Upstairs, Downstairs Season 2 (2012)
Decades before ITV launched Downton Abbey
, the BBC created a sensation with Upstairs Downstairs
, which revived interest in the British manor house. In 2010, the series came back to life with a new cast--plus holdover Miss Buck (co-creator Jean Marsh)--centering on Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), a foreign-service diplomat, and his wife, Lady Agnes (MI-5
's Keeley Hawes). In season two, which takes place in 1938, World War II darkens their doorstep as they welcome three new arrivals to 165 Eaton Place: Beryl (Laura Haddock), a nursery maid with ambition; Hallam's aunt, Blanche (Alex Kingston), an archeologist with a secret; and Caspar Landry (Michael Landes), an American entrepreneur with an eye for Agnes, who finds the attention flattering--and it isn't as if Hallam doesn't have an admirer of his own. Chauffeur Spargo (Neil Jackson), a former boxer who once tangled with Agnes's bad-girl sister, Persephone (Claire Foy), also takes an interest in Beryl, but she proves harder to win over.
War proceeds to affect them all differently: Persie, a Nazi sympathizer, returns from Germany with a new dilemma, while servants Mr. Amanjit (Art Malick) and Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid) condemn the pacifist beliefs of Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), which will cause him further repercussions later (Ami Metcalf and Nico Mirallegro are also good value as the youngest staffers). In an ill-advised move into docudrama territory, the Hollands entertain Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his son John, but such missteps are rare. As the season unwinds, the prim and proper Pritchard becomes more sympathetic in contrast with Sir Hallam, whose lack of empathy for his wife and employees makes him one of the year's more hissable villains. Sadly, the BBC did not renew this promising series, so audiences may never find out how the Holland household weathered the war. --Kathleen C. Fennessy