Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Third Series

DVD Rating: ***

Reviewed by: Tim Bryant

Read Tim Bryant's film review of Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Third Series

The most noteworthy extra is the third part of the documentary The Story Of Upstairs Downstairs. It features the thoughts and comments of the series' writers, directors and leading players, intercut with the season's highlights. The result is a fairly incisive overview.

The rationale for the decision to have Lady Bellamy drowned on the Titanic is explained. Rachel Gurney had grown tired of the role of traditional matriarch and wanted out. This was quite a blow for the writers, it is revealed, and after the fateful decision had been made, she even tearfully wavered, to be informed it was too late for second thoughts. The arrival of the next lady of the house, the typist Hazel Forrest (Meg Wynn Owen) was quite a change for the very settled cast. Even 30 odd years later the ire of writer Rosemary Ann Sissons at the arrival of this new, self-assured, middle-class woman is detectable. In one of her first rehearsals, it is revealed that Owen took it upon herself to change some of her lines.

The storyline of Alfred (George Innes), the footman's return and subsequent hanging is covered, illuminating that this was quite a daring break into new territory for the traditionally conservative show. Jean Marsh, who plays the maid Rose, and Innes discuss their episode, Rose's Pigeon, in some detail. The concession that it represented a veering into Victorian melodrama is given, helping the viewer to understand why it feels quite unfavourably dated today.

The documentary is perhaps at its most interesting when the actors talk about the recognition they received in real life, constantly being mistaken for their characters. This gives a notion of how significant a place in Britain's Seventies cultural landscape the series enjoyed. Angela Baddeley, who plays Mrs Bridges, reveals the marriage proposals she received, while allegedly David Langton was invited to a Sunday lunch where the Queen Mum addressed him as Lord Bellamy.

Also of interest is the revelation that the Upstairs and Downstairs characters segregated themselves in the rehearsal room. The upstairs lot even received tea and coffee with a certain decorum, while drinks were presented with less and less ceremony to the downstairs crowd.

The documentary touches on the differences with today's television. Director Christopher Hodson ruminates on how he had to get the actors to find reasons to move towards the camera in order to get close ups. Also, it is of significance that everything was generally done in one take.

The Story Of finishes neatly with thoughts on the First World War, the outbreak of which finishes Series Three. Clips of Hudson, the butler, raising a glass to war, cut with musings on the scale of impending doom, are good enough to be thought provoking.

The six audio commentaries generally cover the same ground as the documentary and are often waffling and lightweight, straying into reunion gossip, presumably only of interest to serious aficionado's with a lot of time on their hands, or people actually involved in the making the series.

Although somewhat repetitive of the documentary, writer Rosemary Ann Sisson's has some interesting critical comments on Episode Two, while Jaqueline Tong and Jean Marsh have a lively discussion on the difficulties of the sets in Goodwill To All Men.

The two interviews are fairly curious in their inclusion. Gordon Jackson reveals himself as very honest, irreverent and funny - a million miles from Hudson - in his 1974 appearance on The Russell Harty Show, during which the series is barely mentioned. The second interview with Alexander Faris, the musical composer, is only of interest for its inclusion of newly recorded orchestral renditions of the show's theme tune in 5.1 surround. The interview itself is boring in the extreme and again one wonders for whom it is tailored.

The packaging of the DVD across four discs and the inclusion of the documentary make this a fairly decent offering, but the interviews and commentaries do leave you wondering.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2006
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Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Third Series packshot
National and social changes amongst the privileged and servant classes in London during tempestuous times before The Great War.
Amazon link

Product Code: 7952433

Region: 2

Ratio: 4:3

Sound: Dolby Digital mono

Extras: Audio commentary on six episodes; The Story Of Upstairs Downstairs: Part Three - A Change Of Scene; interviews with actor Gordon Jackson and composer Alexander Faris

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