17 February 2012 4:07 AM, PST | The Guardian - TV News | See recent The Guardian - TV News news »

Will you be watching international phenomenon Downton or its sumptuous, painstakingly accurate BBC1 rival? Or both?

It's an obsession Downton Abbey's Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) would describe as "frightfully middle class." But there is no escaping the question of whether Upstairs Downstairs is going to be better than Downton.

When Heidi Thomas's Upstairs Downstairs first appeared on our screens, it was destined for unfavourable comparisons. Julian Fellowes's period drama came first – and it was bigger, bolder and brasher than BBC1's genteel offering, which suddenly seemed much reduced in the wake of Downton fever. Worst still, Downton Abbey was a lavish seven-part series whereas Upstairs Downstairs was nothing more than three episodes.

Since its second series, though, Downton has become something very different. It has become an international phenomenon and an object of ridicule, enjoyed, Dallas-style, at times for being terrible.

It's not entirely churlish to »

- Viv Groskop

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