on December 5, 2005
I have no idea why some of the reviewers are complaining about the audio and video quality of these DVDs. Because of those reviews I almost did not buy this set. That would have been a grave error. I suppose, if you are some type of audio/video expert you might find a few reasons to complain, but this is a 35 year old British TV show. If you expect special effects, buy Star Wars, not Upstairs Downstairs. The quality of the audio and video was quite acceptable and certainly better than when it originally aired. (It should also be remembered that the first season was filmed during a technicians strike.)
As for the show itself, Upstairs Downstairs is one of the greatest TV shows ever filmed. It is an extremely entertaining examination of the British class system from 1900 to 1930 (particularly what happened to it as a result of WWI). After you have watched a couple of shows, you will have difficulty turning them off.
on July 14, 2003
It wasn't commercial. It wasn't conventional. It dealt with issues not often talked about in the early 70s, both the social issues that permiate through the series, and also such issues, in certain episodes, as prejudice, suicide, and homosexuality.
This is the story of the Bellamy household at 165 Eaton Place, London, both the upstairs family (the Bellamy family, led by Richard Bellamy, a member of Parliament) and the downstairs family (the servants, led by Angus Hudson, the butler, who in his way is more aristocratic than the aristocrats). Yet in many ways, they are a single family, and we see them from the period 1905 to the 1920s, an era of profound social change, and we see the effects such changes have on this household, from a time when going "into service" was routine to the time when having half a dozen servants for a small upper middle class family such as the Bellamys was beginning to be the exception, not the rule.
The series includes rarely shown episodes from the 1st season, as well as the special, Upstairs Downstairs Remembered: The 25th Anniversary Special. While the special is included with the first series episodes, I would advise waiting until you have viewed the entire series before watching the special, to avoid any plot points being given away.
The acting is wonderful, led by Gordon Jackson (as Hudson, the butler), David Langton (as Richard Bellamy), and Jean Marsh (as house parlormaid Rose Buck). Marsh also originated and guided the series. These three characters seem like rocks, upon which the waves of the social changes beat. Yet they are worn and changed by the events of this incredible era. Nonetheless, this is very much an ensemble cast--no character appears in more than 60 of the 68 episodes.
The first season seems almost experimental--many of the episodes have specific themes, such as those mentioned above. A couple were unsuccessful and their events are never referred to again (for example, "The Swedish Tiger"). In the remaining seasons, events tend to build over the thirteen episodes, to culminate to some extent in the final episode of the season, which usually deals with a major event in the world (for example the King's death at the end of the second season, the start of the war in the third, the end of the war in the fourth).
Perhaps the most powerful episodes are those dealing with World War I, and the profound waste of the war, as many of the best of the generation are lost. By the end of the War, there has been tremendous tragedy, and even the most ardent supporter of the war doubts the justice of the war. But do not underestimate the fifth season, as the social structure crumbles. The signs of this crumbling are seen throughout the earlier episodes, but they come to a head in the fifth season.
I have tried to avoid discussing the plot, so as not to give away the plot events that should come as a surprise to you. But suffice it to say that this is one of the first series when anything can happen within the framework of the series, when you could not count on everything ending happily by the end of the hour--or at all.
I suspect that many people shopping this new release of "Upstairs, Downstairs" for its fortieth anniversary commemoration (which happens to coincide with a new version coming to PBS later in 2011) will already be familiar with the series. Many, like I do, might already own the previous version of the complete series on DVD. It's been out of print for several years, so I'm thrilled to see this magnificent and ground breaking series back on the marketplace. If you have never seen or do not own "Upstairs, Downstairs"--then my recommendation is a no-brainer. Get it! However, what I wanted to know and any previous owners might be itching to know--is it an upgrade worthy of reinvestment?
While I love my current DVD collection, it's not a particularly high quality transfer. After researching this new set through PBS directly, I am reporting that there are NO promises on the reworking of visual or audio components. The same proclamation that was on the last DVD issue is on this one--"digitally remastered for presentation on DVD." So it appears to be a strict reissue, not new re-mastering. It does, however, seem to be drawn from a clearer source material with a cleaner picture quality thankfully. The features of the 68 episodes on 21 DVDs include a 5-part documentary "The Making of Upstairs, Downstairs," 24 episode commentaries, 25th anniversary retrospective "Upstairs, Downstairs Remembered," Interviews with the stars, composer, and editor, Alternate pilot episode, and an essay by star and co-creator Jean Marsh. Obviously the 25th anniversary retrospective was included on the prior release--so that leaves the documentary, some interviews, and commentary and as much as I love "Upstairs, Downstairs"--I can't justify repurchasing the set for this reissue.
