Since the series Upstairs, Downstairs (2010) is very soon going to be on Masterpiece Theatre here in the US, I thought I'd go ahead and review it. I have watched it on YouTube twice, once for my own enjoyment and the second time for this review. This series is by far the best that Masterpiece Classic has to offer this year. Sadly their season has really been very disappointing in it's mature subject matter. I've only seen a few of the previous Upstairs, Downstairs (1971) TV series and they were all right. But I'm always wary of miniseries about servants and their employers because they almost always end up with illicit relationships somewhere. On the other hand friendships between servants and their employers can also be some of the loyalest and dearest. This series had a lot of actors I enjoy in it so I decided to attempt it.
*Spoiler Alert* Even the synopsis contains spoilers.
Synopsis: Six years after the Bellamy family closed 165, Eaton Square diplomat Sir Hallam Holland and his wife Agnes buy the deserted house. They seek staff from an agency run by Rose Buck, once the Bellamys' maid, who provides them with her friend Mrs. Thackeray as cook, Pritchard, a butler whose previous experience was on ocean liners and chauffeur Harry Spargo. Perky Barnardo's orphan Ivy is the new maid and shy Northerner Johnny the footman because they are inexperienced and therefore cheap. Hallam's mother Lady Maude, recently widowed, returns from India with her pet monkey Solomon and an India native secretary, Mr. Amanjit, to whom she is dictating her memoirs. She and Agnes clash over household management,leading to Rose being asked to step in as housekeeper. Maude is, however, adept at taming Persie, Agnes's spoilt young sister but her invitation to Wallis Simpson for the house warming turns sour when the American woman, a known Nazi sympathizer, brings Von Ribbentrop with her. Thus nobody is particularly annoyed with Johnny when the boy spills a drink on the German. However, attitudes change when the footman is arrested for brawling and it turns out that he is on probation for fighting.
My Thoughts: There's so much that is fun and good about this first episode. Seeing the house being opened, servants hired, and the house prepared for the first party is exciting. There's also an interesting piece of history being played out as King Edward VII of England has died and his son Edward VIII "David" has come to the throne. This is just before his abdication to marry Wallis Simpson and his brother George V "Albert" will take the throne at a difficult time just before WWII. Sir Hallam Holland is friends with "Albert" (portrayed without a speech impediment) and Wallis Simpson shows up at the Holland's party. This episode is also fairly clean. The maid Ivy and the footman Johnny fancy each other and there's two brief scenes where they are flirting and planning on spending the night together, nothing happens between them though. Their plans end when Ivy playfully locks Johnny out of her room, he goes to a pub and gets into a fight where a man is cut by a broken piece of glass. Johnny is taken away by the police for violating his probation. Agnes Holland's sister Persie is a flighty rebellious young lady and it's clear she's looking for a little more to life. Sir Hallam's mother Lady Maude is a spunky free-thinking character who is fun to watch. She helps Persie be more open and not so self-pitying but unfortunately it doesn't really help the girl.
Episode 2: The Ladybird
Synopsis: Lady Agnes learns that she is pregnant and is wary following several, unsuccessful attempts. A new maid arrives, Rachel, a Jewess fleeing persecution in Germany. Hallam must meet another refugee, the Abyssinian emperor dethroned by Mussolini and he becomes aware of the fragility of world peace. Rachel gets on particularly well with Mr. Amanjit, as fellow 'foreigners' and brings him into the staff's social circle. She also tells him that she has a child, Lotte, looked after by a minder. Lady Persie and Spargo become lovers, united in their admiration for the Fascist politics of Oswald Moseley and attend a rally in Whitechapel where Rachel and Mr. Amanjit are among the many protesters. Persie is arrested but Rachel dies and Hallam, a committed anti-Fascist, vows to care for Lotte.
My Thoughts: This is the most intense of the episodes in this series. The intense scenes center around Persie's obsession with the chaffer Spargo and the Nazi sympathizer rallies they go to. These is one scene in particular where Persie and Spargo donned in uniforms attend a street rally/parade that is broken up by the police and a fight breaks out with the mob of protesters. There are also at least 2 scenes where Persie and Spargo kiss and embrace, it's clear that they have been intimate but those scenes are not shown. Persie is at this point a self-centered brat and two are misguided by their passion and the flowery words of the speakers they listen to. Else where Rachel, a new Jewish maid starts work at the Holland's and she does a great deal of good in drawing Mr. Amanjit into the servant's social circle and in being a friend/mother figure to young housemaid Ivy. Sadly she is sick and doesn't last long. Her daughter Lotte becomes a part of the family and it's neat to see Sir Hallam making her their responsibility. There are some very sweet scenes between Ivy and Lotte, as they remember Rachel.
