Author Topic: Upstairs Downstairs, 165 Eaton Square....2011! (Well, 1936, but who's counting)  (Read 12247 times)

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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“I’m reminded of the late author and only daughter of a British Army Officer Dame Barbara Cartland,
who was asked by a journalist, ‘Has the class system really broken down?’ She said to the journalist,
‘Well, of course it has”, the famous Dame retorted,  “or I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.”

--Writer of the USDS 2010 series, Heidi Thomas





Rose, Fetch Her Ladyship a Sequel
Published: April 1, 2011

From left, Ellie Kendrick, Keeley Hawes, Adrian Scarborough, Jean Marsh and Nico Mirallegro
in the new “Upstairs Downstairs” on “Masterpiece.”

Some members of the former "Upstairs, Downstairs" cast, from left: Jean Marsh (the original and still
present Rose), Simon Williams, Angela Baddeley, David Langton and Gordon Jackson.


THIRTY-FOUR years ago the door closed firmly and finally on 165 Eaton Place, the longtime home in London of the upper-crust Bellamy family and its retinue of servants. Before the end the parlor maid, Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), took one final walk through the empty rooms, the ghosts of the past swirling and murmuring around her. She glanced back as she left and saw the sign on the front of the house: “For Sale.”

“Upstairs, Downstairs” was the longest-running and, according to a survey of viewers a few years back, best-loved series ever broadcast on “Masterpiece” (formerly and more familiarly known as “Masterpiece Theater”) on public television. It ran for 55 episodes over four seasons in the United States, won seven Emmy Awards and was shown in 70 countries. When it was over in 1977, Alistair Cooke, the program’s host, said there should be a national day of mourning. Viewers who elaborately planned their Sundays around the show in that prehistoric pre-VCR, pre-TiVo era felt bereft and mildly traumatized when it all ended, as if members of their own family had moved away forever.

Now there is a new, three-part “Upstairs Downstairs” set in 1936, six fictional years after the old one ended (the first is scheduled to be broadcast on PBS next Sunday). It features the old house but a new family, Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Holland, a handsome young diplomatic couple just returned from Washington. As they enter the dusty, neglected front hall for the first time, Lady Agnes delivers her verdict: “What a ghastly mausoleum.”

It is a witty acknowledgment of what the makers of the new “Upstairs Downstairs” hope to do: satisfy the passionate viewers from long ago while acknowledging that much of the modern audience, too young to have seen the original, may regard even beloved 1970s costume dramas as relics from another age.

The original “Upstairs” was stately, frothy fun against a backdrop of exciting historical events. Its great success reflected America’s perennial fascination with period drama about the British upper classes and the rigidly delineated system over which they presided, a fascination all the more enthusiastic perhaps for emanating from a country where class is no longer supposed to matter.

“It was a soap opera — a literate, classy, well-decorated, well-written soap opera about the private lives and social history of a group of charming British people,” said Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of “Masterpiece.”

Almost since that last episode ended, people have talked about whether, and how, to make some sort of sequel. For a time there had been word of a musical, then of a movie and even of a Hollywood sitcom in which Miss Marsh and Gordon Jackson, who died in 1990 and played the incomparable butler, Hudson, would portray the proprietors of a butler-and-maid service. (“Neither Gordon nor I were up for that,” Miss Marsh said.)

But maybe only now, with viewers’ memories slightly hazy after so long (and with most of the original cast dead) has it been truly possible. And after “Upstairs Downstairs” drew huge audiences in Britain last Christmas — nearly 9 million people on average watched each episode, a huge number in a country of 61 million — the expectations for “Masterpiece” are even greater. “This is the most anticipated sequel of anything we’ve ever done, with the possible exception of Helen Mirren in ‘Prime Suspect,’ ” Ms. Eaton said.

The creators have tried to satisfy fans of the original and newcomers by acknowledging that while the same elements had to be there — the loves, worries and intrigues of two sets of people in one grand household in the center of London — the way the program looks and feels had to reflect modern sensibilities. “People remember ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ as exquisite drama, and you have to give them exquisite drama,” said Heidi Thomas, the British screenwriter (“Cranford”) who wrote the new episodes. “But if we replicated the pace and tone of the original, people might find it slow according to present-day standards, perhaps a little theatrical and plodding.”

Besides the house and the theme music, the strongest connective thread between the old and new programs is Miss Marsh herself, who returns to play Rose once more. Now 76, Miss Marsh was a much younger actress when she conceived of “Upstairs, Downstairs” with her great friend Eileen Atkins.

