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.
on September 29, 2001
This British series is in a "class" by itself. It's characters are unforgettable, the acting inspired and the backdrop evocative - Edwardian England from 1904 into the 1930s. The story evolves around the aristocractic Bellamy family "Upstairs" and their servants "Downstairs," but it is not a soap opera. It is as genuine, real and honest as any period production, or for that matter, any production, that I have ever seen. The characters grapple with the same struggles that we continue to confront in mordern-day America: love, loss, coming of age, morality, prejudice, death, economics, social responsibility, freedom and the search for life's ultimate meaning - concluding with the horrendous effects of a World War and its devastating aftermath. This unflinching look at history as well as a truly timeless, engaging saga is not to be missed. I genuinely rejoice that such a remarkable treasure is finally available on DVD. Originally broadcast on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.
on December 12, 1999
This is the first season of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, possibly the best loved drama series ever made. The quality of this boxed set is wonderful, and the first thirteen episodes do a first rate job in setting up the plots and characters. We see the Bellamy family and their loyal servants from November 1903 to June 1909 in all their triumphs and tragedies. Of the 13 episodes, my personal favorites are THE MISTRESS AND THE MAIDS, BOARD WAGES, and A CRY FOR HELP. Ironically, these are of the five black and white episodes that have never been shown on American television. The Second and Third seasons are also on video, and I highly recommend them. Unfortunately, the Fourth season that dealt with World War One, and the Fifth Season, which was the last, are not yet available. I hope they come out soon. Finally, Upstairs Downstairs: The Premiere Season is excellent, collect the whole series!
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.
A staunch supporter of the original "Upstairs, Downstairs," I was more than a little intrigued when an updating was announced. A true piece of television history for five seasons of groundbreaking drama, the modernization certainly had a lot to live up to. So I was very surprised that this promised series only had three episodes--and it was actually a sequel of sorts as opposed to a re-imagining. Well, the truth of the matter is--this version definitely lacks the bite and complexity of the original series. But with such a limited running time, I suppose that was to be expected. However, the resultant product (while perhaps not the stuff of TV legend) is a fitfully entertaining confection in its own right. Glossy, well produced, well acted--this version may be slightly superficial, but it sure is likable enough.
Set several years after 165 Eaton Place closed it doors, the current series is set in 1936 at the precipice of world conflict. New inhabitants (Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes) move onto the premises and must rebuild the house to its former glory. Hawes enlists the aid of an employment specialist (Jean Marsh reprising the infamous role of Rose, but with a bit less pluck) to staff the quarters. Complicating matters, the indomitable Eileen Atkins (cue expected Emmy nomination) is on hand as the free spirited, but strong willed mother in law. The introductory episode plays largely to comedic conventions as Hawes and Atkins engage in subtle warfare. Each episode gets progressively darker, with the rise of fascism playing as the predominant plot point in the second show. And for the finale, things wrap up pretty conveniently for everyone. This is not meant to be a dark historical treatment--the unpleasant backdrop is really secondary to the antics of the cast. It's entertaining soap opera mayhem against the backdrop of history.
Again, forty years from now, this won't be considered the enduring classic that its predecessor is. But that's really not its intent. The cast is fun and engaging--there isn't quite the pronounced distinction between Upstairs and Downstairs that helped define the original. Funny and touching, it's hard not to be enchanted by this show even with its more fluffy approach. I thought everyone was great--but once again, Atkins takes the prize for most valuable player. Haughty, hysterical, and surprisingly down to earth--she will be what I remember most about this contemporary visit to the legendary 165 Eaton Place. And if you haven't seen the original, do so. KGHarris, 4/11.
on July 7, 2000
I pre-ordered this set when it appeared on the website and recently received my copy to get me through the summer re-runs. I was so thrilled to see the superb boxed set, and was doubly impressed at the quality of the recording both visually and in terms of sound.