In no way, however, would I discourage anyone from enjoying the goings-on at 165 Eaton Place. Smart and sophisticated, this saga told through five seasons (1971-1975) is the epitome of quality television. What many may not realize however, is how truly progressive it was--how "of the time." It covered several controversial issues that were considered taboo for traditional network fare in the seventies. Impressive for its huge and talented cast, stellar scripts, and exquisite use of period details (Titanic, Wall Street), this Edwardian soap opera set the standard for British drama and was embraced by American audiences as well. Set initially in the years preceding World War 1, "Upstairs, Downstairs" really engaged the viewer and adopted to the historical significance in each season culminating in some strong war period episodes in Season 4. But by embracing the inhabitants--both masters and servants--at Eaton Place, "Upstairs, Downstairs" undeniably succeeds at human drama with fully realized portrayals. The winner of 9 Emmys, "Upstairs, Downstairs" has earned its place in TV history. If you don't own it, why not? KGHarris, 1/11.
on August 16, 2006
It is no exaggeration to say that this classic early 70's British period drama is one of the all-time best series of its sort ever produced. With sixty-eight 50-minute episodes, the series covers a time span of nearly 30 years (from early Edwardian England in 1903, through the horrors of the First World War, and on into the Roaring 20s, finally concluding with 1929's stock market crash). The setting is the household of the Bellamy family at 165 Eaton Place, London. Upstairs live Richard Bellamy, MP, and his beautiful, aristocratic wife, Lady Margery. The Bellamys have two adult children, Captain James and Elizabeth, who come and go much like a recurring motif (though recurring nightmare might be more appropriate, for they are the source of much grief (albeit unintended) for their society parents). I don't wish to give the storylines, scandals and surprises away. Suffice it to say that as the series progress, there are lovers, marriages, births and deaths (not to mention the arrival of a beautiful young niece) which impact on the relationships and alter the composition of the group above stairs.
Downstairs we are privy to the lives of the servants in the Bellamy household. First and foremost is the devout, inflexible and regimental head butler, Angus Hudson, the staff overlord. Then there is the curmudgeonly but good-hearted cook, Mrs. Bridges. Other memorable characters include the efficient but sheltered head house/parlour maid, Rose Buck; the religious but simple footman, Alfred; his successor, the good-natured Edward, who has an eye for the female staff; the not-overly-bright scullery maid, Emily, and her successor and intellectual equal, Ruby; and Lady Margery's prim and snobbish lady's maid, Miss Roberts. Of course, one simply cannot forget the sassy, vivacious new under house/parlour maid, Sarah (Pauline Collins), who is a real dreamer and schemer and who, like a bad penny, turns up on the Bellamys' doorstep periodically during the first two series, or the new capable-but-just-as-conniving chauffeur, Thomas (Collins' real-life husband, John Alderton), who is nobody's fool! Like the family upstairs, the downstairs "family" too has its share of comings and goings, what with lovers, marriages, deaths, hirings, and firings.
This boxed set includes the 1979 spin-off series entitled Thomas and Sarah (thirteen 50-minute episodes), which chronicles the adventures and misadventures of those two memorable miscreants after they leave the Bellamy's employ. Unlike Upstairs Downstairs, which is fairly high drama infused with a spattering comic relief here and there, Thomas and Sarah is very much a comedy-drama. With Sarah's penchant for foreign accents and tale-telling and the conniving and entrepreneurial spirit that both characters embody, the stage is set for some thoroughly enjoyable vignettes. Most of the episodes involve the couple trying their hands (and luck) at something new--like running a match-making agency, working in a boys' school, working as magicians, and so on. For all their efforts, however, they always seem to find themselves skint--and thus the need for another enterprise (and hence another enjoyable episode!). The only thing less than satisfactory is the "conclusion" of the final episode, which left me wondering whether or not a second series was at least anticipated. But that's is a minor quibble, for this is a series to be watched for the sheer enjoyment of the journey.
One final dvd bonus is the enjoyable and informative 50-minute 25th Anniversary Special, which was produced around 1998 and includes remembrances by many of the surviving actors (including James, Elizabeth, Rose, Edward, Daisy, and Ruby).
In conclusion, Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply an outstanding dramatic series. It is compelling, captivating, and often thought-provoking; and if you enjoy a dramatic series with lots of "goings on," scandal, and so forth, you'll enjoy it all the more! The inclusion of Thomas and Sarah is a delightful, light-hearted, entertaining bonus, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend this boxed set to all fans of the very best in British period drama.
This box set comprises the entire series of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS (all 68 episodes spread across 20 discs), and is well worth the price. This wonderful series has become a British institution and a worldwide favorite among viewers. It has a huge fan following.
The story follows the lives and loves of the Bellamy family who reside in a fashionable house in Eaton Place. Downstairs, their loyal and lively servants uphold their own code of values whilst trying to come to terms with an ever-changing world. UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS covers the years 1903-1930, and features fantastic writing and direction, not to mention top-drawer performances from a gloriously talented cast.
