Battles of words, and of greater import, ratings were waged between BBC’s continuation of the classic series and ITV’s recent spin Downton Abbey. From my understanding the latter came in just over the top (at least ratings wise) but with such a similar plot line, it’s sometimes distracting to know which was better.
Upstairs, Downstairs, Series One (2011) BBC TV Review
165 Eaton Place has been empty for far longer than any house should be. It was shuttered shortly after the owner acquires the stylish place, but its layers upon layers of dust make it a poor prospect. Nevertheless, the young couple who have taken residence in the home see prospect. Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) brings his beloved wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) home. Not someone to let dust and shadows deter her, Agnes prepares to take everything in hand; she’s going to make the home sparkle with life again. First, she must seek a staff.
Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) instantly recognizes Lady Agnes’ address having been in service to the previous family for many years. Knowing the amount of money the Holland’s are prepared to pay won’t be likely to bring more experienced workers to their home, Rose sets about finding a competent, yet small staff. As this takes place, Agnes’ younger, flamboyant sister Persie (Claire Foy) arrives in a flurry of excitement. Only invited in anticipation of the London season, Agnes hopes for only the best for her young sister, something that may cause Agnes more grief than she was expecting.
With their staff in place, misfits consisting of an orphaned upstairs maid with a plucky attitude; a troubled young footman; a chauffer whom Persie takes a decided interest in; and a butler (Adrian Scarborough) who’s only experience is from the high seas, Lady Agnes hosts a small soirée. Clashing with her live-in mother-in-law was not Agnes’ intentions but when Maud (Eileen Atkins) invites the scandalous Mrs. Simpson, instead of the king whom everyone assumes will be her guest, she brings into their home a German with Nazi ties.
From there, their home goes into turmoil, from which they might not recover…
TV MINISERIES REVIEW | Upstairs, Downstairs: Series Two (2012)‘UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS,’ SERIES ONE (2011) #FWarchives Click To Tweet
As I read up on this, I read a reviewer’s thoughts who comments on how difficult it is not to draw comparisons between this and Downton Abbey. That’s inevitable, for a variety of reasons. Downton Abbey’s writing is much superior over this mini-series. Even still, that doesn’t negate that this three-episode production is a lot of fun. During those first few moments, it is crucial to set up an intriguing production. There isn’t confusion exactly, but there also isn’t as much of a pull to engage us in these characters lives either. It’s a slow build up to that point and hopefully with another season, it will improve.
Originally this has a classification as a re-make before an adjoining continuation of the classic series. Being someone who is a newbie to the entire collection, it didn’t bother nor hamper the effectiveness of the scope of the series. I didn’t feel lost in those regards or like I should be visiting the original first. The cast is quite impressive, although over half weren’t familiar to me. Regardless, the ladies stole the show. Between the always adorable Keeley Hawes and screen legend Eileen Atkins (both of whom depict characters that are sometimes hard to like), there wasn’t much room for the rest of the talent!
One of the series driving forces are the politics. Persie becomes involved in some radical group that, I must confess, didn’t explain itself very clearly. Apparently it’s a German cause, and talk revolves around socialists. The second episode “Ladybird” deals mostly in the politics, all of which do come full circle in the final hour. This all plays a greater role for one of the central characters as it shows her true colors; an entity that all but seals this show’s fate.
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CONTENT: young staff members flirt and Ivy tantalizes Johnny with her body as he is peeking under the door while she is bathing [she promises “later” – that turns into some kissing outside her door after which he is forced to leave when she locks her door]. Persie takes a lover, although each time we see them lying in one another’s arm, they are clothed; there is a lot of kissing and caressing. An unmarried lady runs off with a womanizer. After losing his temper in a tavern, a man punches a fellow patron who badly cuts his neck on a shard of glass. A political rally turns dangerous.