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THE MANOR HOUSE takes a fascinating look at the grand British class system of the early 1900s. Resembling prior cultural-reality series THE 1900 HOUSE and FRONTIER HOUSE, this unique series includes three distinct classes: aristocratic family, upper servants, and lower servants, who must act according to etiquette, not just the rigors or technical realities of the time. Nineteen contemporary Britons were selected from 8,000 applicants.
From the Back Cover
Following in the tradition of Upstairs, Downstairs and Robert Altman's 2001 Edwardian comic feature Gosford Park MANOR HOUSE takes a fascinating look at the grand and grueling British class system of the early 1900s. This new series is another adventure in placing contemporary people into the lifestyle of a previous historical era, as in prior cultural-reality series 1900 HOUSE and FRONTIER HOUSE. However, this series is different, as there are distinct classes: the aristocratic family, the upper servants and the lower servants, all of whom must deal with each other according to the etiquette of the time. Within the house there is an intricate pecking order, which firmly places everybody in a set social position and decides every aspect of life--who can initiate conversation, who has pudding at lunch, who can have a bath and when. MANOR HOUSE brings to life the social status, interaction and class behavior of a bygone era.
- Edwardian House Diaries
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For those who don't know the House series does its best to transport modern people through time to live as they would have in earlier eras. In Manor House, one family, the Oliff-Coopers, will live as aristocracy in the Edwardian era in addition to a disparate group of people recruited to run the Manor House as its upper and lower servants. It is Upstairs/Downstairs as reality TV and it is brilliant.
The Oliff-Coopers settle very quickly into their roles as to the manor born. The wife, a physician in the 21st century quickly loses herself in the doll-like persona of the era and even hints that her husband prefers her this way. The husband quickly believes that he deserves his higher position through some act of God rather than being a part of a social experiment. All believe that the servants enjoy waiting on them and averting their eyes when speaking. Both leave their young son to the care of the servants and Lady Oliff-Cooper's sister is the only member of the family to retain any sanity whatsoever in that she almost has a nervous breakdown because of the restrictions women of the time live under and has to leave the experiment. So much for Upstairs.
Downstairs consists of work, more work and back-breaking work and you realize that these people are barely scratching the surface of the reality of servants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The French chef who values the challenge of the Edwardian cuisine hopes he can get through the summer without poisoning anyone because of the lack of refridgeration. A Scullery Maid turns out to be a position that is impossible to fill; two girls leave in tears despite the lure of a television appearance. The Butler struggles to handle exhausted and rebellious twenty-somethings and retain standards. Everyone is astonished by the amount of dirty work required to run a house in that era and the viewer understands why real establishments like this took dozens to hundreds of people to maintain them.
Manor House is never boring and gives insight not only into the period but into human nature and why equality is such a hard won thing. Absolutely brilliant.
"Manor House" the very wealthy "upper class" family and owners of the huge estate is the 21st century Copper family (consisting of Dad, mother and two sons plus the mother's spinster sister). The Mother (especially), dad and their kids take to the life of privilege, of course, easily and for three months seem to really enjoy having it all--people to do their bidding, fine wines, hunting, fishing, planning many "high society" social events, tons of people desiring their company because of their stations in life, etc. Because of stringent protocol and "status/place" roles of each member of the Edwardian household, the mother's sister does not take to her new position too well feeling isolated and very much alone--so much so that she leaves the estate for awhile and when at the Manor she has to form an alliance with another "looked down" on member of the household, the East-Indian tutor of the youngest child of the Copper family. The Indian tutor is neither considered "upper class" nor "lower class" and tends to whine a lot. All that said, in comparison with the "lower class" working people down stairs, the upstairs folks had it rather easy and very little to complain about filling their days giving orders and in, to me, rather trivial pursuits, The "real" action occurs downstairs.
Bossed (more or less) by the head butler, the working class, downstairs crew have a very difficult time adjusting 21st century sensibilities to the early 20th century's severe British class oriented sensibilities especially on an humongous estate with loads of work and severe isolation. The Butler (who is responsible for the running of the house) has a very difficult time keeping the "help" doing what they are suppose to do and just being happy to serve. The "acting" Butler is, after all, of the 21st century and tries to apply some of today's standards to the workers. This does NOT work for the Edwardian age. Therefore, after losing staff and suffering insubordination, he with more success becomes somewhat of an early 1900s disciplinarian. The butler still comes across as a basically nice person.
I really enjoyed all of the episodes of "Manor House". I certainly got some insight of what life was like for some in England in the early 1900s.
(Being an amateur chef myself, I must add that "my heart went out" to the French chef in this series. He was perceived by especially the downstairs group as being just irrational and temperamental. In reality, he indeed was just trying to recreate the artery-clogging foods of the Edwardian era kitchen which the upstairs people did not understand or appreciate offering him no support for his efforts.)