Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Downton Abbey -- Series 4 (2013)

Okay, I confess! I have already seen Downton Abbey: Series 4! This review might be coming a little early to all my readers here in America (since Downton's fourth series aired yesterday, I think?), but I'll take care about spoiler warnings.

But anyways, after last series's finale with the untimely death of Matthew in a car crash, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this series. I knew Downton Abbey wasn't going to be as good as it was previously, but maybe it was going to be better than I expected. I spent all of last year saying that I would be surprised if Downton was going to last past this fourth series, but with the commission of the show's fifth series, I was proven wrong. But what did I think of this series? I had mixed feelings about it to say the least, but it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. This series exhibited a lot of changes to the show to lead it in a new direction. There were plenty of changes that occurred in this series, and I only commented on the major ones. If you would like to know my opinion on a change that I didn't comment on, leave me a comment and I'll answer it!

DVD Box Art
Note: This review may contain spoilers from Series 1Series 2, and Series 3 of Downton Abbey without warning. If you have not seen a previous series, you may not want to read this review at this time. I have reviewed the previous series if you would like to read the reviews.

Six months after the tragic death of her husband Matthew Crawley, Lady Mary continues to mourn the sudden loss of her husband. Matthew's estate is called into question since he did not leave a will, leaving Lord Grantham to look over Downton by himself while he allows Mary to mourn. The rest of the Crawley try to bring Mary out of her mourning. Tom Branson continues to raise his daughter, baby Sybbie, at Downton, but questions whether he belongs at Downton. Lady Rose takes up residence at Downton while her parents are in India.

This series sees the absence of old characters that departed from the show, but also the introduction of new characters and new (and some familiar) faces.
Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Hugh BonnevilleRobert Crawley, Earl of GranthamDaniel Deronda as Mr. Grandcourt
Jim CarterCharles CarsonCranford as Captain Brown
Brendan CoyleJohn BatesLark Rise to Candleford as Robert Timmins
Michelle DockeryLady Mary CrawleyReturn to Cranford as Erminia Whyte
Joanne FroggattAnna BatesRobin Hood (2009) as Kate
Maggie SmithViolet, Dowager Countess of GranthamBecoming Jane as Lady Gresham
Harriet WalterLady ShackletonSense and Sensibility (1995) as Fanny Dashwood
Penelope WiltonIsobel CrawleyWives and Daughters as Mrs. Hamley
Allen LeechTom BransonFrom Time to Time as Fred Boggis
Joanna DavidDuchess of YeovilPride and Prejudice (1995) as Mrs. Gardiner
Samantha BondLady Rosamund PainswickEmma (1997) as Mrs. Weston

Lady Mary post mourning
Mary used to be one of my favorite characters in the show. I still like Mary, but it seems like she is less of a three dimensional character now. First of all, it seemed like she didn't mourn Matthew long enough. It was six months and everyone was telling her she needed to get over it (with the exception of Robert) (they couldn't give her a year?). And then a couple of episodes after that, she was kissing Lord Gillingham all the while saying that she isn't over Matthew? They told us Mary would take her time mourning Matthew! If you look at Upstairs, Downstairs (the older series, and this is a Upstairs, Downstairs Spoiler) Richard Bellamy took nearly two series to get remarried after Lady Marjorie died, and you know what? I accepted his new wife when he did get married; I even liked her. Though I watched Upstairs, Downstairs in a shorter period of time than people watching it as it aired, I still felt there was enough time for Richard to mourn before seriously looking for a wife again. End of Upstairs, Downstairs Spoiler With Downton Abbey, Mary's mourning was too quick, if not for her (which I do think it was too quick for her), then too quick for the audience. By the end of the series, she's stringing along three potential suitors (Lord Gillingham, an old family friend, Charles Blake, an estate surveyor, and Evelyn Napier from Series 1), none of which I feel all that great about (though Evelyn Napier does the best with me). And the Christmas special, she was especially one dimensional: it was more stringing Charles Blake and Lord Gillingham along, and then she admits that she has been stringing her potential suitors along, but it looks like she is going to continue to do it. For a character that was a major central focus of the show, she became awfully one dimensional.

