on 21 August 2007
It is no exaggeration to say that this classic early 70's British period drama is one of the all-time best series of its sort ever produced. With sixty-eight 50-minute episodes, the series covers a time span of nearly 30 years (from early Edwardian England in 1903, through the horrors of the First World War, and on into the Roaring 20s, finally concluding with 1929's stock market crash). The setting is the household of the Bellamy family at 165 Eaton Place, London. Upstairs live Richard Bellamy, MP, and his beautiful, aristocratic wife, Lady Margery. The Bellamys have two adult children, Captain James and Elizabeth, who come and go much like a recurring motif (though recurring nightmare might be more appropriate, for they are the source of much grief (albeit unintended) for their society parents). I don't wish to give the storylines, scandals and surprises away. Suffice it to say that as the series progress, there are lovers, marriages, births and deaths (not to mention the arrival of a beautiful young niece) which impact on the relationships and alter the composition of the group above stairs.
Downstairs we are privy to the lives of the servants in the Bellamy household. First and foremost is the devout, inflexible and regimental head butler, Angus Hudson, the staff overlord. Then there is the curmudgeonly but good-hearted cook, Mrs. Bridges. Other memorable characters include the efficient but sheltered head house/parlour maid, Rose Buck; the religious but simple footman, Alfred; his successor, the good-natured Edward, who has an eye for the female staff; the not-overly-bright scullery maid, Emily, and her successor and intellectual equal, Ruby; and Lady Margery's prim and snobbish lady's maid, Miss Roberts. Of course, one simply cannot forget the sassy, vivacious new under house/parlour maid, Sarah (Pauline Collins), who is a real dreamer and schemer and who, like a bad penny, turns up on the Bellamys' doorstep periodically during the first two series, or the new capable-but-just-as-conniving chauffeur, Thomas (Collins' real-life husband, John Alderton), who is nobody's fool! Like the family upstairs, the downstairs "family" too has its share of comings and goings, what with lovers, marriages, deaths, hirings, and firings.
This boxed set includes the 1979 spin-off series entitled Thomas and Sarah (thirteen 50-minute episodes), which chronicles the adventures and misadventures of those two memorable miscreants after they leave the Bellamy's employ. Unlike Upstairs Downstairs, which is fairly high drama infused with a spattering comic relief here and there, Thomas and Sarah is very much a comedy-drama. With Sarah's penchant for foreign accents and tale-telling and the conniving and entrepreneurial spirit that both characters embody, the stage is set for some thoroughly enjoyable vignettes. Most of the episodes involve the couple trying their hands (and luck) at something new--like running a match-making agency, working in a boys' school, working as magicians, and so on. For all their efforts, however, they always seem to find themselves skint--and thus the need for another enterprise (and hence another enjoyable episode!). The only thing less than satisfactory is the "conclusion" of the final episode, which left me wondering whether or not a second series was at least anticipated. But that's is a minor quibble, for this is a series to be watched for the sheer enjoyment of the journey.
One final dvd bonus is the enjoyable and informative 50-minute 25th Anniversary Special, which was produced around 1998 and includes remembrances by many of the surviving actors (including James, Elizabeth, Rose, Edward, Daisy, and Ruby).
In conclusion, Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply an outstanding dramatic series. It is compelling, captivating, and often thought-provoking; and if you enjoy a dramatic series with lots of "goings on," scandal, and so forth, you'll enjoy it all the more! The inclusion of Thomas and Sarah is a delightful, light-hearted, entertaining bonus, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend this boxed set to all fans of the very best in British period drama.
on 15 November 2010
I was given this series recently as:- "A present for grandad" and was absolutely amazed at just how accurately it depicts the traditional English society amidst which I was born/raised. Produced in the 1970's, Upstairs Downstairs centres on 165 Eaton Place, home to the Bellamy family and their household staff between 1903 and 1929; but facets of the lifestyle so beautifully portrayed continued to be enjoyed by many well into the 1960's and occasionally beyond. The big old house, the huge rooms, high ceilings, imposing front door, servant's entrance behind the garage, even the tradesman's entrance down the side passage to the basement kitchen are all enduring memories of my boyhood home, but it's the complex interaction between the characters that really makes this series come alive; several being amazingly close to people/incidents I remember. Captain James in particular could quite easily have been based on my father!