This time she returns as the Hollands’ housekeeper. Ms. Atkins, who was not in the original, does appear in this one, playing Sir Hallam’s doughty mother, Maud, Lady Holland. She has lately returned from India trailing a strong sense of entitlement and an entourage consisting of an exotic turbanned manservant (Art Malik, of “The Jewel in the Crown”) and a spoiled pet monkey.

Though just a few years have passed between the old version and the new, a great many changes have taken place, both in the fictional world the characters inhabit and the real one in which the audience lives. (Also, the title seems to have lost its original comma.)

While the Bellamys had to contend with the Titanic — one character, Lady Marjorie, sadly went down on it — World War I, the emergence of the suffragist movement and the crash of 1929, the Hollands are moving to a Britain poised for drastic, irrevocable change.

War is looming. The working classes are questioning the great certainty by which they have always lived: that there is a place for everyone, and everyone in his place. The political classes are beginning to divide between those who want to avoid war at all costs and those who believe that even war is justified if it means stopping Hitler. And the glittering social life of the era carries on just the same, in a last glorious gasp.

“I wanted to have a young family, a young marriage going ahead with all the concerns we have in the present day but particular to the 1930s,” Miss Thomas said. “They’re representatives of a kind of family about to become extinct. We’re not talking about just changes but about the end of the upper class as they had always been understood, or understood themselves, to be.”

There is turmoil from the beginning. In the first episode George V inconveniently dies, thrusting the throne into the incapable hands of his eldest son, the shallow, lightweight Edward VIII, too in thrall to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson to want to keep it for long. (The chic and outspoken Mrs. Simpson makes a scene-stealing cameo at a party, along with a man she has asked to bring as her “special guest” and who, unfortunately, is not the right special guest.)

Claire Foy as Lady Persie.                                                  Jean Marsh as Rose.

Added into the mix are Lady Agnes’s pretty, spoiled sister, Lady Persie (Claire Foy), who feels perhaps a bit too familiar with the family’s chauffeur, Spargo (Neil Jackson), a blond bit of rough with sympathies for what Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement promises to do for the working class. Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) has her hands full running the house and handling her mother-in-law; she longs for a baby with her husband (Ed Stoppard, son of Tom). Lady Holland is writing her memoirs; the servants have their own complicated hopes, loves and intrigues, and there is a new butler, Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), late of the Cunard liner company.

Old-time viewers will find that everything looks more opulent and glamorous this time around. Most of the filming was done at various BBC studios in Wales, where elaborate sets of parts of the Eaton Place house were constructed.

On a cold rainy day in Cardiff Bay last fall several of the actors were filming a scene in which Lady Persie flounces into Spargo’s car, a vintage Humber, and plops down next to him. He sends her to the back seat, reminding her that she has to abide by “the rules,” just as he does.

“Their relationship is where the two sides — upstairs and downstairs — meet,” Mr. Jackson said between takes, dressed immaculately in his chauffeur’s uniform, complete with sleeve garters to keep his cuffs in place. “She shuns the archetype of who she’s supposed to be, and he shuns having to bow down to authority.”

The old sets looked cheesier, Miss Marsh recalled, and had to be taken down and put into storage after each episode, only to come out again. Back then, she said, actors rehearsed each episode for eight or nine days and shot it in three and a half hours; now they rehearse on the fly, and each episode takes three weeks to film.

“The standards of television production have gotten so much higher,” said Adam Suschitzky, the director of photography. “Everything has to be much closer to the standards of a feature film now.”

Nico Mirallegro as a footman in the new "Upstairs Downstairs." The show reflects a fascination with
the British upper classes.

“Upstairs Downstairs,” produced with the BBC, follows another costume drama on “Masterpiece,” the endlessly entertaining “Downton Abbey,” produced by Carnival and Masterpiece in Britain. The British newspapers made much of the supposed competition between the two programs, but that is beside the point for “Masterpiece.”

“It’s one of the most recognizable titles we’ve ever done, and the most recognizable British drama title in this country,” Ms. Eaton said. “Masterpiece,” supplemented by PBS, is putting extra advertising and marketing money into the broadcast and banking on it being a hit.

Thanks to fervent audience reaction in Britain, Miss Thomas is already working on six new episodes for a second “Upstairs” season, possibly set in 1938.

