Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete First Series

Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete First Series


Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

Before Brideshead Revisited, before Pride & Prejudice, there was Upstairs Downstairs. The first series tells the stories of the inhabitants of 165 Eaton Place between the years 1903 and 1909. The upstairs inhabitants are Sir Richard and Lady Bellamy and their grown up children Elizabeth and James. Downstairs, there is Hudson the butler, Mrs. Bridges the cook, Roberts the lady's maid, Rose and Sarah parlour maids, Edward and Alfred footmen and Emily the scullery maid. Each episode revolves around this cast of characters, relating to life on either side of the class divide.

Upstairs Downstairs differs from many of the more recent costume drama serials in that it is not adapted from a novel. Instead, it comprises an original series of scripts, based on an idea by actresses Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, who appears as Rose. Even though it centres on a set of recurring characters, each episode feels self-contained, allowing the viewer to dip in and out without having to watch in sequence.

First transmitted in 1971, the look of the sets and costumes reveal themselves as being of their time. However, there are several unexpected delights. Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) appears as the upstairs parlour maid Sarah, who eventually abandons a life of service in favour of the music hall. The second episode, The Mistress And The Maids highlights her taste for adventure when she agrees to pose for a society painter, who uses her portrait as a social critique.

The third episode, Board Wages introduces the character of James Bellamy (Simon Williams), the dissolute son of the house, who stumbles upon the servants drunkenly playacting in the upstairs parlour. Other highlights include A Cry For Help, a rumination on the plight of the unwed servant girl, A Suitable Marriage, which contains an early portrayal of homosexuality, and I Dies from Love, a poignant romance.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2005
Share this with others on...
Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete First Series packshot
Classic drama series about the upper classes and their servants.
Amazon link

Director: Derek Bennett, Joan Kemp-Welch, Raymond Menmuir, Herbert Wise, Brian Parker

Writer: Charlotte Bingham, Julian Bond, Raymond Bowers, Terence Brady, Maureen Duffy, John Harrison, Jeremy Paul

Starring: Gordon Jackson, David Langton, Jean Marsh, Rachel Gurney, Angela Baddeley, Simon Williams, Pauline Collins, Nicola Pagett, Christopher Beeny, Ian Ogilvy, Evin Crowley, George Innes, Patsy Smart

Year: 1971

Runtime: 650 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


Search database: