The series follows the lives of both the family and the servants in the London townhouse at 165 Eaton Place. Richard Bellamy, the head of the household, is a member of Parliament, and his wife a member of the titled aristocracy. Belowstairs, Hudson, the Scottish butler directs and guides the other servants about their tasks and (sometimes) their proper place. Real-life events from 1903-1930 are incorporated into the stories of the Bellamy household.Written by
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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