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Reviews & Ratings for
"Upstairs, Downstairs" More at IMDbPro »

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Classic television

Author: tony-1000 (tony@onlyfools.com) from Yorkshire, England
28 May 2004

I have just bought the whole 5 series on DVD and am currently watching them all, especially the first two series which i never saw on their first showing. The series has not dated and is just as powerful as when it was first shown. Pauline Collins was a revelation as the sassy housemaid. I had only ever seen her before in the strange sitcom 'No Honestly,' in which she again co starred with real life husband John Alderton. They also starred in 'Thomas and Sarah' and the environmentally aware series 'Forever Green.'

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

British Drama at its Best

10/10
Author: timcon1964 from United States
11 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of the greatest dramatic series of all time, Upstairs Downstairs (U/D) is about life at 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in London. It reflects the tensions between masters and servants, between different categories of servants, and between the existing order and those who do not fully accept it--servants who aspire to careers outside of domestic service, persons motivated by middle-class values, and the nouveau riche who respect money and power more than tradition. Both upstairs and downstairs residents are influenced by British imperialism and xenophobia.

The household is headed by Richard Bellamy (David Langton), the son of a clergyman, who has married Lady Marjorie, scion of the prominent Southwold family. As a political and social conservative, Richard attains high administrative offices, but, as a member of Parliament, he prefers to vote according to his conscience rather than the Southwold family's preferences. Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney) is imperious and aristocratic. Their son James (Simon Williams), an army officer, is plagued by such bad judgment that we generally cannot sympathize with him. His sister Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) is idealistic and romantic, but unrealistic. Her relations with the male sex always turn out badly, until (having left U/D after Series 2) she is said to have found marital happiness in America. Following Marjorie's death, management of the household falls to James's new wife Hazel (Meg Wynn Owen), the daughter of an accountant, who is guided by different values than other members of the Bellamy family. Marjorie's niece Georgina (Lesley-Anne Down) arrives in Series 3, with a sense of idealism and adventure. After the war, Richard marries Virginia (Hannah Gordon), who provides companionship and support.

The downstairs staff is directed by the butler, Hudson (Gordon Jackson), who relies on discipline to preserve traditional standards, and discretion to prevent scandal, but can be sympathetic when the occasion warrants. Mrs. Bridges (Angela Baddeley), the cook, overcomes kitchen crises and follows household gossip. Rose (Jean Marsh), the head house parlor maid, later ladies maid, is devoted to the family, but occasionally expresses dissatisfaction with her "place" in the system. Under house parlor maid Sarah (Pauline Collins) makes up in imagination what she lacks in education; anxious to escape domestic service, she becomes a chorus girl. Chauffeur Thomas Watkins (John Alderton) is something of a con-artist, but he evidently has genuine affection for Sarah. Under house parlor maid Daisy (Jacqueline Tong) marries footman Edward (Christopher Beeny) and attempts to advance his career. At the bottom of the servants' hierarchy is the kitchen maid Ruby (Jenny Tomasin).

The stories deal with a wide range of subjects. Many episodes are connected to such real events as the death of Edward VII, World War I, the Silvertown munitions factory explosion, the 1926 General Strike, and the Stock Market Crash. The producers gave great attention to verisimilitude -for example, consulting with Buckingham Palace staff regarding protocol for hosting the king's visit to 165 Eaton Place.

Many viewers consider Series 1 (1903-1909) U/D's least successful series. It had a lower budget than subsequent series; and, due to a technicians' strike, the first half dozen episodes were filmed in black and white. Writers, directors, and actors were still trying to set the parameters for the program. As a result, this series includes several strange stories; and some characters (especially the footman Alfred), lack credibility. Some performances are too loud, too demonstrative, and poorly choreographed. Many of the stories in Series 2 (1908 - 1910) provide various perspectives on marriage; others deal with problems created by a superannuated nanny and by Elizabeth's suffrage activities. King Edward VII is a dinner guest in one episode; and this series ends with his death. Series 3 (1912 - 1914) witnesses the arrival of Hazel Forrest as Richard Bellamy's secretary, and her marriage to James Bellamy. Lady Marjorie having died on the Titanic, Hazel assumes the management of the household. She eventually overcomes downstairs resentment; but her middle-class outlook leads to clashes with Richard and James. This series ends with the outbreak of World War I. The war casts a shadow over Series 4 (1914-1918), which many consider the best. The Bellamys take in a family of Belgian refugees, James Bellamy and footman Edward join the army, other members of the household take on war-related duties; and a local baker, of German descent, becomes a victim of anti-German hysteria. The war impacts the household in various ways--the staff must dine on ersatz meat and potatoes, James comes home severely wounded, and the house is hit by a bomb. Series 5 (1919-1930) deals with life in the 1920s. Richard finds happiness with his new wife Virginia. But old values are challenged, as the younger generation engage in wild parties and other reckless behavior. As a result of the stock market crash and the Depression, both upstairs and downstairs residents must leave Eaton Place to start new lives elsewhere.