Upstairs, Downstairs is the saga of the Bellamy family and their household staff in the early 20th century. Throughout the series their lives, loves, tragedies and triumphs are portrayed. This set of 13 episodes includes the COMPLETE first season as seen in Britain, including some black and white episodes never seen on tv in the US. In the first episode we are introduced to the colorful Sarah (Pauline Collins), in the second (B&W episode) Lady Marjorie has her portrait painted only to discover at the Royal Academy Show that the artist has also painted two half-naked maids in an attic room (possibly Bellamy maids?). In episodes 3 and 4 (B&W) we are introduced to the children, James and Elizabeth Bellamy. Episodes 5 and 6 show us the romance between Elizabeth Bellamy and a German Baron (and it's dark underside), and the pregnancy of the new maid, Mary. More familiar episodes to the US audience come in #7 and #8, Lady Marjorie is spellbound with a young army captain who is friends with her son James, and Emily (the annoying kitchen maid) falls for a neighboring family's footman, with disastrous results. Episodes 9 and 10 have Mrs. Bridges, the cook, behaving in a most improper way and stealing a baby, and the erstwhile Sarah returns with a new plan to improve her social standing. The two penultimate episodes in this set include the further adventures of Sarah the housemaid with a Swedish valet, and the further adventures of the Bellamy's daughter, Elizabeth, with a group of young Socialists. Finally we are left with the now estranged Elizabeth Bellamy and her relationship with a leftist poet, Lawrence Kirbridge--and a great eagerness to own the next 13 episodes, now also available.
Upstairs, Downstairs is the classic "Masterpiece Theater" series, with costumes, drama, comedy, and riveting characters that we take to our hearts. If you are a fan of more recent costume dramas on A&E and PBS, you will very much enjoy this early series which holds up remarkably well, after nearly two decades. Treat yourself--you won't regret it. And, the set is very reasonably priced here at Amazon.com (I saw the same thing in a catalogue for $149.99)
This is the first series of Upstairs, Downstairs. Chronicling the lives of masters and servants in a Belgravia townhouse, Updown, as it is affectionately known, covers about twentyfive years. The first series lasts from about 1903 to 1908. It introduces most of the main characters of the entire chronicle, barring a few later additions to the caste. Most of this first series concerns the career of Sarah, who has the impertinence to come to the front door when she applies for the position of parlormaid in the first episode. We also see the early stages of the career of Elizabeth Bellamy, daughter of the house, as she rebels against the path her life is expected to take by her parents. Some of the episodes in this first series were filmed in black and white, due to a cameramen's strike. I find these particularly effective in portraying the barrenness of life below stairs. Some of the episodes are a bit off target, especially The Swedish Tiger, which is just plain weird, but remember the series had not yet reached classic status when these episodes were filmed. The first series is a great way to start your acquaintance with the residents of 165 Eaton Place.
Savour the wonderful premiere series of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS in this great DVD box set.
The saga of the Bellamy family and their lively, loyal servants at 165 Eaton Place went on to span 5 series and countless awards. In the legendary first series we are introduced to politician Richard Bellamy (David Langton), his beautiful wife Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney) and their children James (Simon Williams) and Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett). Downstairs, their staff, Hudson the butler (Gordon Jackson), Mrs Bridges the cook (Angela Baddeley), Rose the maid (Jean Marsh) and Emily the scullery maid (Evin Crowley) attempt to uphold their own values whilst coming to grips with an ever-changing world.
Originally-devised by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, the series explored the day-to-day life of servant and master in the Edwardian period, a time of great political and social upheaval. The series later took the Bellamy family into the First World War (Series 4, regarded by most as the greatest), the 1920s flapper period and the impending Stock Market crash (Series 5).
As the series opens, it is the year 1903, and great changes are afoot for the Bellamy family.
"On Trial" - Into the structured Bellamy household whirls the unconventional free-spirit Clemence Delise (Pauline Collins) who is applying for the new position of parlourmaid. After Lady Marjorie re-names the girl Sarah, she is quickly inducted into the residence, but it soon becomes clear that Sarah's true calling isn't in domestic service.
"The Mistress and the Maids" - Lady Marjorie sits for an important society painter, but it's Sarah who enflames his creative talents.
"Board Wages" - When the Bellamy's leave London for the weekend, Sarah and the servants are left to their own devices. But when James unexpectedly returns home early, Sarah is thrown into a dilemma which could see her walk away from Eaton Place.
"The Path of Duty" - Elizabeth returns home from a German finishing school, but her stubborn, willful streak is still very much intact. When she must make her formal society debut, Elizabeth exposes her parents to a huge scandal by running away.
"A Suitable Marriage" - The visiting Baron von Rimmer seems the perfect prospective husband for Elizabeth...or is he?
"A Cry for Help" - Richard becomes entangled in scandal when the new maid appeals for his assistance in a delicate private matter.
"Magic Casements" - Lady Marjorie enjoys a tender but brief affair with one of James' military friends.
