Film: Upstairs Downstairs
Cast includes: Gordon Jackson (The Great Escape), David Langston (The Whistle Blower), Jean Marsh (The Changeling), Angela Baddeley (Tom Jones), Somon Williams (The Gathering Storm), Pauline Collins (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger)
Creators: Jean Marsh, who plays Rose, and Eileen Atkins
Genre: Drama series (1971-1975
In brief: When Clemens arrives at 165 Eaton Place to apply for the position of under house parlor maid, she goes to the front door. Hudson, the butler, signals toward the servants’ entrance and closes the door. “Quite unsuitable” is the impression the others have. But Mrs. Bellamy hires her anyway… giving her the name Sarah. “'Clemens' is not a servant’s name,” they all tell her. House parlor maid Rose is responsible for teaching Sarah her duties… and what it means to be in service in 1903 London. Through Sarah we too learn what it was like to work below stairs and be a part of a London society family.
James Bellamy, the son of Richard and Lady Marjorie, becomes our liaison into the lives of an upstairs family. But we don’t meet James until episode 3, when he comes home to find the servants playing dress up with some of Lady Marjorie’s clothes. James has no ambition in life because he wants for nothing. Richard and Lady Marjorie willingly play the roles they were born to, with little desire to see things change. “It’s not so much a matter of change as it is disintegration,” Lady Marjorie laments. When Lady Marjorie has her portrait painted by a Bohemian artist, it turns out that Sarah has also captured the eye of the artist. And when the artist displays both paintings together at the Academy exhibition, it makes the Bellamys “the laughing stock of London.” It’s only because of Richard’s fair-mindedness that Sarah manages to keep her position in the Bellamy household. But times are definitely changing.
The BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs can be considered the start of a great tradition… high quality serial television dramas… mostly on Public Television. It not only inspired productions such as Downton Abbey and films such as Gosford Park, it got us used to the whole idea of high-end, must-watch serial TV. During the 5 years of the series run, we go from 1903 through the Wall Street crash of 1929. We witness the social upheaval caused by The Great War and many other important events.
As the first of it’s kind, Upstairs Downstairs did not get the level of financial backing of later serial dramas. In fact, six episodes in season 1 were produced in black and white because of a strike. But the stories, script, acting, and direction are first rate. The early episodes feel rather like televised stage plays, but a more naturalistic style evolves in later episodes. Not only is Upstairs Downstairs the beginning of a tradition, it is as absorbing today as it was when it first aired.
4 popped kernels
Wonderful stories… wonderful characters... history-making TV