U/D's 68 episodes were the product of 9 writers and 8 directors—so there are some inconsistencies, and some episodes are better than others. But, overall, the performances are outstanding. By informal count, U/D was nominated for 17 Emmys and received 7, most significantly, 4 successive awards for outstanding dramatic series. It was nominated for 9 BAFTA awards and received 2; and was nominated for 4 Golden Globe Awards and received 1. It also received a Peabody Award, a Royal Television Society Award; and its theme song won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Theme From a Radio or Television Production. The program could have continued beyond five years, but the actors, writers, and directors chose to end it. Thus, there have been no further episodes of this outstanding drama.

Christopher Hodson, who directed 14 episodes, described U/D as "the sort of series that doesn't come along more than once in a lifetime." Few would disagree.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Classy and just wonderful

10/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
18 January 2011

I love a good period drama, and Upstairs, Downstairs is that and more. Everything about it is wonderful, and it is also very classy and a delight to watch. The series looks sumptuous; the photography is marvellous while the locations, scenery and costumes are a delight to the eyes. The music is beautifully composed, the pace is warm and lively without being too rushed or draggy and the direction is always controlled. There is also the fabulous writing, the engrossing stories and the rich characters and their development. And the acting is great across the board, I personally do not think there is a weak link in the cast. All in all, this is a wonderful series and worth looking out for. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

30 years of family life at 165 Eaton Place

9/10
Author: George Wright from Canada
10 August 2012

I first viewed this series in the 1970's on PBS and have taken up the habit again. It is just so entertaining and classy that I can't shake my addiction to this wonderful period drama. Sadly, most of the actors have passed, only the younger ones are still alive. But that doesn't reduce the rich legacy of the whole cast. During the five seasons of this series, viewers witness the evolution of an aristocratic London family from 1901 to the early 1930's.

We journey with the family upstairs and their downstairs staff through many of the pivotal events of the era: the Titanic disaster, the Great War, the clash between labour and wealth, the market crash and depression. Not all the episodes are riveting but most of them kept this viewer transfixed to the screen. Lord and Lady Bellamy, performed by David Langton and Rachel Gurney, are the main characters upstairs as the series begins. Richard Bellamy is a Member of Parliament; Lady Marjorie, who comes from the landed gentry, oversees the staff with grace and a strict code of behaviour. She has her society friends and Lord Bellamy comes in touch with the leading figures of the day, from Lloyd George to Churchill. We even watch the family welcome Edward VII, the King of England, whose visit is punctuated by a servant giving birth.

Downstairs is dominated by the butler Angus Hudson, performed by Gordon Jackson, as an upright, no-nonsense Scot who runs the household with admirable efficiency and strict discipline. Angela Baddeley is the cook, a true perfectionist in the kitchen who tolerates no insubordination. If things go wrong, she can become unhinged until Hudson steps in to calm her down. Jean Marsh, who conceived the series with Eileen Atkins, is the head parlourmaid, Rose. Rose typifies many of the changes going on in her world and manages to be a friend and confidante to characters upstairs and down. Atkins never did appear...more the pity, but with the rest of this stellar cast, the series always sparkled anyway.

The cast changes as time passes and some remain to the end. Some characters with minor roles rise in prominence and more prominent ones disappear or recede. In this respect, it resembles family life in any era. The audience feels like a fly on the wall over the period as we see the intimate details of the lives of characters upstairs and down amid the changing face of British society. When the series ends, we feel the loss of the characters but with a great sense of satisfaction for knowing them and the world in which they lived.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Great for binge watching

10/10
Author: Gary Kramer from Canada
4 February 2014

We watched all five series back to back and what a wonderful experience it was. One really got to know some of the characters and could see where the story was going (although there were definitely some sad surprises).

No wonder this was so highly rated and so highly watched during its release days.

You get a really good sense of what life was like in service, and the type of people that did well in that role. A totally different lifestyle to what we are used to today and certainly not one that I would enjoy.

Its sad that many of the actors in this series have now passed away.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Intriguing.

Author: Blueghost from The San Francisco Bay Area
29 December 2012

The post Victorian era in London and countryside are abound with adventure and intrigue. This series shows us the social dichotomy of those who owned homes and wealth, and those who served them. A variety of circumstances course through this show depicting an era without television, limited radio, biased newspapers, phones whose service shut off at regular hours, and other than trains and limited automobile use, horses were still the predominant mode of transportation.

Upstairs live the masters. Downstairs work (and live) the servants. The family are a traditional "posh" set with some money--more than average, though not ravishingly wealthy. Their servants are well behaved, reserved, obedient, loyal, and love the family they serve. The family themselves are respectable in nearly every way. Their code clashes with the loose morays of those outside the home, and social combatants engage in venomous and confrontational dialogue.

