Before there was Downton Abbey there was Upstairs Downstairs!
The 2010 version of Upstairs Downstairs recently aired on Australian television. This is of course an update of the classic series from the 1970’s that ran for 5 years. The links to the original series are that the new episodes take place in the same house, 165 Eaton Place and the new owners Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and his wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) call upon Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) a long-time former servant at the house, to recruit the new downstairs staff for them.
Jean Marsh played the role of Rose in almost all of the original episodes of Upstairs Downstairs and was herself one of the creators of the series, along with Dame Eileen Atkins, who appears as the matriarch Lady Maud Holland in the new series.
The new series takes place in the 1930’s, a troubled time in the UK with the depression and the rise of Fascism in Europe, which had it’s supporters in England. The old King, George V died and his successor Edward VIII abdicated leaving his reluctant brother George VI to inherit the throne.
In the series George VI is a personal friend of Sir Hallam Holland and he is closely involved in all of the business of the royal succession.
The story lines are good and I liked the way they introduced real life characters into them. As well as George VI, Joachim von Ribbentrop Hitler’s ambassador in London and Oswald Moseley leader of the British Union of Fascists were also featured.
I enjoyed the new cast, especially Dame Eileen Atkins who played the bossy and scheming mother of Sir Hallam. Keeley Hawes and Claire Foy, who played her younger sister Lady Persie, are both very attractive, but neither of them could hold a candle to Lesley-Anne Down in her prime, who played Georgina in the original series. Of course Lady Persie was a Nazi sympathiser who left for Germany in the last episode, so that did go some way to making her less attractive.
I have read a lot of negative opinions of the new series on the IMDB boards. But I think it is really unfair to compare these 3 episodes to a series that ran for 5 years and has been seen many times in repeats ever since. Although I enjoyed the new series myself, in many ways I saw these episodes as scene setters, establishing the background and characters for what is to come.
The second series of Upstairs Downstairs is due to be aired in 2012 in the UK so we may not see it until 2013 in Australia, but I hope not. Sadly I have read that Dame Eileen Atkins has withdrawn from the next series, as she was not happy with the way that the story lines were going. That is unfortunate as Lady Maud was a great character, as were Mr. Amanjit, her secretary, played by Art Malik and her monkey, who I can only assume will both have to go too.
If you did not see Upstairs Downstairs you can pick it up on DVD or download it by clicking on any of the links below.
By Max Power
Check out the merchandise from Upstairs Downstairs and it’s rival series Downton Abbey available from the links below