Thursday, February 23, 2012

Upstairs, Downstairs

(This post is part of a series on the 14 Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen)

As we come down the home stretch in our countdown of The Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen, Number 4 is Upstairs, Downstairs. Set in London, from 1903 to 1936, the story of the Bellamy family (“upstairs”)  and its servants ("downstairs") unfolded over five years and 68 episodes.

At the outset of the series, Richard (David Langton) and Lady Marjorie Bellamy (Rachel Gurney) have two children, James (Simon Williams) and Elizabeth (Nicola Padgett), in their early twenties and late teens, respectively. After Lady Marjorie sails on a one-way voyage on the Titanic, James' new wife Hazel (Meg Wynn Owen) becomes the new mistress of the house. The following year, Richard's ward Georgina (Lesley-Anne Down) comes to live with the Bellamys.

The dramatic stories were made more engaging by memorable characters portrayed by superb actors. Downstairs, Gordon Jackson played the authoritarian butler Mr. Hudson, Angela Badderly (described by TV critic Cleveland Amory as more  appropriately named Gooderly for her performance) was cast in the role of the gruff but warm-hearted cook Mrs. Bridges. Series co-creator JeanMarsh played Rose, the parlor maid and Christopher Beeny played the footman, Edward.

As one of the series’ writers put it, the show stripped away the wall from an Edwardian dollhouse, exposing the societal class structure and conflicts of the age. [Spoiler] Upstairs, Downstairs was made all the more compelling by the decision to allow major characters to be killed off in response to historical events (Lady Marjorie dying aboard the Titanic, Hazel succumbing to the influenza epidemic of 1918, and James committing suicide after the stock market crash of 1929).

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