Episode 3: The Cuckoo
Synopsis: Mrs. Thackeray (the cook) is enchanted by a meeting with society photographer Cecil Beaton, who takes a glamorous snap of her, rather to Rose's annoyance. The Duke of Kent persuades Hallam to throw a dinner party at which plans are made to forge a compromise should the king marry Mrs. Simpson, though the problem is solved by the abdication. Lady Maud believes that Lotte, virtually an elected mute since her mother's death, should have psychiatric help and takes her to a residential home. In pursuing them Hallam discovers that Pamela, the sister he thought had died but actually has Downs Syndrome, is also there, a fact Maud has thought it her duty to keep from him.Whilst Hallam gains a sister Agnes loses hers as Persie, now a committed Fascist, throws over the repentant Spargo to go to Germany with Von Ribbentrop. Agnes goes into labour and Pritchard assists Lady Maud in delivering her baby. The grateful family grant him a favour - the reinstatement of Johnny, now released from Borstal. Christmas 1936 sees - barring the absent Persie - a house united, both upstairs and downstairs.
My Thoughts: This is another fun episode. Of course it is the culmination and finale of the story. I particularly enjoy the scene where Mrs. Thackeray, the cook, ventures upstairs and gets her one moment of glory when the famous photographer takes her picture. There's some fun scenes between Ivy and Lotte. The relationship between Persie and the chaffer Spargo becomes rocky when Persie tries daring stunts and uses Spargo for her own gain. I'm so glad he starts to wise up and realize that the Fascists are only causing more trouble, but saddened that Persie decides she wants more than the love and morality her family offers. There are one or two scenes of them in pajamas caressing and talking but they're not bad. There is a scene included where Lady Agnes delivers her baby at home but it's a very brief scene with no mess. The ending scenes of the family and staff together are so touching.
Faces You May Recognize:
- Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes Holland - I enjoy the characters sweetness and kindness of the character. She's young and trying her best to run the household, she must learn to accept help from others. Sometimes she is too easily persuaded by her mother-in-law but most of the time it turns out for the best.
- Ed Stoppard as Sir Hallam Holland - I haven't seen him in anything else but I really enjoyed seeing the development of his character. He's a good friend, son, husband and father. The second viewing his character really stood out to me.
- Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud Holland - Her character is spunky and sometimes overbearing, but she means well. She usually does what it best, but her advice and actions does sometimes go awry.
- Claire Foy as Lady Persephone "Persie" - This character is so unlike Amy from Little Dorrit, and I couldn't like the character, but this just goes to show what a good actress Ms. Foy is.
- Blake Ritson as Duke of Kent (George V) - I enjoy this historical character but unfortunately Mr. Ritson plays him too much like Mr. Elton in Emma 2009. His affected way of talking in a half whisper is rather annoying.
- Jean Marsh as Rose Buck, housekeeper - A very kind but firm lady, she keeps the household running and helps the servants through their difficulties. It's so neat that this same actress played a housemaid in the 1970's series and now gets to play the housekeeper.
- Adrian Scarborough as Mr. Pitchard, butler - Anyone who enjoys Cranford will recognize him as Mr. Johnson the shopkeeper. He's rather an imposing figure but has a very kind heart.
- Anne Reid as Mrs. Thackeray, cook - She's very particular about somethings but her little hopes and dreams are very sweet. And she's very kind. If you've seen Bleak House then you'll recognize her as Mrs. Rouncewell the Lady Dedlock's housekeeper.
- Ellie Kendrick as Ivy Morris, housemaid - Her character is young and sometimes foolish but she's sweet and progresses very well under Miss Buck's hand. If you've seen The Diary of Anne Frank (2009) then you'll recognize her as Anne.
I really enjoyed this miniseries, much more than I thought I would. It's surprisingly clean. There are definitely some themes that are a bit more adult but they're done very well I think. I enjoy the friendships that blossom between the staff and their employers. They really look out for each other and work together. I also like that the series shows all of their stories and doesn't focus on just one, their stories are all important. The scenes, costumes and music were all beautiful! I recommend this but advise the viewer to be cautious. This is definitely not quite as clean as a Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation. But like I've said it's done very well.
Very Truly Your's,