One of the most loved television series of all time is brought back to life with a fresh cast and sumptuous production values. It's 1936, and six years since parlormaid Rose left 165 Eaton Place, fate brings her back, as housekeeper to its new owners: Sir Hallam and his wife Lady Agnes, and Maud, Lady Holland, his mother. Rose soon finds she has her work cut out as she recruits a new 'downstairs' family to help run the elegance and finery of the 'upstairs' world. Both upstairs and downstairs, it soon becomes apparent there lies a labyrinth of secrets, lies and scandal. Set against the historical backdrop of a Britain with a new King, with sexual, social and political tensions, this new series provides an evolving take on the master-servant relationship.
Remade from the hit 1970s serial, this new version of Upstairs, Downstairs, condensed into three hour-long episodes, creates for a modern eye a vision of what 1936 in England must have looked like. That is, if you were royalty, and ran a fantastic mansion at 165 Eaton Place, in one of London's poshest neighborhoods. This show, as indicated in its title, revels in its overall ability to convey life as it unfolds upstairs, among the elite, and downstairs, among those who work tirelessly to keep the palace running. From the first episode, "The Fledgling," the plot is placed politically, socially, and romantically as newlyweds Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) decide to sweep the cobwebs out of the old family haunt in favor of modernization. While mundane house dramas unfurl, increasing tenfold once Sir Hallam's nosy, old-fashioned mother, Maud (Eileen Atkins), decides that she and her pet monkey will be moving in, larger political dramas pepper the personal landscape. For example, in "The Fledgling," as well as the next episodes, "The Ladybird" and "The Cuckoo," Agnes's sister, Lady Persephone (Claire Foy), is increasingly misled by the newly formed fascist party, and mounting tensions between Jewish household members and Persie's ilk, including German official Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly), loom large. As would be expected in this royal tale, much of the plot comprises Agnes's ability to bear children and the political expectations Sir Hallam must meet even when morally conflicted.
The most winning aspect of this miniseries is in its display of what the servants attend throughout; their challenges seem equally as difficult as the challenges presented in tandem upstairs. When Agnes promotes ex-housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) to hire and manage the house crew, Rose rises to the occasion and commands many interesting scenes in which she hires, fires, and coaches team members like the butler, Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), head chef Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid), young footman Johnny (Nico Mirallegro), and maid Ivy (Ellie Kendrick). Lavish scenes showing preparation for parties, plus those in which the servants simply keep up with daily tasks, may shock those who are not familiar with formal etiquette from the past. Amanjit (Art Malik), Maud's secretary who lives upstairs separate from the rest of the servants, serves as a character who straddles both worlds, offering us glimpses into a man who can relate to both classes. While ultimately modern change is afoot in the Holland household, it is slow moving, and viewers will enjoy watching it come incrementally, through refined displays. --Trinie Dalton