Preview of Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Masterpiece Classic PBS

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: cast pictured © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Get ready period drama fans – Season 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs starts next Sunday, October 7 at 9pm on Masterpiece Classic PBS.

Last year we saw the triumphant return after thirty-four years of the award winning and much beloved series Upstairs Downstairs to Masterpiece Classic. The original series (1974-77) focused on the Bellamy family upstairs and their household staff downstairs: all living at 165 Eaton Place, a posh townhouse in London. Last year Season 1 began in 1936, six years after the close of the original series. We were treated to only three episodes: The Fledgling; The Ladybird; and The Cuckoo. Original co-creators of the series Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins were heavily involved in the new sequel. Marsh returned as housekeeper Rose Buck and Dame Eileen Atkins as the Dowager Lady Holland was one of the stellar new characters. You can read my preview of Season 1 to catch up on the new cast and the reaction when it aired in the UK 2010.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2:  Keeley Hawes and Edward Stoppard Lord & Lady Holland© 2011 MASTERPIECE

Keeley Hawes and Edward Stoppard as Lord & Lady Holland

Season 2 is much more ambitious with six new episodes, so we will have a lot of great period drama to dish about over the next few weeks. Most of Season 1’s cast is returning, but one key player has died and the other recovering from a stroke in hospital. However, there are some new characters that I found quite intriguing.

Upstairs:

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Alex Kingston as Dr. Blanche Mottershead © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Alex Kingston as Dr. Blanche Mottershead

Downstairs:

Image from Upstairs Downstairs (2012) Season 2: Laura Haddock as Beryl Ballard © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Laura Haddock as Beryl Ballard

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Ami Metcalf as Eunice McCabe © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Ami Metcalf as Eunice McCabe

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Whisset © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Whisset

Here is a description of the new season with an episode guide from my friends at Masterpiece Classic PBS. Be sure to mark your calendars or set your DVR’s for Sundays, October 7 – November 11, 2012 at 9pm ET on PBS. Check your local listings for exact times. Enjoy!

In 1938, war is about to topple a way of life. But not quite yet.

The intrigues of life, love, and international politics come to a boil at 165 Eaton Place in a thrilling panorama of English society on the eve of World War II. Keeley Hawes (Wives and Daughters), Ed Stoppard (Brideshead Revisited), and Claire Foy (Little Dorrit) return in Season 2 of the Emmy®-nominated continuation of the 1970s classic. Guest stars include Alex Kingston (ER) and Emilia Fox (Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice 1995). Upstairs Downstairs Season 2 is a BBC/MASTERPIECE Co-Production, written by Heidi Thomas. The directors are Mark Jobst (parts one and two), Brendan Maher (parts four and five), and Anthony Byrne (parts three and six).

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Adrian Scarborough as Mr. Warwick Pritchard © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 1: A Far Away Country about Which We Know Nothing (October 7, 2012)

Pritchard takes the rap for Johnny in a shocking incident, which leads to a revelation that casts the butler into disgrace. On a diplomatic mission to Germany, Hallam meets Persie, who has a Nazi lover.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: The Kennedy's come to dinner © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 2: The Love that Pays the Price (October 14, 2012)

Ambassador Kennedy and his dashing son Jack come to dinner at Eaton Place. But Agnes is more entranced by another guest: millionaire Caspar Landry. Before the evening is over, Mrs. Thackeray resigns.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Emilia Fox & Alex Kingston © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 3: A Perfect Specimen of Womanhood (October 21, 2012)

Hallam’s Aunt Blanche appears in a lesbian novel by a former lover, sparking a scandal that threatens the good name of Eaton Place. Meanwhile, Agnes’s demands on the servants bring a social worker to set her straight.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Nico Mirallegro as Johnny Proude © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 4: All the Things You Are (October 28, 2012)

All of London sees Agnes’s shapely legs when she models stockings for Landry’s company—offending Hallam. Intent on impressing Beryl, Harry enters the servants’ boxing competition as Johnny’s manager.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Claire Foy as Lady Persie Towyn © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 5: The Last Waltz (November 4, 2012)

With war looming, romance is in the air—illicit and otherwise. Hallam, Agnes, Landry, and Persie each pursue their heart’s desire in different ways. Harry and Beryl get engaged. And even Pritchard finds a soulmate.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Edward Stoppard as Sir Holland in Nazi Germany © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 6: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (November 11, 2012)

A chance remark at the Foreign Office alerts Hallam that one of his associates is a German spy—with tragic consequences. As war is declared, life upstairs and downstairs is transformed at Eaton Place.

Excited period drama lovers? I am

Images courtesy © 2011 MASTERPIECE

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Review

Image from The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Matthew Rhys as John Jasper

In 41 years of producing movie adaptations based on classic literature, Masterpiece Classic (formerly known as Master Theatre), has had a very productive relationship with author Charles Dickens. We have enjoyed two Bleak House’s, two David Copperfield’s, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, Martin Chuzzlewit, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, two Oliver Twist’s, Little Dorrit and The Old Curiosity Shop. Ten out of fifteen novels adapted is amazing. Many of them outstanding.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth, Masterpiece has added The Mystery of Edwin Drood to their long list. Written in 1870, it was Dickens’ final unfinished novel. He died before he completed it, sparking the literary debate of who murdered Edwin Drood. Other authors quickly wrote completions of the novel, notably one American who claimed he had ‘ghost-written’ the ending by channeling Dickens’ spirit! This new completion by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes (Miss Austen Regrets) does not claim any unearthly connections to the venerable author, but it does bring us a compelling and powerful story, so steeped in Gothic mystery that Jane Austen’s character Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey would be delighted. I was too!