“One of the things that was very nerve-racking was the thought that we’d have two audiences: a new audience that wasn’t even born when the first one went out and the die-hard fans who would be scrutinizing it and looking for evidence of fidelity,” Miss Thomas said. “If we were competing with anything, we were competing with the specter of the original.”
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Originally posted January 08, 2011 in the Culture Tent thread:
Have you been watching … (Julian Fellowes's) Downton Abbey?,48536.msg599898.html#msg599898

Downton Abbey v
Upstairs Downstairs
– who won?

Downton Abbey, of course. What it did in a deliciously
melodramatic thespian whisper, Upstairs Downstairs did
with a cartoon sledgehammer

by Viv Groskop
29 December 2010 14.16 GMT

Neil Jackson as chauffeur Harry Spargo in Upstairs Downstairs.

Champagne corks must have been popping in Julian Fellowes' house last night. After months of speculation and anticipation, finally it's official: Upstairs Downstairs  is nowhere near as good as Fellowes' baby, Downton Abbey.

Poor Upstairs Downstairs.  If only they had aired it six months ago, everyone would be saying how wonderful it is. Instead it has had to endure the curse of comparison. And next to Fellowes' glittering showpiece (with an audience of 10.8 million and one of the top 10 ratings winners of 2010), the BBC's revival of its 1970s classic looked as limp as the shammy leather wielded by Spargo, the spurned fascist chauffeur.

Here's the problem. Downton Abbey  completely changed the way we watch period drama. Fellowes brought all the tight, witty scripting of a Hollywood adaptation to an original story, topped off with a gigantic, knowingly camp wink that delighted jaded viewers.

As for Upstairs Downstairs,  not even mesmerising performances from Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes and Dame Eileen Atkins as Lady Holland could save the day. What was the BBC thinking of, cramming enough material for several series into three hours?

Last night in the space of five minutes a baby was born (delivered by the butler in the bathroom), one sister ran away to join the Nazis and another sister, presumed dead, was discovered to have been living in a psychiatric clinic for the past 20 years. Oh yes, and the king abdicated.

Now, Downton Abbey  was hardly subtle. (Two words: Mister Pamuk.) But what it did in a deliciously melodramatic thespian whisper, Upstairs Downstairs  did with a cartoon sledgehammer borrowed from amateur dramatics.

In the first episode of Downton Abbey,  for example, there was a fleeting glimpse of the newspapers being pressed by one of the footmen. In Upstairs Downstairs  the housekeeper came clomping down the stairs shouting lingeringly: "Oh. The newspapers are LATE. There will be no time to IRON them." You expected her to add: "This we must do because it is the OLDEN DAYS." I had flashbacks of French and Saunders' House of Idiot.

Upstairs Downstairs  had sparks of Downton -esque genius. The confiscated Cecil Beaton photograph and the psychedelic pistachio bavarois. The pet monkey caressing Lady Agnes' cherry with his eyes at the breakfast table and rejecting the marmalade because he prefers thin-cut. And Dame Eileen Atkins' understatedly brilliant one-liners: "Bureaucrats relish an entertaining female." "Wallis Simpson is not chic. She is relentlessly well-dressed."

The off-the-record murmur from the BBC? This was a pilot for a new series which could go head-to-head with Fellowes' ratings giant. So could Upstairs Downstairs  work if the BBC gave it more room to breathe? Or should they cut their losses and face the truth – that this time ITV has beaten them at their own game? As ever, I'm with Mr Pamuk. (Forever in Downton Abbey  heaven.)
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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The Cast of Characters:

Back row (on stairs) L-R: Ivy Morris (Ellie Kendrick), Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson),
Mr Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) and Rose Buck (Jean Marsh)

Front row L-R: Maud, Lady Holland (Eileen Atkins), Lady Persie (Claire Foy),
Johnny Proude (Nico Mirallegro), Mr Amanjit (Art Malik), Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes),
Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and Mrs Thackeray (Anne Reid)

SIR HALLAM HOLLAND.  He appears to have everything. He has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Foreign Office, and has recently inherited not just 165 Eaton Place but a considerable fortune and a baronetcy. The events of 1936 will challenge and change him in ways he could not have foreseen. I like the journey of this character in the series very much.

LADY AGNES. The eldest daughter of the 12th Earl Towyn, she was reared in a very damp castle in Wales. Beautiful and aristocratic, she has never been well off. Despite financial hardship, and their failure to have children, her marriage to Sir Hallam has been happy and devoted. The sudden rush of new money thrills her, and she is determined to put her husband, and her home, at the heart of London high society.

