fri 10/07/2020

Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One

Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One

Rose Buck returns to 165 Eaton Place after 35 years

Keeley Hawes and Ed Stoppard, emphatically Upstairs as Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Holland

Thirty-five years after Rose Buck took what she thought was her final nostalgic stroll through the empty rooms of 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia, where she had served the Bellamy family for four decades, Jean Marsh has brought Rose back home in the BBC’s three-part remake of Upstairs Downstairs. Also aboard for this much-anticipated revival is Eileen Atkins, who was Marsh’s co-creator of the original version for LWT but was prevented by stage commitments from appearing in it. They were going to call it Behind the Green Baize Door and then Below Stairs before the familiar title was finally settled upon.

It was an awkward brief - create a series which captures the spirit of the original while being a separate creation with its own characters and identity – but this opening episode of three hove into view confidently enough (on board an ocean liner from New York, in fact). The year was 1936, and Sir Hallam and Lady Agnes Holland were returning from America to take up residence in the house that Hallam had inherited from his father.

Its address was of course 165 Eaton Place, which had fallen into a ruinous state but was soon in the throes of energetic refurbishment, bossily supervised by Keeley Hawes’s imperious Lady Agnes. She was quickly issuing lists of demands to Rose, who was now running Buck’s of Belgravia, an agency supplying domestic staff to the Quality, but no ESP was required to predict that the imperishable elastic of destiny was about to twang her back below stairs at number 165.

Being preceded by the remarkable success of ITV’s Downton Abbey is probably a mixed blessing. Downton has vividly demonstrated an appetite for period dramas with a class-war subtext and a pre-war setting (different war, but you get my drift), and has left swathes of viewers gasping for more startling liaisons, seven-course dinners and caustic one-liners from Maggie Smith (or insert dowager-esque equivalent). However, so far you’d have to say that the Downton cast has more strength in depth, and the piece also benefited from the mischievous and ironic wit of its creator Julian Fellowes (Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud, pictured below).atkinsupstairs

This first episode of Upstairs Downstairs felt bogged down with exposition and scene-setting, and despite a hyperactive subplot featuring Ivy the housemaid and Johnny the inebriate footman, it walked blithely into the Momentous Events from History trap which recently hamstrung Any Human Heart. This may be a result of the timorous decision to make only an exploratory three episodes, causing everything to be crammed in and speeded up. In this first hour, we learned of the death of King George V, with Rose taking the opportunity while queueing to view the lying-in-state to persuade Mrs Thackeray (Anne Reid) to accept the post of cook in the Holland household. We had the accession of flaky Edward VIII, gossip about that brassy Mrs Simpson, Hitler ranting on the wireless, and a warning from Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden to Sir Hallam (Ed Stoppard, rendered virtually immobile by starch and Brylcreem) about that bounder von Ribbentrop, in London to whip up support for the Nazis. It was like a Coles Notes summary of the path to World War Two.

Thank heavens for Dame Eileen, playing Hallam’s feisty and eccentric mother Lady Maud, who had returned from decades of colonial service in India accompanied by a precocious pet monkey and a manservant, Mr Amanjit (Art Malik, verging on the ludicrous in beard and turban). Hallam, who’s a bit wishy-washy, like one of Bertie Wooster’s daft chums from the Drones Club, has found himself caught in a titanic clash of wills between Lady Maud and his wife. When Maud airily rewrote both the menu and the guest list for Lady Agnes’s cocktail party, there was almost an ahistorical outbreak of nuclear war when her invitee Wallis Simpson (Emma Clifford) swept through the front door, accompanied not by the anticipated King Edward, but by the supercilious von Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly).

It took quick thinking by the dyspeptic butler Mr Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) to effect the speedy egress of the Boche from the premises. But I don’t think Lady Agnes would really have bellowed “Perhaps you’ll let me choose my own guests next time” across a room full of politicians and aristocrats at her mother-in-law, do you?

All good fun, but this mini-series will be over by tomorrow night. We may have to wait for a full-length run before Upstairs Downstairs II can really prove its mettle.



Ambassadors, BBC Two. Mitchell and Webb and Hawes pack their bags for Tazbekistan to star in a diplomatic comedy drama

Ashes to Ashes, BBC One. Hawes’s Eighties copper goes back to the future in Ashley Pharaoh’s follow-up to Life on Mars

Identity, ITV1. Keeley Hawes and Aidan Gillen on the trail of ruthless cyber-criminals

Line of Duty, BBC Two. Gruelling police corruption thriller keeps spines tingling to the end.

