It’s always dangerous to recreate a popular icon of culture; whether its fashion, film, music or TV. There are some things that are just too iconic and successful that regardless of who you get in to remake it, there is something that just does not quite recapture the magic of the original. Sadly the new Upstairs Downstairs doesn’t quite hit the wow factor for me. That said it has in many other ways exceeded my expectations and been a very positive show piece for BBC TV.
One reasons why I feel I may not be falling in love with this new production is that it
was only last year that I discovered the sheer joy of the original series courtesy of ITV3. Very quickly I feel in love with all the original characters from Hudson, Mrs Bridges, Ruby, Rose as well as the Bellemy’s Upstairs. Also as I have written before, sequels are also very difficult and in many ways this new BBC version of Upstairs Downstairs is a sequel the story of 165 Eaton place is picked up 6 years after the last series finished.
The characters upstairs quite frankly have very few characteristics that are redeeming. The new lady of the house, Lady Agnes, played by Keeley Hawes is cold; her husband played by Ed Stoppard is wimpy and wet but has the he does have one redeeming feature; he has a political and moral back bone just like the last Master of 165 Eaton Place, Lord Bellemy.
Also residing upstairs is, Dr Blanche Mottershead played by Alex Kingston of ER and Dr Who fame. The character although played an important part in last nights storyline, she still feels to me almost surplus to requirement and is not a likable character in her mannerisms.
There is however one character upstairs who has hope for being a wonderful character and is a much needed positive depiction of disability on prime time TV. Actress Sarah Gordy, plays the current masters sister, Lady Pamela who suffers from Downs Syndrome. It is both refreshing and heart warming to see that the BBC is reflecting disability and showing a historical look at disability through Lady Pamela.
Drifting between both parts of the house is Mr Amanjit is portrayed by Art Malik; a private secretary and welcome addition of multi culturalism in the drama. His character is likable but that maybe because he shifts between the 2 worlds and is unique in that way.
Downstairs we have an array of characters including a grumpy cook called Mrs Thackery played by Anne Reid (who easily matches the temperament of Mrs Bridges) and the Butler, Mr Pritchard played by Adrian Scarborough (he’s good, but he’s no Hudson). Also the only original cast member from the first ITV production, is Rose Buck played by programme creator, Jean Marsh. Marsh missed the first 2 episodes of the new series due to suffering a stroke at the end of last year. Her character, when revived in 2010, was as feisty and memorable as 35 years ago and brings some of the magic of the original production with her.
It is hard to not to compare the two productions, maybe even more so for myself as I only discovered the magic of the original last year. Once you stop however the new production can be enjoyed for what it is; a costume drama set in the 30’s and on the verge of the Second World War. Another reason why the drama may not be sitting as well for me is that in my mind, its no match for ITVs Downtown Abbey.
As well as the positive already mentioned there are some very interesting historical insights being brought to life in the drama. Last week the events downstairs in 165 Eaton place inspired my post on COs; this week highlights one of the most shameful nights in German history, the Night of Long Knives and the migration of the Jewish children to London afterwards.
The historical events have been very cleverly chosen tasteful approached and thought provoking. For audience with limited or little knowledge of these historical events, the history is not intrusive or overly complex to interfere with the storyline but is enough for those of us who have an interest to feel the spark to read more. The historical content also helps to anchor the drama into the historical period as well as the set dressing and costumes. This is a difficult thing to get right and the new writers have achieved this very well in my humble opinion.
Will I watch the rest of the series, Yes I think I will. I hope that the characters grow into themselves and evolve and warm the nation’s hearts as they did with the first residents of 165 Eaton Place. I also hope that the storylines continue to show case quirky small tit bits of history as well as they have in the first two episodes of this current series.
This post is dedicated to Jenny Tomasin who Played Ruby in the Original
Production; She died on 3rd January 2012.