'Upstairs Downstairs' Nostalgia Bores
165 Eaton Place once again opens its doors to PBS viewers for the second season of Upstairs Downstairs. The quaint, classic story of the dynamics between the upper class and working class has long been told since the 1970s when the original series first aired. With rumors of cancelation, some may be surprised at the launch of another season given the apparent ups and downs — pun intended. Sadly, this will be the show’s final airing. Competing with its period drama nemesis Downton Abbey, the probability of success has simply not been on its side.
The opulence and grandeur of it all still remains, and seems to be the single pillar holding up a crumbling institution. Glamorous mansions often house prestigious families who undoubtedly require assistance, and who hire only the best to handle their domesticities. Ironically, viewers are more interested in the goings-on of the servants and not their purported betters. The affairs of the wealthy in this case are not as appealing given the snobbish prudes residing downstairs, who pale in comparison to those they serve.
For those unfamiliar with the series, this period drama takes place in England on the cusp of WWII. The times are uncertain and uneasy with Germany and England making their way into unfriendly territory. The show is follows two storylines: the redundancies of the household, which makes for lavish, impious pleasure, and the entanglement of political issues, due to the looming rise of Hitler and his Nazi army. Tension grows close and everyone can feel it as it permeates daily life. Sir Hallam (Ed Stoppard) is caught up in rough waters with his political dealings while his wife has caught the eye of Casper Landry (Michael Landes). His troubles are compounded when his relationship with Lady Persie becomes more illicit. Reluctantly, the controversial Lady Persie (Claire Foy) makes her eminent return, and viewers await what other upheavals she can conjure up. She prefers residing in Germany in order to continue her vaguely implied love affair with one of the German Colonels, but is forced to return to England in desperate need of Sir Hallam’s help.
Downstairs of Eton Place tension also arises between Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) and Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid). His refusal to fight in WWI due to his pious upbringing is brought to light, and many cast an eye of disapproval. Yet, nothing compares to the fury of Mr. Armanjit (Art Malik) who served honorably in the war and strongly believes it is every man’s duty to pick up arms in defense of his country. Overall, the staff and subsequently the entire household try to find their bearing in the absence of Rose Buck, played by Jean Marsh, the series canon patriarch as well as creator.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot going on within Eaton place, but fans of the original series dating over 40 years ago have been given a show condemning them to complacency. Die-hard fans of the previous series fell in love with the endearing characters and their homey appeal. Even those residing upstairs had an innocent charm about them as their flaws seem to be what made them so human, and not the untouchable aristocrats they appear to be from a social standpoint. Moreover, the dynamic relationship between the two classes made for great television. Producers have tried appealing to their audience by incorporating various scenarios in their revival of the series. Yet, these attempts come off as being quite farfetched and sadly falls by the way side.
Ratings dropped considerably throughout the first season and the current one placed before us appears to be dry and forced. The much-needed intimacy between character and audience is slowly dissipating, and viewers are left with hollow characters that remain difficult to connect with, not to mention a political struggle that is haphazardly reproduced. Nevertheless, Upstairs Downstairs posed hopeful for a successful series turn around. Though it was given the axe maybe all too soon, this six-part series can be appreciated for what it’s worth: a respectable attempt at British nostalgia.