The Casual Vacancy, BBC One. Hawes peddles erotica in JK Rowling's Cotswold village

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Richard III, BBC Two. Hawes’s first stab at iambic pentameter opposite Benedict Cumberbatch chilly crook-backed king

The Missing, BBC One. Hawes plays a grieving mother in misery-drenched odyssey


Being preceded by the remarkable success of ITV’s Downton Abbey is probably a mixed blessing

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Thank goodness for Eileen Atkins who left the rest either miscast or detached from their roles. What got to me most of all was the incessant and totally unnecessary noise which passes for music for most of the hour. Just when you thought it had finished back it came again. Mr producer didn't you watch Downton Abbey to see how to achieve dramatic effect without the aid of backround "music"

An excellent review, spot on, although I did enjoy the programme greatly (maybe more to do with nostalgia than anything else?).

Well I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode.....with a wave of nostalgia at the familiar Upstairs Downstairs theme music; personally I enjoyed the way the music was interweaved with the action. Almost had a feeling of "oops" when Ivy was introduced but then remembered this was 1936 and young girls were a bit more feisty than the generation before. One of the highlights for me was Lady Maud's expression when Von Ribbontrop was introduced at the party when she was expecting the King.....worth the license fee alone! Very nicely written with some good laugh out loud lines. The sets are terrific with colour schemes that were very much in fashion in upper class homes of the period.

Had I not seen Downton Abbey I would have probably enjoyed Up-Down more. I felt there was something 'wrong' but couldn't quite put my finger on what. Perhaps it will gel in the next couple of episodes.

One of the most disastrous hours on TV for many years, apart from the fact that I did laugh quite a lot at how bad it was. Couldn't agree more about the music.

Absolutely awful. No depth to the script, cardboard cut out characters. Hugely disappointed. And as for the constant background music, BBC, it makes me want to SCREAM. We don't need to be 'jollied' along all the time. It's the same with Dr Who (another gripe). PLEASE STOP IT!! In one hour, unfortunately, and unforgivably, you have managed to massacre a brilliant, well loved memory. If this is BBC 'drama' for the modern TV audiences, I won't be inflicting it on my TV anymore. More like a soap opera.

The fundamental problem is that for a series like this to be a success, one has to care about the characters and what happens to them. None of these people is especially attractive in terms of personality (either above or below stairs) nor does it achieve what the old series did, or indeed Downton Abbey did so well. One does not really care about Sir & Lady Hallam, or the Butler (who reminds me of a young Hugh Lloyd) or that cook whose whining voice I found particularly irritating and the events are so telescoped and rushed that all dramatic pacing is missing. I agree wholeheartedly about the wretched music. Aside from its banality, there are curous musical gaffes too. At one point the Hallams are listening to the radio and Novello's We'll Gather Lilacs is playing - which is ridiculous as it was written in 1945, and we are meant to be in 1936. The other problem is the almost total lack of humour (the Atkins character aside) , something the old series & Downton had in spades. Even Atkins fails to impress and is no match for Maggie Smith. I will be very surprised if a second series is commissioned.

Really awful, you did not capture the period at all, no subtleties or believable characters or events, felt I was watching an awful school production.Had anyone done any real research? Such a disappointment, it felt rushed and often I was convinced it was written for children!

Totally awful. Hang the script writer. Surely the BBC can do better than this - if not hand the tax back.

Could only watch 10 minutes and astounded that this got past the drwwing board. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders couldn't have done a better job of parodying the genre. Close up shots of feet walking, check; long shots of cars passing on the street, check. The only thing missing was the man cycling past on his penny farthing! What with this and the embarrasment that was Day of the Triffids last year, the BBC appears to be hitting some exceedingly spectacular lows with it's festive programming.

Congratulations on a superb mini-series - so much more depth than Downton Abbey. Please BBC say this is only a pilot and that a longer more in-depth series will follow. We all need to see how the characters develop. My only criticism was the loud "background" noise which was incessant and at one time could hardly hear the Kings abdication speech because of this unnecessary noise. Please stick to the original theme music which is melodic and delightful and very reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs. .

Would that be 'Marjorie Ashworth' of the BBC, throwing in just a little criticism to put us off the scent? Were you wearing your spectacles, dear?

I thought this series was absolutely brilliant, every actor was supurb. Hope for more......

Once over the shock i loved it! Absolutley brilliant and want more please! If it became more of a long running series instead of a three parter it would soon outrate Downton. Please please dont shelve it. The fans have waited so long for a re-make.

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