Apparently the DVD sets are going for $60+ American. Well, "Upstairs Downstairs" isn't Star Trek nor Aliens, but seeing the trappings, hearing the dialogue, watching the mannerisms in old PAL video (a finer definition than American NTSC), and streaming it from an authorized website like Amazon or Acorn TV is well worth the low cost. The images are crisp. Much clearer than they could be seen when first broadcast, unless you were living next to a transmission tower.

Another perk of this show is that the actors aren't all pretty. They are real character actors. The performances they deliver past muster with flying colors, as they deliver lines that could only have been written by someone in an authority of the period.

Great Britain had a closed market system empire-wide, known as the Commonwealth, and this allowed for a circulatory fiduciary economy that was insular and protected. Even so fortunes are made and crushed with the stroke of a pen. And the idle rich have their own cruel games to keep them occupied. Another theme and challenge that confront the family Belamy.

I watched the first episode just to see what the series was all about. I actually had seen small portions of it back when it first aired many decades ago. With a better understanding of the world I found the series very engaging for what it was. We're not just seeing a successful family, but one with principal. One founded on the values of right and wrong, and how they deal with the challenges that batter their 19th century castle door (to coin a phrase).

To be honest, I got a little tired of it because it's not normally the kind of TV show that I'm used to liking and watching. But, if you like your entertainment refined, then this should prove worth while.

Enjoy.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

the finest moment in television history pinpointed

Author: henry-185 from United Kingdom
16 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw for the first time recently the episode of Upstairs Downstairs where Richard Bellamy (m'Lord) is sitting in the morning room with Hazel and he says "as for the future: I have my doubts, but then tomorrow's a long way off". He is in profile, and his hair is white with age, though it looks vaguely like a wig that was worn centuries before by the aristocracy. I've always thought that the key to learning history is to find the points when one way of life changes, and that moment in Upstiars Downstairs showed me how those values and characters were not part of a distant past, but very real and wonderful people. I found myself feeling so at home with the situation in 'good old 165' that I have found no other more precious moment in a film or on television that is finer. What I mean by that is the kind of moment like at the end of Hannibal where Sir Anthony Hopkins says to Julianne Moore: "all you would need for that, Clarice, is a mirror".

All worth tears and smiles

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Wonderful program

9/10
Author: donna-64012 from United States
29 May 2017

The best of the best but I can only give it a 9. I'd rate Upstairs Downstairs a 10 if not for the awful acting abilities of Meg Wynn Owen. I haven't seen any of her other work but her portrayal of Hazel is bewildering. I wonder if the character is supposed to be so odd in her halting speech and mannerisms.

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Positively Brilliant Television

10/10
Author: Virginia Wilson from United States
7 August 2015

Brainchild of actress Jean Marsh, who plays the house parlor maid, Rose Buck. Gordon Jackson is remarkable as Mr. Hudson, the butler. Set in Edwardian England, much of the story is told from the servant's POV, which makes this series unique imo. The series doesn't shy away from issues of class and sexism. You get to see the changes in this period of history; the manners, fashion, and decor... from horse-drawn carriages to "motor cars," from gas lights to electricity, from bells to buzzers, etc. And the events leading up to and surrounding WWI. Some people call it a "soap opera," but it's so much more, really.

This early series eclipses the newer remake imo, and also much of the first few episodes of Downton Abbey are practically lifted whole cloth from this original series. When it began, Upstairs Downstairs was on a tight budget, and while it lacks the lavish production of Downton Abbey, it surpasses DA in substance and accuracy. I find the servants far more interesting than the bourgie or aristocracy. I love the way the meticulous labor of the servants is addressed, and how the daughter, Elizabeth rebels against the status quo and challenges social mores, albeit from her privileged position and in sometimes misguided fashion. This show is brilliant.

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History and Memory

10/10
Author: trefbhe from United States
6 July 2010

Many find history cold and uninvolving. It is the memory of others. To make it real, you have to give events an emotional core. I think this series is better at accomplishing that on a consistent basis than any that I have ever seen. History tends to play as Grand Opera, but the reason this series works is because it finds the link between individual responses to the mood of an era and the viewer's own "everyday" emotions. You connect with the mood; you are then invested in the whole household's responses to the events. I find that my memories of the series are tied up with my recollections of the events occurring in my own life at the time. They are mixed; I cannot separate them. It is more than "inviting them into your living room". There is a recurring intimacy available to TV that other media cannot access. Great TV realizes this. The other example that pops into my head is "Scenes from a Marriage", although it is more a pure emotional "history".

If someone wanted to understand how England changed from the Edwardian world to the Great Depression, I would tell them to watch 10 episodes of "Upstairs, Downstairs" rather than read 10 history books.

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