"I Dies from Love" - Emily becomes infatuated with a footman, leading to dire consequences when her affections are not returned.
"Why Was Her Door Locked?" - An emotionally-distraught Mrs Bridges plunges the Bellamy family into disgrace when she kidnaps a baby.
"A Voice from the Past" - Whilst helping in a soup kitchen, James and Elizabeth stumble onto a homeless Sarah, and decide to take her back to Eaton Place. The situation becomes complicated when Elizabeth learns of James' affair with Sarah during her previous employment at the house.
"The Swedish Tiger" - Sarah becomes a pawn in a plan to rob the Bellamy's of priceless antiques.
"The Key of the Door" - Elizabeth comes of age, but her headstrong attitude once again causes friction with her parents, when she befriends Evelin Larkin and her group of socialists.
"For Love of Love" - Elizabeth finally marries poet Lawrence Kirbridge at the request of her parents, and James rekindles his affair with Sarah, who is now a music-hall singer.
Due to a technician's strike in 1971, the first six episodes were taped in black-and-white, and an alternate colour version of the first episode was filmed later on, for broadcasters who didn't wish to screen the black and white episodes. In the colour broadcasts, Sarah leaves at the end of the first episode "On Trial", but the complete B&W/colour inclusive series has her leave at the end of "Board Wages". UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS is still often aired without the crucial black and white episodes, but the DVD edition includes the complete story arc with no omissions and both versions of the "On Trial" episode.
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.
on July 2, 2002
It is no exaggeration to say that this classic early 70's British period drama is one of the all-time best series of its sort ever produced; in fact, it is the yardstick against which all other period dramas have been measured ever since. Five series were produced in total (on five boxed sets), and the entire series covers a time span of nearly 30 years (from early Edwardian England in 1903, through the horrors of the First World War, the Roaring 20s, and finally concluding with 1929`s stock market crash).
The setting is the household of the Bellamy family at 165 Eaton Place, London. Upstairs live Richard Bellamy, MP, and his beautiful, aristocratic wife, Lady Margery. The Bellamys have two adult children, Captain James and Elizabeth, who come and go much like a recurring motif (though recurring nightmare might be more appropriate, for they are the source of much grief (albeit unintended) for their society parents). I don't wish to give the storylines, scandals and surprises away. Suffice it to say that as the series progress, there are lovers, marriages, births and deaths (not to mention the arrival of a beautiful young niece) which impact on the relationships and alter the composition of the group above stairs.
Downstairs we are privy to the lives of the servants in the Bellamy household. First and foremost is the devout, inflexible and regimental head butler, Angus Hudson, the staff overlord. Then there is the curmudgeonly but good-hearted cook, Mrs. Bridges. Other memorable characters to whom we are introduced in the first series include the efficient but sheltered head house/parlour maid, Rose Buck; the religious but simple footman, Alfred; the not-overly-bright scullery maid, Emily; and Lady Margery's prim and snobbish lady's maid, Miss Roberts. Of course, one simply cannot forget the sassy, vivacious new under house/parlour maid, Sarah (Pauline Collins), who is a real dreamer and schemer. Like the family upstairs, the downstairs "family" too has its share of comings and goings, what with lovers, marriages, deaths, hirings, and firings.
The first through fourth boxed sets cover series one through four respectively, and each set contains thirteen 50-minute episodes on seven tapes. The final boxed set (series five) contains sixteen 50-minute episodes on eight tapes.
Series one and two cover the Edwardian period from 1903 to King Edward's death in 1910. There is little change in the household throughout these two series, and although the entire series is spectacular, these first two sets are my favourite. Series three covers the period from 1912 to the start of WWI. Series four covers the war (1914-1918), and its depiction of the realities of war from the human standpoint is unsurpassed, making series four a very, very strong series indeed. Series five covers the twenties.
In conclusion, this is quite simply an outstanding dramatic series. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that it is required viewing for anyone who enjoys first-rate period drama. But its appeal is broad enough to be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys compelling, captivating, and often thought-provoking drama; and if you enjoy a dramatic series with lots of "goings on," scandal, and so forth, you'll enjoy it all the more! I usually recommend buying the first boxed set and then, if you like it, buying the rest. This is one series about which I have no hesitation in recommending that you go ahead and purchase the lot; you won't regret it--it's simply THAT good! And those who've enjoyed Upstairs Downstairs, will surely enjoy The Duchess of Duke Street (both of which were produced by John Hawkesworth). Extremely highly recommended!