I was thinking back about some of the best television series I have watched, and Upstairs, Downstairs immediately came to mind. I have watched this series three times, and think it’s one of the best period piece series ever made. Sure, it is from the 1970s, so the production values aren’t what they aren’t anything like today’s slick looks. However, the story line and acting are (in my opinion) much better than most television series.
Upstairs, Downstairs is yet another dazzling jewel in British period-piece television productions. The show initially ran in the USA on Masterpiece Theatre in the early 1970s. It is set in Edwardian London, and features the life of all who inhabited “165 Eaton Place.”
The “Upstairs” at this opulent residence consists of an aristocrat family. The Bellamy family hob-nobs with all of England’s wealthy. The patriarch is a member of Parliament, and as such, entertains many of the ruling class. His wife is a perfect hostess, and is the one who brings the title and money into the family.
The “Downstairs” is comprised of many house maids, a chauffeur, the cooking staff, and a very competent & efficient butler at the top of the working people’s hierarchy. Mr. Hudson (the butler) runs all of the tasks required to keep the household running smoothly. Of course, there are sometimes mishaps, but Mr. Hudson is quick to get things back on track.
Upstairs, Downstairs follows the lives of the Bellamy family and their staff. The set is realistic, opulent, with deep, rich-colored furniture and curtains. The wardrobe, hair and make-up are exactly as I would have expected of the early 1900s.
Jean Marsh, the actress who plays Rose (the head parlour maid) is one of the two creators of the series. Her co-creator, is a fellow actress, Eileen Atkins. The London Weekend Television is the production company responsible for this beautiful, interesting view of life in London during the first thirty years of the twentieth century.
For me, Upstairs, Downstairs works so well because of the head of the family, Richard Bellamy, with his extremely kind nature. Because this member of Parliament is such an honorable man, his household is a place where even the lowest on the totem pole (the scullery maid ?) is treated fairly. Perhaps the reason for Richard Bellamy’s good nature toward the household staff is because he was not born into the aristocracy, he simply married into it.
The two “Downstairs bosses” (so to speak) are the butler (excellently portrayed by Gordon Jackson) and the cook (delightfully played by Angela Baddeley). All the acting is superb. It is such a treat to see Pauline Collins (Sarah) & John Alderton (Thomas) in this production from the 1970s, who incidentally, have been married since the late 1960s.
I strongly recommend Upstairs, Downstairs – especially seasons 1, 2 & 3. In 2010, the BBC brought Upstairs, Downstairs back. Unfortunately Rose (Jean Marsh) was the only character from the “real” Upstairs, Downstairs cast. To me, this didn’t fit in with the original Upstairs, Downstairs television series I have loved for many years. However, keep in mind that this was released in the 1970s, so don’t expect the visuals of today’s pieces.
P.S. It is available on Netflix. This is not a mystery series.