mon 24/06/2024

The Return of Upstairs Downstairs | reviews, news & interviews

The Return of Upstairs Downstairs

The Return of Upstairs Downstairs

It's series two, but are the cast going to vanish in the fog of war?

The extended Holland family manages to squeeze into the dining room at 165 Eaton Place

The BBC's updated Upstairs Downstairs is not a lucky show. Its three-night debut in December 2010 brought unflattering comparisons to Downton Abbey, a fate also likely to greet the imminent series two thanks to Downton's booming national-treasure status. Worse, Upstairs... is reeling from the double blow of losing Eileen Atkins's Lady Maud and Jean Marsh as Rose Buck.

Marsh, who suffered a stroke last October, was eventually able to appear in two of the six new episodes, but Atkins apparently wasn't happy with the direction the series was taking and baled out altogether. Screenwriter Heidi Thomas has manufactured a replacement for the eccentric dowager in the form of her half-sister, Dr Blanche Mottershead (Alex Kingston, pictured below left with Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes Holland).

But, judging from episode one, the question of tone is the biggest issue. It's even more in thrall to great historical events than series one, with international crises overshadowing the personal stories. The first voice you hear is a BBC newsreader describing a meeting between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. Ed Stoppard's Sir Hallam Holland spends most of his time debating the Nazi threat with Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and the Duke of Kent, while his wife's wayward little sister Persie (Claire Foy) has become a Mitford-esque Nazi sympathiser. There's even an enactment of Chamberlain's "peace for our time" moment.  

Despite some light relief from the camp butler Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), the cast feels like a bunch of disconnected characters who do little to earn our sympathy or interest. In reality, Upstairs Downstairs bears scant similarity to Downton Abbey, which keeps its tongue in its cheek and isn't afraid of a bit of slapstick. On the other hand it bears no resemblance to the original Upstairs Downstairs either, which had the time and space to allow its characters to develop organically. It also had a sense of humour. 

The opening episode of Upstairs Downstairs Series Two reviewed

It's even more in thrall to great historical events than series one, with international crises overshadowing the personal stories

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