I haven’t actually watched the old “Upstairs Downstairs,” but it’s pretty much become the standard of historical dramas where we see both the aristocrats and the servants.
So I was deeply intrigued by the news that the BBC was reviving the show for a new three-episode miniseries, serving as a sequel to the original series. It’s a sleek, glittering affair with lots of actual historical figures and events, but the story never forgets that the real focus is on the people both upstairs and downstairs.
The year is 1936. George V has just died, his feckless son is involved with Mrs. Simpson, and Hitler is on the rise. Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) move into 165 Eaton Place, intending to turn the “mausoleum” into a livable house. So they employ Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), who was once a maid at their house, to find them some suitable servants.
Soon the house has plenty of new inhabitants. Downstairs: fussy but kind butler Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), snobby cook Mrs.Thackeray (Anne Reid), hot-tempered footman Johnny (Nico Mirallegro), and others. Upstairs: Agnes’ snotty fascist sister Persie (Claire Foy), and Sir Hallam’s bossy globe-trotting mother Maud (Dame Eileen Atkins) and her warmhearted secretary Amanjit (Art Malik).
And while Lady Agnes hoped to have the “perfect” home, 165 Eaton Place is soon rocked by a series of problems — an arrest, dabblings in fascism, a pregnancy, a birth, a death, constant friction between Maud and Agnes, and the discovery of secret children upstairs and down.
Technically the new “Upstairs Downstairs” is a sequel to the old one, but it’s not necessary to have seen the older “Upstairs Downstairs” to understand what’s going on. There are some nods and references — particularly the presence of housemaid-turned-housekeeper Rose — but it’s mostly a self-contained story.
The writers do a great job of packing a whole season’s worth of drama, sorrow, joy and soap-opera mayhem into just three hours, but somehow it never feels rushed. And they also do an adept job at weaving the story of 165 Eaton Place together with real-life events — Ribbentrop and Simpson make cameos, Persie becomes involved with fascism, and Hallam is good friends with the Duke of York (later the king).
And it has a talented cast of well-respected actors (Keeley Hawes, Dame Aileen Atkins, the weirdly stiff Ed Stoppard, Adrian Scarborough, Art Malik and of course Jean Marsh), as well as a few newbies (Nico Mirallegro, Ellie Kendrick). The only problematic character is Claire Foy’s — Persephone is such a selfish, repulsive character that it’s pretty much impossible to care what happens to her.
“Upstairs Downstairs” is a solid miniseries that stands on its own merits, but leaves the door open just in case. Juicy, dramatic and very entertaining.
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Here’s the old and new UP/Down info. After airing of “The Forsyte Saga” (a must series also), Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh dreamed up the “Upstairs Downstairs” concept. Jean stared as Rose in the 70s TV blockbuster, and now continues that role in the continuation of the story on Brit TV (Dec ’10). 3 episodes (alas only 3) advance the story now to 1936, with a new cast (excepting Marsh who is in both the old and new) and also now including Atkins as Maud. You get the same house, same music, same title. After “Upstairs Downstairs” the pair of actresses combined again in creating “The House of Elliott”, another period saga, bloody good Brit drama, an absolute must own “complete collection.”
No disappointment from me or my wife with the 2010 3 episode addition compared to the older TV blockbuster series. The new cast keeps up the believable, compelling stories and character delight. Rose and the house (+ music) gives the old lovers the flavor of the past, even if the interior has been redecorated to 1936. It takes only the 1st episode to fall in love with the new upstairs and downstairs families of 165. Excellent cast. With the long bonus feature, there is a hint at more. For me…like handing a fat man a box of chocolates and asking, “Do you want more?” YES!
Interesting that they had the “to be King Geo VI” in the show, prior to the abdication of his King brother, and he did not stutter. After the success of “The King’s Speech” about the same time as this series release, that bit of trivia is evident.
As for the original “Upstairs Downstairs” series. It is 27-year span epic winning 9 Emmys, 2 BAFTAs, Golden Globe & a Peabody Award, 31 nominations. The aristocratic Bellamy’s of 165 Eaton Place, London, live upstairs over the downstairs clockwork servant aid led by butler Hudson (Gordon Jackson). Classic Edwardian masterful plots in this funny and dramatic back time-travel over 3 decades inside the Bellamy house. A crowning British achievement in the 70′s and worth owning today. Since it’s period drama it never goes out of style. It’s a British TV saga classic.
Sir Richard Bellamy MP (David Langton) and Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney) have heir Lt James (Simon Williams) and Miss Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett-`A Bit of a Do’) who need quite a crew downstairs to keep their house in order. Mrs. Bridges (Angela Brddeley) cooks up a storm, while maid Rose (Jean Marsh, co-creator) helps keep linens and affairs tidy. The pilot (an alternate plot pilot available) introduces new servant Sarah (Pauline Collins), who adds saucy spice to the house on both ends of the stairs. Footman Alfred (George Innes) who quotes Bible, Perce (Brian Osborne) is lady’s-man coachman during carriage years, Thomas (John Alderton) chauffeur in later auto episodes. The star studded cast is endless. I strongly recommend you get the 40th Collection and see it while waiting for the new 21st century produced episodes DVD to be released.
This newest release (40th Anniversary Collection) provides 21 discs in 5 solid cases all in the anniversary storage sleeve. Quite an improvement from the earlier release. 68 episodes, each about 50 min. Add 25 bonus hrs and you have a value, not to mention the dynamic dramatic entertainment including romance, mystery, drama, historical significance, humor, suspense, & more. Episodes 2,3,4,5,&7 are B/W due to a technicians strike. Pilot was remade in color. The features + bonus time total divided by the current Amazon price makes the HOURLY entertainment cost less than $1.87. A VALUE! Compare that to the new release with only 3 episodes.
SUBTITLES-Anniversary set OFFERS SUBTITLES,like the new episodes. Helpful for some of us. A Jean Marsh memories insert is included and created in Oct. 2010.
And YES, I bought the new 3 episodes to go with the older episodes. And hoping for more.
One the biggest Masterpiece Mysteries is why the producers released the new “Upstairs Downstairs” in the same season as “Downton Abbey” to which it simply cannot compare.
The sets and constumes are elegant; the actors are excellent–Eileen Atkins as the Countess is superb; and Jean Marsh is her same delightful self as Rose, who is now the Housekeeper–but it is as if the producers/writers have crammed too many ideas into too short a time. Three not-quite one-hour episodes are not enough. The story is choppy. Instead of being developed, the characters have been served to us in a narrative shorthand: the brittle haughty wife; the nobly motivated husband; the perversely promiscuous sister; the equally promiscuous but good-hearted maid; the footman, who is a barking fascist in one episode but then, in the next episode, has a sudden unexplained change of heart. All have been set against a sketchy historical background of social and political problems of the ’30s: the problem of members of the upper classes who supported the fascists; the problem of European refugees; the problem of what to do with mentally challenged relatives of the aristocracy; the problems of class and race.
Various notable personages drift in and out of the house briefly: foreign minister Anthony Eden; German ambassador von Ribbentrop; Mrs. Simpson; the Duke of Kent (presumably Bertie was occupied in another film with his speech lessons); society photographer Cecil Beaton (in a scene with the cook that would have been delightful had it not been hastily imposed onto the narrative without much point). Furthermore, the historical element has been inserted into the story so perfunctorily that unless one is thoroughly familiar with it (as one should be, ideally), the viewer might wonder who this Anthony person is, who keeps bossing Lord Hallam about.
There are lots of excellent possibilities in respect to this series, but they need to be developed over time: six or seven one-and-a-half hour episodes, are recommended.