Season 1 - We are introduced to the Bellamy family: Richard (David Langton), his wife Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney) and their grown-up children James (Simon Williams) and Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett). In the first episode, "On Trial", we also meet the vivacious Clemence (Pauline Collins) who arrives at 165 Eaton Place looking for a job. After Lady Marjorie re-names the girl Sarah, she's quickly inducted into the household, but finds life as a servant frustrating and unnatural.
Later choice moments in the season include "Magic Casements", where Lady Marjorie has a brief and tender affair with a young army captain; "The Path of Duty" features the rebellious Elizabeth running away from home on the eve of her society debut; "Why is Her Door Locked?" recounts the unhappy, emotionally-disturbed Mrs Bridges (Angela Baddeley) kidnapping a small child. The season ends on a hopeful note as Elizabeth marries the romantic poet Lawrence Kirbridge (Ian Ogilvy) in "For Love of Love".
Season 2 - Picks up the story following Elizabeth and Lawrence's honeymoon, and their household in Greenwich. Humorous scenes downstairs featuring Rose (Jean Marsh), Thomas (John Alderton) and Mrs Fellowes (Dorothy Frere) contrast dramatically with the unhappy marriage of Elizabeth and Lawrence upstairs.
Other standout episodes include "Your Obediant Servant", where Hudson (Gordon Jackson) dresses up as a toff in order to impress his brother's family who are visiting from India; "The Property of a Lady" where Sarah and Thomas attempt to help Lady Marjorie who's being blackmailed about her secret affair from Season 1; and "Out of the Everywhere" where the resourceful Sarah once again saves the day for the Bellamy's. Perhaps the season is best-remembered for "Guest of Honour" in which King Edward comes to dine at 165. This season marked the last for Elizabeth, Thomas and Sarah.
Season 3 - Another strong season, which gets off to a cracking start in "Miss Forrest", in which Richard has hired the services of secretary Hazel Forrest (Meg Wynn Owen) while he is busy writing Lord Southwold's political biography. Lady Marjorie is getting ready for a voyage on the Titanic...
Later standouts include "A Perfect Stranger" where Rose gets her first taste of real love when she meets charming Gregory Wilmot (Keith Barron), an Australian sheep-farmer. Romance also keeps up James who impetuously proposes to and marries the mild-mannered Hazel; "Goodwill to all Men" introduces us to Lord Southwold's young ward Georgina Worsley (Lesley-Anne Down), and a charming storyline featuring the second (and last) appearance of Cathleen Nesbitt as Dowager Lady Southwold. The season ends on a dramatic note when World War One is declared.
Season 4 - Generally regarded by fans as the strongest of the five seasons, with superb acting and cracker storylines. The season starts off with "A Patriotic Offering" where Lady Prudence (Joan Benham) suggests that Hazel takes in a family of Belgian refugees. "The Beastly Hun" features an Emmy-winning performance from Gordon Jackson; whilst "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" has Hazel falling in love with a handsome young airman who is later tragically killed in a bombing strike. The season also introduces us to the charming naval widow Virginia Hamilton (Hannah Gordon), who turns to Richard for help when her oldest son is to be court-martialled. The season ends on a tragic note when Hazel contracts a severe and dangerous strain of the flu virus just as peace is declared by England.
Season 5 - James and Georgina settle into a party lifestyle with their mindless society friends, whilst the newly-married Richard and Virginia settle into life at Eaton Place with her two young children Alice (Anne Yarker) and William (Jonathan Seely). "A Place in the World" details bored and dissatisfied James following his father in politics; "Disillusion" follows an ill-fated romance between Hudson and young maid Lily (Karen Dotrice), and Georgina toys with a career as a movie actress in "Alberto". The season ends with the marriage of Georgina and Robert, the Marquis of Stockbridge (Anthony Andrews). James returns from a trip to America with big dreams about the Stock Exchange, but then the Wall Street crash puts the financial future of the Bellamy's in doubt...
There aren't enough words to express how much I love UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS. My favorite moments from the series come mostly from seasons 1 and 2, and while I love the entire series, I particularly love the performances of Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth) and Pauline Collins (Sarah).
If you are a fan of the series or a fan of British period drama, then I highly-recommend this superb series! A must-own.
on January 18, 2011
One of the most successful British television dramas, "Upstairs, Downstairs" became one of the few english programs to attain global recognition, garnering an impressive seven american Emmy awards when it originally aired between 1971-1975. Most Americans saw the series when it ran on local PBS stations and later cable's A&E channel, while Canadians viewed it via the CBC.