The class issue is also very well handled, illustrating just how close the different 'classes' actually were in those by-gone days. Its difficult to hide much from those you live under the same roof with, so the natural desire for mutual respect tended to improve everyone's standards, whils't also creating genuinely inclusive communities within which loneliness was unknown and all contributed to the common good in their own way; an environment many would benefit from today. Unlike the Bellamys, my parents had no servants, but innumerable Uncles and their families stayed with us over the years; having 'come home' as the Empire was broken up. One small 'flaw' is that Upstairs Downstairs is set in an age when contraception/abortion was still illegal, so those big old houses were always swarming with children; at least those I knew were.
The butler Hudson could have been modelled on my Uncle Reggie, a tall seemingly stern but deeply understanding ex-Artillery Officer who had served in the Far East; while 'shell shocked' Edward is reminisent of Uncle Joe, a veteran of both Sidi Barrani and El Alamein, who never really got over the experience. For me personally 'Whither Shall I Wander' was a real 'blast from the past', vividly recalling the day when, returning to barracks kit-bag in hand; I marched down those big front steps for the last time. Like Rose I was also hit by nostalgic memories.
Another very realistic aspect of this highly entertaining series is how, even as we went about our daily lives, the threat or experience of war had such a deep influence on public attitudes. It's hardly remembered today, but in my youth virtually all the men had fought for their country in WWI/WWII or the wars of Empire. Like her Roman predecessors or her German rivals, the British Empire too had it's warrior caste, so well depicted by 'Captain James'; and the treasured world they fought so hard and sacrificed so much for deserves to be remembered. Upstairs Downstairs does exactly that. I recommend it without reservation; a very human glimpse of a now vanished era.
on 12 October 2010
This is a real treasure - a gem from the days when there was more to British television than witless reality shows and end-to-end cookery programmes. It chronicles the lives of the two sets of people living in a large London house - the aristocratic Bellamy family (upstairs) and their servants (downstairs) from 1903 to 1930.
The undoubted head of the downstairs ensemble is Hudson the butler (Gordon Jackson) who is a bigger snob than any of the upstairs lot. He knows his place in the pecking order and has no desire to change it. Second in command, so to speak, is Mrs Bridges the cook (Angela Baddeley), who is forever telling off poor Ruby (Jenny Tomasin), the dim-witted kitchen maid. And then there's Rose (Jean Marsh, who co-created the show) holding everything together.
Upstairs we have Richard Bellamy (David Langton), a Conservative MP who married old money, and his wife Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney), along with their son Captain James Bellamy (Simon Williams) and daughter Miss Elizabeth (Nicola Padgett).
Other characters come and go throughout the run of the series - notably Pauline Collins as Sarah, whose lifestyle annoys Hudson and the others, but whose cheeky grin endears her to the viewers. When she left the programme, it was along with her real-life husband John Alderton (who played Thomas the chauffeur) into their own spin-off series "Thomas and Sarah".
This box set includes all sixty-eight episodes (many with audio commentary) on 21 discs, plus a five-part in-depth documentary on the making of the series. This includes numerous interviews with the surviving cast members, and it can be a bit of a shock to compare their appearance when the feature was made (in 2005) with that in the show itself - it brings home just how long ago `UpDown' was originally on our screens. However, Lesley-Anne Down doesn't seem to have aged a day...
As others have said, the commercial break cards stating `End of Part One', `Part Two' etc. have been left in, but this is actually necessary as otherwise there would be a jarring jump-cut in the musical soundtrack. That said, some of these could have been trimmed as often the caption remains on screen for several seconds after the musical link has finished.
There are also no subtitles, which is an obvious drawback for those with hearing difficulties. But if you can get past that, then this set is phenomenal value at less than a pound per episode. Highly recommended.