DVD Review: BBC’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Makes Triumphant Return

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CHICAGO – The original “Upstairs, Downstairs” series became such an international phenomenon that the title has become a well-known phrase. How many programs have become so culturally relevant that their name can be used apart from them in order to describe a social or cultural situation? Very few. “Upstairs, Downstairs” returned for Christmas 2010 in the U.K.(and aired here on PBS recently as a part of “Masterpiece Theatre”) and now the three hour-long episodes are available in a two-disc set from BBC and Warner Bros.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0

“Upstairs, Downstairs” originally aired on ITV in five series from 1971 to 1975. The title refers to the divide between the haves and the have nots in that the program chronicled lives of the servants who lived downstairs along with those they served who lived upstairs. Taking place over decades from just after the turn of the last century to 1930, the program was wildly successful and beloved. It won numerous awards and, honestly, changed television history with its complex depiction of the changing class struggle.

The new series takes place in 1936, several years after the end of the last series and with a slightly shifted focus as life in Britain was preparing for the coming World War II. A diplomat named Sir Hallam Holland moves in with Lady Agnes and they contact the legendary Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) to staff their new home. Dame Eileen Atkins also returns to the series.

Upstairs, Downstairs was released on DVD on April 26th, 2011
Upstairs, Downstairs was released on DVD on April 26th, 2011
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

“Upstairs, Downstairs” may seem a bit stuffy for modern audiences and it’s definitely the kind of program one expects to find on PBS under the “Masterpiece” banner. In other words, don’t expect car chases. But if you admire subtle, nuanced storytelling that comes from the characters and their own social issues and personal complications than there’s a lot to like here. Most notably, Marsh and Atkins are spectacular. They are fantastic actresses and their work alone makes “Upstairs, Downstairs” worth a look.

According to some reports, this may not be a brief revival and “Upstairs, Downstairs” could be back again next year. For a program for which the producers reportedly had little confidence when it first aired, it’s amazing what an important part of the TV landscape this series has held. And the story appears to have yet been fully written.

Synopsis: “One of the most loved television series of all time is brought back to life with a fresh cast and sumptuous production values. It’s 1936, and six years since parlormaid Rose left 165 Eaton Place, fate brings her back, as housekeeper to its new owners: Sir Hallam and his wife Lady Agnes, and Maud, Lady Holland, his mother. Rose soon finds she has her work cut out as she recruits a new ‘downstairs’ family to help run the elegance and finery of the ‘upstairs’ world. Both upstairs and downstairs, it soon becomes apparent there lies a labyrinth of secrets, lies and scandal. Set against the historical backdrop of a Britain with a new King, with sexual, social and political tensions, this new series provides an evolving take on the master-servant relationship.”

Special Features:
o Exclusive DVD Feature — Behind Closed Doors

“Upstairs, Downstairs” stars Dame Eileen Atkins, Jean Marsh, Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Claire Foy, Anne Reid, Art Malik, Neil Jackson, Adrian Scarborough, Helen Bradbury, Ellie Kendrick, and Nico Mirallegro. It was released on DVD by the BBC on April 26th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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