LADY HALLAM. Maud, she is Sir Hallam’s mother, one of the women who helped to build the Raj. Newly widowed, she returns to England to write her memoirs, and  hopes to build a new relationship with her grown-up son. But thirty years of distance are not easily overcome, and there will be  heartache along the way. And secrets unveiled in the end.

LADY PERSEPHONE TOWYN. She  is the 20 year-old sister of Lady Agnes. She has been marooned in Wales due to lack of family funds - a situation Lady Agnes is delighted to reverse. But Lady Persie’s lack of education, and the stimulation of the London scene, make for a highly combustible mix. Especially when she starts a scandalous affair with one of the men downstairs and sympathising with the Fascists.

ROSE BUCK. She was the upper house parlourmaid at Eaton Place for almost forty years. Since 1932 she has eked out a living running a domestic employment agency - but a twist of fate brings Lady Agnes to her door. Initially engaged purely to recruit the servants for the Hollands, Rose soon proves herself indispensible to the running of the house.

MR PRITCHARD. Warwick Pritchard is sleek, discreet and quite beautifully spoken. Teetotal and highly strung, his exacting façade conceals deep kindness and real integrity. As the downstairs family settles in, he gradually becomes the moral centre of the household - though he still has a few surprises up his sleeve.

MRS THACKERAY. Clarice Thackeray is a widow. Passionate about her work, she expects the highest standards of herself and others. She follows the workings of high society through the pages of the Tatler. Romantic and affectionate by nature, she is also nosey, judgemental and a monumental snob.

MR AMNJIT. Educated, gentle, and imposing, Amanjit Singh comes to Eaton Place as secretary to Maud, Lady Holland. Having been in her service in India for many years, he is devoted to her welfare. His relationship with German/Jewish Rachel is touching.

RACHEL PERLMUTTER. She  is a German-Jewish refugee who comes to 165, as the new parlourmaid, in May 1936. Reserved and sophisticated, Rachel knows little about basic household chores, but is determined to make the best of her circumstances.

HARRY SPARGO. Good-looking and rather arrogant,  Harry Spargo enjoys his position with Hollands, but resents the social system that keeps him there. He enjoys a cautious camaraderie with Sir Hallam, but this is put to the test by the events of 1936.

IVY MORRIS. Just 15 years-old and  orphaned, she  is spirited, wilful,  likes red nail varnish and singing in the bath. Ivy would never willingly risk her newfound security at 165 but her hunger for love leads her, and others, into danger.

JOHNNY PROUDE. Aged 16,  he  launches a career in domestic service in an effort to escape a life spent down the pit. Charming and hard-working, he is popular with the other servants - especially Ivy - but comes to 165 with a troubling secret that, once revealed, will shatter the whole household.
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Television Review
Like Old Times, Almost,
In an English Household

Published: April 7, 2011

"Upstairs Downstairs" starts Sunday on PBS, with Ellie Kendrick, front, Keeley Hawes, left, Adrian
Scarborough and Jean Marsh.

There is a sly grace note tucked into “Upstairs Downstairs,” the sequel to the legendary series of the 1970s. The parlor maid Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) is back in service at 165 Eaton Place, and she worries that her new mistress considers her over the hill.

In a rare breach of the British class divide, her ladyship’s mother-in-law, Lady Maud, an imperious and eccentric dowager played by Eileen Atkins, makes common cause with the help.

“She doubtless thought you were ready to be put out to grass,” Lady Maud tells Rose with grande dame finality. “I daresay she thinks the same of me. But we have experience you and I. We  are what that house requires.”

The two actresses might as well have been talking about themselves in real life. They are no longer young, but they have experience, and they are exactly what this delightful and absorbing drama requires.

Ms. Marsh not only played Rose in the original, she and Ms. Atkins came up with the idea for a high-minded soap opera about Edwardian aristocrats and their servants at a time when not many women, let alone actresses, had much say behind the television camera.

While Ms. Atkins wasn’t in the first iteration, which ran on PBS from 1974 to 1977 and was one of the most successful series in its history, here she takes up her rightful place as a meddling intruder, sweeping into her son’s elegant town house unannounced after 30 years overseas, accompanied by an Indian manservant and a pet monkey.

