Wartime dramas can signify beauty and disaster. It’s not a pleasant time in history and as a result should not mislead otherwise. In advance, let me apologize for this lengthy, spoiler-y and somewhat frank review as I attempt to share honest thoughts on this controversial second – and reported last, series of a once beloved BBC classic.
The running of 165 Eaton Place is much different in the two years since Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes) and her husband Lord Hallam (Ed Stoppard) were blessed with their son. Following complications, Agnes is about to bring home her second child from a hospital stay as talk of a second war looms in the year 1938. As a secretary to the British Foreign Secretary at Whitehall, Hallam is an important political diplomat. Chamberlain wants peace talks between England and Germany – specifically with Hitler, and signed documents to back them, which Hallam opposes believing that war is inevitable.
Coinciding with all this unrest is the arrival of his aunt Blanche (Alex Kingston), the half sister of Hallam’s recently deceased other. Blanche wastes little time in commandeering his mother’s study, which upsets Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik), the personal secretary and friend of Lady Maud. Protection of his mistress knew no limits and he is loathe to see her memory disrupted.
Downstairs, the one woman everyone depends on takes to her sick bed. Competent from years of experience, housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) is absent from the place she thinks of as home. The meticulous butler, Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) assures his mistress that the household will function properly and so he sets about seeing that 165 runs without anything so much as a crease amiss. Entering into their downstairs family, as a nursery maid, is the pretty Beryl Ballard (Laura Haddock). A girl with big dreams, she catches the fancy of the reformed chauffeur Spargo (Neil Jackson). The unrest now is about to be further upset when the flamboyant Lady Persie (Claire Foy) re-enters their lives only to set her sights on Hallam. All events that will forever alter the once happy balance of 165.
TV MINISERIES REVIEW | Upstairs, Downstairs: Series One (2010)‘UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS,’ SERIES TWO (2012) #FWarchives Click To Tweet
Before diving into the good, bad and ugly, allow me to just say that contrary to what this review suggests, I do not regret seeing this. It broke my heart and made me smile but ultimately (regrettably so) left me feeling empty. New faces and old come together for a longer, darker, more political series. And this re-made BBC production never does capture a “real” magic. To let you in on a little secret, I’m not sure what to think of this follow-up series two. I did know that certain things would disappoint me in way I cannot turn a blind eye to (more on this later) and yet, loving British drama compels me to complete the series.
Sometimes I “overlook” whatever the content is in favor of the story (perhaps because of its historical leanings) or sometimes I do it for surface reasons (the cast or screenwriter). Whatever the reason I usually don’t lightly decide to see something if I have foreknowledge of it being distasteful. Seasoned scriptwriter Heidi Thomas is a British scripter worth her salt; she possesses a talent in holding the audience captive. Her claim to fame is to bring multiple classics to the small screen. However, in this scenario she did a disservice by taking all we like about Blanche and turning it inside out.
If this was Thomas’ one chance at grave errors, than she also messed up by involving Hallam and his tart of a sister-in-law, Persie. I’m sorry if anyone likes her but save for a brief moment, I’m never fond of her. Even by the end when she sobs, I feel nothing. She’s a selfish train wreck that Hallam shouldn’t indulge, and in the end he allows her to ruin his home. Though it’s a “proper” British marriage, he did love his wife. The fact that Agnes’ heart is so broken in a conclusion that is, not satisfying, doesn’t sit well. Though her loyalty does please me, I do root for the prospect she’ll listen to her heart. It’s not a happy ending but given the circumstances, it would be impossible to write any other way.
With all those disappointments, I’ll admit that I did delight in seeing Lotte in a pair of episodes; the young orphan Hallam provides for; plus getting to know the innocent new kitchen maid, Eunice. Equally charming is the banter and gossip of the downstairs staff that counter-acts the depressing topics that overrule the six hours. Sometimes this cheats us out of happy endings but I also recognize that much of the writing is historically intricate. That is another failing. It seems so many of the episodes were over run with political goings on and the consequences of them. (It felt like Thomas fancied this as Foyle’s War.)
The series starts out with tight-plotting and decent humor though the filming begins awkward (there’s a magical sequence between Agnes and Hallam) before everything goes downhill. There are some stunning designs and pretty happenings that almost make up for the failings. If you thought the first series was scandal prone, you haven’t seen anything yet! Open the door of 165 Eaton Place at your own risk.
(Disclosure: this post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you to anyone who makes a purchase through these links. Read the disclosure page for details.)
CONTENT: there are three, possibly four same-sex kisses. One is rejected and is repulsive to the victim, the other’s are between lovers. [There are also two bedroom scenes, sheets appropriate placed as they talk.] A married man carried on an affair with a woman whose past is one long line of ex lovers – prior to that she is pregnant and arranges the service of a woman who provides her with an abortion [non-graphic situations reveal that the fetus is disposed of]. There are implications of an extra marital affair and two bedroom scenes [once he is dressed, the second time they are lying in the sheets]. One woman is shot, another commits suicide. Two scenes involve boxing matches. There is drinking and perhaps a mild profanity or two.