by Del Harvey
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Recently aired on PBS and now available on DVD, the new Upstairs Downstairs is a treat for fans of the original show. Created from an idea by Miss Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, this new version sees Miss Marsh’s original character, Rose Buck, returning to the most popular address in the history of PBS.
When the master of 165 Eaton Place, Sir Hallam Holland, carries his wife across the threshold of their new home, Lady Agnes exclaims with pleasure, “What a ghastly old mausoleum!” Neglect has strewn cobwebs everywhere and furred the surfaces with dust. But with a sumptuous renovation and the help of the indomitable housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the iconic address so beloved in the original series Upstairs Downstairs is soon restored to its former glory.
It’s 1936, a tumultuous time in Britain, and within the walls of 165 Eaton Place, characters from an orphanage, a damp Welsh castle, the heart of the British Raj and elsewhere together will face a changing world, not just upstairs and downstairs, but side by side.
Written by Heidi Thomas (Cranford, Madame Bovary), Upstairs Downstairs stars co-creators of the original series Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins (Cranford, Bertie and Elizabeth). Also starring are Ed Stoppard (Any Human Heart), Keeley Hawes (Wives and Daughters), and Claire Foy (Little Dorrit).
Rose brings her cherished memories and high standards to the project, assembling a motley staff ranging from seasoned snobs to fledgling teens. Upstairs, the unexpected arrival of Hallam’s mother, Lady Maud — returning from India with a Sikh secretary and a monkey in tow — introduces both eccentricity and tension as she interferes with Agnes’s management of the house. Somewhat in over her head in her new position, Agnes is further tested upon the arrival of her devil-may-care younger sister, Lady Persie. As King George is dying, and against a backdrop of uncertainty, the residents of 165 Eaton Place host an elegant party to launch the Hollands in London society, and together attempt to field obstacles, both comical and sinister, that come their way.
A genuine companionship grows between Rachel and Mr. Amanjit, both outsiders who share knowledge of loss firsthand. Rachel tells Mr. Amanjit, “We are not forced to accept the things that grieve us,” but it is Hallam who embodies that sentiment when he draws the line about who will live in his house, and how.
Preoccupied with the abdication crisis, Hallam attempts to buy some time from the press by hosting a special dinner for the Duke of Kent, placing 165 Eaton Street in the center of the monarchy’s storm. Now preoccupied, Agnes has abdicated her responsibility of Persie, who has snapped the long leash her sister provided, and begun engaging in behavior that threatens to taint them all. Only Lotte’s absence galvanizes Hallam to bring light into his home, purging it of dishonor and dark secrets that have been hidden for too long. But just as the king charts his fate, a momentous event will change the Holland family forever.
The DVD includes an intriguing behind the scenes featurette fans of either series won’t want to miss.
For more info from the PBS site, visit here.
To purchase this wonderful new addition to the series, visit Warner Bros. official site here.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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