“Why didn’t you stand up to her?” Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) asks her young husband, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard). He ruefully replies, “I was brought up to be polite to strangers.”

The three-part sequel that begins on Sunday picks up in 1936, six years after the end of “Upstairs, Downstairs” (as it was then punctuated) and right into the territory of “The King’s Speech.” Rose, now running a small employment agency, weeps and dons a black armband along with the rest of England at the news that King George V has died. That leaves the throne to Edward VIII, who wants to marry an American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. Simpson, whom Lady Maud sourly describes as “relentlessly well dressed,” makes an appearance at Eaton Place, as do all sorts of people who changed history, including Anthony Eden, Joachim von Ribbentrop and even the fashion photographer Cecil Beaton.

The sequel manages to blend the domestic trials of an upper-class family into the turbulence of the 1930s much the way the original took the Bellamy family from 1903 though the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the Jazz Age.

This version actually looks better. “Upstairs, Downstairs” was one of the first series to be mostly shot on videotape, which now looks a little flat and faded. But the sequel also holds its own against the many period series and movies that followed, from “Brideshead Revisited” to “Remains of the Day” to “Gosford Park” to “Atonement,” variations that added a scrim of dark satire to all those shimmering depictions of privilege and breeding. Deceit and self-delusion — in master and servant alike — became as much a staple of those tableaus as silver tea sets, croquet lawns and debutante balls.

“Downton Abbey,” a series on PBS last January that was at heart a country-estate version of “Upstairs, Downstairs,” was much less cynical. And so is this.

Social injustice and class friction aren’t ignored, but there are once again heroes as well as villains, upstairs and down, and Lord Hallam is a kind, well-meaning master, very much in the same vein as the gentlemen who preceded him in Eaton Place. Characters are capable of change, and some actually learn from their mistakes.

Beautiful Lady Agnes has limitations to overcome, and Lord Hallam’s overbearing mother shows occasional glimpses of wisdom and even warmth. Even Rose, once she takes over as housekeeper, has a few snappish moments.

The rigid English class system is still in place, but it is fraying at the edges, as Rose witnesses firsthand when she tries to find a cook. “Staff were loyal once upon a time,” Rose tells a surly candidate, Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid).

“Yeah, it’s a one-way street,” Mrs. Thackeray replies, grousing that Rose probably didn’t even get a pension. “We’ll end up dead in harness, like the king.”

The screenwriter Heidi Thomas (“Cranford”), who wrote the new episodes, wisely didn’t try to duplicate beloved characters, but instead created new ones molded by the times. Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), the butler Rose reluctantly hires, is not nearly as polished as the imperturbable Hudson (played by Gordon Jackson in the original). Rose questions his previous experience on cruise ships.

“I’ve worked for Cunard for 27 years,” Mr. Pritchard haughtily replies. “Hence my reference from Errol Flynn.”

Like the real-life Mitford sisters, the Holland family splits along ideological lines when Agnes’s younger and petulant sister, Persie (Claire Foy), becomes infatuated with the handsome chauffeur Spargo (Neil Jackson), a follower of the British fascist Oswald Mosley.

Even the chauffeur, however, knows his place — and hers. When Persie impertinently climbs into the front seat next to him and demands that he call her “Lady Persie,” Spargo orders her to the back.

“I won’t call you Lady anything if you don’t act like one,” he says sternly. “The thing is, Lady Persie, there are rules and you have to stick to them just as much as us.”

“Upstairs Downstairs” sticks to the rules established by the original and defies the odds by being as good, and in some ways, even better.


Upstairs Downstairs

On PBS stations on Sunday nights at 9 (check local listings).

Produced by the BBC and Masterpiece on PBS. Created and written by Heidi Thomas; originally created by Jean Marsh, Eileen Atkins, John Hawesworth and John Whitney; directed by Euros Lyn (Episodes 1 and 2) and Saul Metzstein (Episode 3); Piers Wenger, Ms. Thomas, and Kate Harwood executive producers; Rebecca Eaton, executive producer for Masterpiece; Nikki Wilson, producer.

WITH: Keeley Hawes (Lady Agnes Holland), Ed Stoppard (Sir Hallam Holland), Jean Marsh (Rose Buck), Eileen Atkins (Lady Maud Holland), Claire Foy (Lady Persie), Anne Reid (Mrs. Thackeray), Art Malik (Mr. Amanjit), Adrian Scarborough (Mr. Pritchard) and Ellie Kendrick (Ivy Morris).
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"