The series dealt with the rich and the poor and as any lover of soap opera knows when you pit these two types of people together fireworks will ignite. Indeed a soap, "Upstairs, Downstairs" dealt with the rich Bellamy family living in the high class Belgravia neighborhood in London. Their lives were intertwined by their servants who lived "downstairs" and who wanted to attain the richness and social standing of their employers. World War 1 was the backdrop for the serial which only added extra drama to the show.
"Upstairs, Downstairs" is known as the series where many Hollywood leading ladies received their start, most notably Jean Marsh (who had a hand in the creation of the show) and Lesley-Ann Down, most famous for her role in "North and South" and currently starring in "The Bold and the Beautiful".
This beautiful box set contains 21 DVD's featuring all the show's 68 episodes and has a plethora of extras that include over 25 hours of never-before-seen footage! The bonus features include a 5 part documentary called "The Making of "Upstairs, Downstairs", 24 episode commentaries, interviews with cast members, and more. Sadly, when the producers went into the ITV archives to clean the show's original prints it was discovered the pilot had been "wiped" which was the custom for many British shows in the early seventies.
The first two seasons of "Upstairs, Downstairs" (known as "series" in Britain) will be available individually with the release of the entire series box set. The remaining three seasons will be on store shelves before the end of 2011.
The series has been revived on the BBC as of late 2010.
on October 9, 2007
It goes without saying that "Upstairs/Downstairs" is a brilliant, entertaining series well worth the owning. When Amazon offered the Collector's Edition Megaset on a great sale, I couldn't pass it up. I didn't really remember the series well, but I knew I very much wanted to see it. Like others, I read the discouraging reviews about the A&E Home Video transfer, but I thought, I'm not really that picky and it's probably not all that bad. Well, I am not that picky; I don't care about things being in HD or looking like a "Harry Potter" movie. That said, I want readers to know, I was very, very disappointed in the visual and sound quality of A&Es Megaset. So much so, I had given thought to sending this set back and exchanging it for another in hopes that it might be better. But first I did some research. I googled "Why are the DVDs of A&E's Upstairs/Downstairs so bad?" and found an informative website which had a page on the US A&E version. It made it clear that A&E Home Video had used old copies of the episodes for their remastering instead of getting new ones from the UK, undoubted a cost saving measure on their part. As someone who has purchased many of these wonderful, older British series, I can tell you that the A&E version of the Joan Hickson "Miss Marple"s are not terribly good either, although they are certainly better than these sorry things. I have only taken a quick look at the two Thomas & Sarah DVDs and they do appear to be somewhat better than Upstairs/Downstairs. Hopefully, someday another company will release a quality set of the original series.
on March 17, 2011
Yes! The episodes are restored, and they look gorgeous! At last America can say goodbye to the previous shoddy looking dvd release, and enjoy this series as it was meant to be seen.
The extras have all been ported over from a UK release, and they are thoroughly entertaining...25 hours worth! We get cast/writer/director commentaries, a documentary with wonderful interviews for each of the 5 seasons, the 25th Anniversary documentary, "Upstairs Downstairs Remembered", interviews from the 70's with British interviewer Russell Harty, and most exciting of all is an alternate version of the first episode, with an alternate ending.
My only carp was that there is not an episode guide included, but there is a written essay by star Jean Marsh.
This release was worth every penny to me.
on September 19, 2004
The series is a gem. Believe every positive review about it. It is television at its best. The only outrage is the poor quality of the transfer on the A&E set released in the US and Canada. The picture, colours, sound are awful. I bought the set and returned it. I saw the United Kingdom release, Region 2 encoded, and it is much better. You can get an idea of the difference in picture and colour quality on the Upstairs Downstairs web site, video availability page at [...] A&E should be ashamed to give this excellent series such a bad treatment and charge over $300 for the insult.
I can't remember ever pre-ordering a DVD boxed set - or anything else - on amazon. But I so enjoyed this series on PBS years ago, that I took the plunge and pre-ordered this 40th anniversary collection.
Buyer's remorse? No way! I'm in the midst of hours of enjoyment going through this set in order, watching the episodes, the commentaries, the interviews, the special "Making Of .." programs, and the other included extras.
I find the video quality of these DVDs to be at a minimum acceptable, and often excellent. But then, I don't expect that a TV series shot on a modest budget in the UK in the 1970's on videotape, can be transformed into a fantastically hi-def TV experience on modern DVDs. I never saw the old A&E DVDs, which I have heard were of disappointing quality, so I can't compare these DVDs to those.
At this point I'm about half-way through the fourth season, the World War I episodes. And looking forward, after I finish writing this review, to heading back to the living room to watch another episode this evening.
Just because this subject came up in a prior review: I have had no problem turning on (and off) the subtitles (aka closed captioning) using the onscreen menu of my Blu-ray player.