the scale for one episode, but right next to the middle line, but for the most part, she is right on the middle line: not on the "loathe" side or the "love" side.

Still lovely! Though there were some scenes that took place in the trenches during the battles of WWI (which were gritty), the scenes that took place at Downton were still lovely! The camera filter they used while filming this season of Downton Abbey seems to make everything look more washed out than the previous season. It works because of the serious time that everyone was going through with the war. Colorful scenes are not tossed out all together, however, and you do see some colorful scenes.

Mary and Matthew sing at a concert.
Still awesome! There are some new pieces that are used in Series 2 that weren't in Series 1, which are very good. Also, in one episode, we hear Mary and Matthew sing (though I think Matthew had the better voice). A couple of months ago, the Downton Abbey soundtrack was released that has songs from both Series 1 and 2, plus a couple of vocal songs. I've just gotten the soundtrack, but even just from watching the series, the music is great.

Sybil in her nurse's uniform. Branson is speaking to her
at work.
The costumers of Downton Abbey have done it again! On the DVD, there is one of the special features that talks about costuming. One of the things that it said was that jewelry was much more simpler than it was before the war, which would make sense since most of the money people had would go to the war effort. But I digress. There were a number of very nice costumes, though I think the costumes from Series 1 were better (though the costuming for Series 2 is very, very good). Costumes range from 1916 to really 1919 (The Christmas episode ends on New Years Day of 1920). The skirts for the dresses become a little shorter, but not like the skirts of the 1920s (we'll probably see those next season). A lot of the dresses are very ornate (though not as ornate as Series 1), but they become simpler towards the end of the series. Many of the men are also in uniforms. The special feature on the DVD talks about how the costumers paid very close attention to the medals that were on the men's uniforms, making sure they are period accurate and in the right order. Also making an addition to the costuming are nurses uniforms, mainly worn by Sybil. Nurses uniforms are worn by other nurses, but Sybil is the only member of the main cast that wears a nurse's uniform.

Matthew with Lavinia when they are newly engaged.
I created this section because, as you may know, Series 1 ended with so many cliffhangers. At the end of Series 1, almost nothing is resolved upon: Matthew and Mary's future is in jeopardy, Branson (the chauffer) and Sybil might have a future, but it's not certain that Sybil likes him enough, O'brien, Cora's lady's maid, has massive guilt (which is rightly deserved), and who knows what will happen with Anna and Mr. Bates! By the end of Series 2, most of those cliffhangers from Series 1 are for the most part resolved... Mostly... Series 2 did a better job at resolving those cliffhangers: though there are some cliffhangers that exist, the still existing cliffhangers are not as horribly open as they were from Series 1, but they're open enough that you still want to watch Series 3. I won't say exactly how each of the cliffhangers are resolved, but just know that there is some resolution at the end of the Christmas episode.

Overall: 4/5
Downton Abbey External
Why must I wait a year for Series 3? Why? Probably between Series 1 and Series 2, Series 1 was probably better (but then the first series in period dramas are usually the best). But I still really liked Series 2. Unlike a couple of other series that I have watched, I don't detect a downfall of Downton Abbey in the second series. I have a good feeling that there will be at least a couple more series (unless Series 3 is a disappointment *hoping that it's not*). Series 2 did not end with nearly so many cliffhangers as Series 1 (all the cliffhangers at the end of Series 1 were just cruel!), but it's open enough that you want to watch Series 3.

Content-wise, Downton Abbey: Series 2 has a couple of scenes that you may wish to skip, but nothing is extremely bad. There are some WWI battle scenes and some hospital scenes, one of which includes a biological conversation. There is a very brief scene in Episode 4, but if you pay attention, you can see it coming and it doesn't last long. There are a couple of implications throughout and in Episode 8, a scene happens that could have been bad, but nothing happened (plus to me, the scene was a bit implausible). Also in Episode 8, there is a scene Spoiler after Anna and Mr. Bates get married End Spoiler that you may wish to skip, but it's not very long. There is also a scene in the Christmas episode, but looking at the clues, you can figure out when it's coming (and you don't see anything). Again, there's nothing too severe content-wise, but just some things to keep in mind.

Overall, I would recommend Downton Abbey: Series 2.

Downton Abbey: Series 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Series 2 is made up of 8 episodes, plus a Christmas episode. The first and last episodes are 67 minutes long, and the rest are 53 minutes. The Christmas episode seemed longer than most of the episodes, but I don't know for sure how long it is.

Recognizable Actors/Actresses
Actor -- Role in Downton Abbey -- Other Period Dramas

Hugh Bonneville -- Robert Crawley -- Mr. Grandcourt from Daniel Deronda
Michelle Dockery -- Lady Mary -- Ermina Whyte from Return to Cranford
Maggie Smith -- Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham -- Lady Gresham from Becoming Jane and Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield (1999)*
Jim Carter -- Mr. Carson -- Captain Brown from Cranford
Brendan Coyle -- John Bates -- Robert Timmins from Lark Rise to Candleford and Nicholas Higgins from North and South*
Dan Stevens -- Matthew Crawley -- Edward Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility (2008)* 
Penelope Wilton -- Isobel Crawley -- Mrs. Hamley from Wives and Daughters
Samantha Bond -- Lady Rosamund Painswick -- Mrs. Weston in Emma (1996)
Iain Glen -- Sir Richard Carlisle -- Adam Bede in Adam Bede, Mr. Preston in Wives and Daughters
Maria Doyle Kennedy -- Mrs. Vera Bates -- Titanic (2012)
Robert Bathurst -- Sir Antony Strallan -- Mr. Weston in Emma (2009)*

*Only in the Christmas Episode


  1. Hello there! This is Payton, a.k.a. country girl, from Dirt and Dickens. Thank you so much for following my blog! I started following yours yesterday, I believe. It's most charming!

    I look forward to more of your posts in the future! =)

    (I've never seen Downton Abbey, but after this review and others recently, I may have to check it out!!)

  2. P.S. I grabbed your button, and put it on my "fellow sojourners" page on my blog. =)


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