Posted: 09/08/2008


The Duchess of Duke Street


by Jef Burnham

Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.

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The Duchess of Duke Street evokes comparisons to the grand melodramas of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen with a hearty dash of Upstairs Downstairs. The series explores the pains of Louisa Leyton (a character based loosely on Rosa Lewis, “Duchess of Jermyn Street”), who sets her sights on becoming the best cook England, as her efforts reach a series of breaking points after first being forced to marry and become the mistress of Prince Edward. Although there are moments of incredible sadness and despair in the series, which is to be expected of this sort of melodrama, Louisa’s wit allows the perfect comic relief during the direst of situations.

Each episode is a veritable feature film. An enormous series of events encompass every installment, spanning sometimes the course of years. At 31 epic episodes, spanning the years of 1900 to 1925, I would feel incredibly guilty divulging the entire storyline, so I’ll keep this bit short. Louisa wants nothing more than to be a cook, and begins her training in the kitchen of Lord Henry Norton under Monsieur Alex, an accomplished French chef. During her employ at Lord Henry’s, she inadvertently becomes the focus of Edward, Prince of Wales’ affections. After being forced into becoming Edward’s mistress, which entails first getting married, the strain of Louisa’s extra-marital relationship becomes too much for her husband’s fickle pride. To quell his sense of failure, Louisa and her husband buy a hotel, where he and his sister develop an enormous debt, which becomes Louisa’s debt when she gives the pair the boot… And all that happens in the first three episodes.

The series originally aired on the BBC in 1976 and 1977. This set boasts over 27 hours of material on 10 DVDs, and the special features include a biography of Rosa Lewis, Edwardian period background, photo gallery, and cast and crew filmographies.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.

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