Isobel walking with Violet
Violet was severely underplayed during this series. With the past three series she had plenty of witty lines that you could quote and constantly repost to Facebook or repin on Pinterest, she didn't have any memorable witty lines this series. Sure, there were some quotes that did get posted to Facebook, but they were absolutely pale compared to her previous one-liners. I don't know if they are slowly easing her out of the show, but it was almost as if she were to leave the show, she wouldn't affect the show very much. It's unfortunate because she is one of the most beloved characters on the show. My fear is that she is being slowly eased out of the show. Really, she is a great potential that is being wasted in this series.

Edith sitting with Michael Gregson
Then there's Edith. Edith has come a long way from the beginning of the series, but I'm still not a big fan of her's either. She continues to see her newspaper editor, Michael Gregson, despite the fact that he is still married (all this screams a little too much like Jane Eyre, except Jane's morality stopped her from pursuing anything further with Mr. Rochester). I would have thought that Edith would be more careful than she had been (and especially having been warned by Matthew in the finale last year to break off the relationship). Oh Edith, Edith, Edith... What are we going to do with you? She can be more of a sympathetic character in this series, but at the same time, I wonder at some of the choices she makes. Spoiler I do applaud her that when she becomes pregnant, she does keep her child. End of Spoiler

Lady Rose at her coming out.
And then there's Lady Rose. Rose now has a more permanent place at Downton, Cora being her guardian while Rose's parents are in India (with O'Brien I might add, but more on that later). I didn't like her when she first entered the show last series... and I'm still not sure about her this series. Do I hate her? No. But do I like her? No. My guess is that she was brought in last series as a replacement for Lady Sybil; if that is the case, she is a poor substitute for Sybil. While Sybil was rebellious, there was a sweetness about her that you couldn't help but like her; she truly wanted to help people and if that meant rebelling, so be it. With Rose, she is rebellious for rebellion's sake... or better still, to anger her mother. She is probably one of my least liked characters in the show, though she doesn't cross the line to where I hate her.

Cora and Robert on Robert's return from America
I thought Robert was going to have a bigger role in this series, and at the beginning of the series there was evidence to support this (for instance, I thought that Robert was going to put up more of a fight to Mary's getting involved with the estate). But as the series went on, to me Robert seemed like another minor character -- taking a back seat to everything else that was going on. In fact, the last episode of the regular series, he was away in America until the last couple of minutes where he returns to Downton. Cora had more of a role in this series with the multiple departures of lady's maids.

The lady's maids of Downton. Anna with Baxter.
Speaking of Cora's lady's maids, it's revealed almost right away that Cora's lady's maid, O'Brien, has left to work for Lady Flintshire (Lady Rose's mother), prompting Cora to hire another lady's maid. Enter Edna Braithwaithe from last year's Christmas special who had designs on Tom Branson. Edna is still dislikable and up to no good and preys upon Branson. Luckily, she doesn't last long: four episodes into the series, she was gone. Good riddance! But Cora just can't seem to find decent lady's maids! But then enter Baxter, Cora's (permanent?) lady's maid. Baxter is a quiet character who is being blackmailed by Thomas (she has to report everything that she sees to him, like a spy) because he can ruin her. It is apparent quickly that she doesn't want to help Thomas. Mr. Molesley, who is now a footman after losing his valet's job, befriends Baxter and encourages her to stand up to Thomas. Though there are still many unanswered questions about Baxter, I have high hopes for her. I'm also curious to know what her back story is.

The Bates
Anna and Bates take up a pretty major focus in this series, and I grew tired of the whole Anna/Bates storyline back in Series 2. Why do they keep focusing on Anna and Bates? They seriously need to back off with these two. But despite all that, I did feel sympathy for Anna in her story. This part of the subplot Spoiler which really started when Anna was attacked by Lord Gillingham's valet, Green, End of Spoiler caused a major uproar in the U.K. when it aired, and rightfully so. I'm sorry that the show went in this direction: the plot didn't need to go in this direction and, though Downton can be more PG-13 at times, it was something that was unexpected from Downton. The Anna/Bates plotline took a dark turn with this event thrown in. You might not look at Bates the same way again Spoiler since it looks as if he extracted revenge from Green End of Spoiler.

As with the previous series, the scenery continues to be one of the highlights of the show. Compared with the other series, this series has more places that are shown. Lady Rosamund's home is explored more in this series because Edith goes up to London to visit Michael Gregson quite a bit (though there is a question of where the Crawley's London house went). Dance halls are also more involved in this series because Rose likes to go dancing. And in the Christmas special (which does not take place during Christmas), Buckingham Palace is present

The costuming continues to be great, but since I'm not a fan of 1920s fashions, they didn't leave much of an imprint on me. Lady Mary continues to have great dresses, but she seemed to come out of mourning quickly (she was only in mourning for the first episode). Lady Edith's costuming should win an award for "Most Improved": Edith looks a lot better during the fourth series than she did at the beginning of the show. While Edith looks better than she did, some of her outfits were misses with me; there were a lot of them I was like, "Edith, what are you wearing?" Rose does have a lot of nice dresses that are colorful and youthful. I would almost say that her costuming was just as good as Mary's.

Overall: 3/5
Was this series as bad as I thought it was going to be? No. Was it better than last series? No. Would it have been better if Matthew (and maybe Sybil) had been in this series? Yes. The major focuses of the show that made Downton Abbey popular are gone and so the show had to be taken in a new direction. At this point, I would say it would have been better if they had stopped at the third series and finished everything off nicely. I'm sorry: Downton's former glory just isn't there anymore and I suspect it isn't coming back. It's still renewed for a fifth series, so I'll continue to watch Downton, but I don't see it lasting beyond Series 5. (Of course, I said the same thing last year).

The major questionable content lies in the third episode of the series Spoiler where Anna is attacked by Green End of Spoiler. I was expecting the scene to be a lot more graphic than it was from what I saw people on Facebook saying, but it can nevertheless be disturbing. There is some scandal talked about concerning Edith and Michael Gregson. There are also some suggestive implications that result in pregnancy Spoiler one of which turns out to be false End of Spoiler.

Downton Abbey is airing on PBS now, but will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 28th. There are eight episodes and a Christmas special included in this series.


  1. Thanks for your great synopsis! I was glued to my TV last night, cup of tea in hand. I do agree, a lot of the luster has gone from the series but I will still watch to get some sort of fix:)

    1. I know, right? I keep watching because I want to know what's going to happen next, but at the same time, I wish it was more like the beginning of the series.

  2. I've heard so much about this series. I am considering at least watching the first season someday, but it has never really jumped out and grabbed me and demanded my attention, even though I am curious to see what everyone is talking about. I like more of the adventure movies myself - but the costumes. I love the costumes from what I've seen and I think I would have fun watching it for that alone.

    1. The first season is in my opinion the best, although the second season is very good too. The first season leaves off on a cliffhanger, so the second season finishes off any cliffhangers. I will warn you that the third season is a bit of a dud and the fourth isn't better, but I find that happens a lot with British period series: the first two seasons are usually the best and later seasons aren't very good. But nevertheless, I recommend Downton.

  3. Great review! I hadn't really realized Violet playing less of a prominent role. I still really liked her in this 4th series, especially her 'friendship' with Isobel.

    I'm also really interested in Baxter's backstory. I really like her so far and her scenes with Molesley are precious (especially the one at the end of the Christmas special)

    I never thought I liked '20s fashion, but there are some things (Rose's dresses, some of the maid's going-out-dresses) I unexpectedly do like!

  4. I'm waiting for you to do a Death Comes to Pemberley review ;D I have some mixed feelings about it!

  5. I have to disagree with you about Violet. It seemed that her and Isobel got far more interaction then in previous seasons making it all more enjoyable. I found myself not missing Matthew(I must not be all that attached to the character). All in all it was a pleasant surprise how much I enjoyed this season.


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