Regular readers of this blog will remember that I adore a good mystery. I was immediately intrigued by the announcements online last year that the BBC and PBS would co-produce The Mystery of Edwin Drood. How would the story be completed? It was a mystery within a mystery. What a huge challenge for any screenwriter to finish a classic author’s work. Granted, their choice of Gwyneth Hughes seemed very fitting. Her bio-pic Miss Austen Regrets (2009) was great, capturing the historical details and spirit of my favorite author beautifully. Another plus was the choice of Diarmuid Lawrence (Emma, 1996, with Kate Beckinsale) as director. He always finds the dark side of characters and brings that forward. The list of all British cast was stellar too. With all of these factors lined up, it appeared to be the most interesting new adaptation of a Dickens novel in years.

Since it is a mystery, I do not want to reveal any spoilers. However, I will write a bit about the plot and my favorite characters. Set in the mythical town of Cloisterham, John Jasper (Matthew Rhys) is a choirmaster that detests his job. To escape, he frequents opium dens in London to fantasize about murdering his dissipated young nephew Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox) and then marry his nephew’s fiance, the beautiful Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant) who he is obsessed with. When brother and sister Neville and Helena Landless arrive from Ceylon, their murky connections to the Drood family raises questions. Soon Neville is obsessed with Rosa too, causing a violent riff between him and Edwin. On the night of their mutual reconciliation, Drood mysteriously disappears. Because of his previous contentious relationship with Drood, Landless is pinned for his murder while uncle John is secretly convinced that he killed his nephew in opium induce rage.

Filled with both sinister and delightful characterizations that Dickens in known for, this dark tale is a creepy Gothic mystery unlike anything else that he had written. Many of the key scenes with Jaspers are in the dark, dank cathedral crypt, where stone mason Durdles (Ron Cook) has created monuments for the dead; holding secrets that will unravel the mysterious death of Edwin Drood.

Matthews Rhys gives a disturbing performance as the deranged choirmaster obsessed with a young, innocent girl whom he should have no designs on, but cannot stay away from. There is something that is compelling and hypnotic about watching an obsession. You feel like you are ease-dropping on the characters intimate failings. It makes you uneasy, but you just can’t stop. You must know why he is driven to the point of madness. It is a great plot devise that Dickens used several times: Miss Havisham in last week’s Great Expectations immediately comes to mind. Jasper’s other obsession, killing his nephew to make way for this true love, is the axis of the mystery. I can’t say that I had much sympathy for Edwin Drood when he disappeared. A dissipated and spoiled young gentleman with no redeeming qualities, actor Freddie Fox is so convincing in the part I just wanted to slap him, and, his fiancé Rosa, who should have nothing to do with him.

Dickens and Hughes’ prose blended seamlessly for me. Admittedly, I have not read The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but I know Dickens’ style well from his more famous works. Her resolution of the whodunit was both surprising and satisfying. This new adaptation and completion will both shock and amaze; the true test of any good Gothic tale worthy of a peek behind the dreaded black veil.

Image courtesy of  Laurence Cendrowicz/BBC for MASTERPIECE

Great Expectations 2012: Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Review

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)

Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations has been adapted no less than fourteen times for the screen. Like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, every ten years or so it gets trotted out for a new interpretation; and, for good reason. The tale is a masterpiece of storytelling – compelling to read, and fabulous to experience filmed.

Douglas Booth as Pip in Great Expectations (2012)

Since the 1970’s I have watched all of the new adaptations as they aired on television and re-watched the 1946 David Lean movie several times. Some were memorable, others, not so much. In the scheme of things, Masterpiece Classic’s new mini-series of Great Expectations that concluded last night on PBS was definitely a keeper.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)

Of all of Dickens’ cannon of incredible stories, Great Expectations is one of my favorites. Filled with amazing characterizations, we meet the incredibly good and the incredibly bad in human nature: innocent orphans, devious murders, slimy blackguards, unscrupulous lawyers, cold-hearted ingénues, and Miss Havisham. Yes. Since the book’s publication in the 1860’s, Miss Havisham has earned her own classification. If Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, and Heathcliff are literary romantic icons, then Miss Havisham is their polar opposite. To be trite, there is no fury like a woman scorned. Jilted at the altar, she is obsessive, manipulative and revengeful, sending shivers into the souls of rakes, libertines and bounders – and making young maidens wiser beyond their years. She is one of my favorite fictional characters and the benchmark for every new adaptation of Great Expectations. If Miss Havisham is spot-on twisted, then you know that the rest will follow. Happily, actress Gillian Anderson gave an unnerving performance as the eccentric, wacked-out, misandrist that was nails on chalkboard disturbing. Even though I knew the outcome of the story, I was compelled to watch as she weaves her revenge until her tragic end comes to pass.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)

In my mind, screenwriter Sarah Phelps, director Brian Kirk and art director Katherine Law gave Miss H. an other-worldly quality that I had not experienced before in other productions. Dressed in her famous tattered white wedding dress, we truly believe that her world froze the moment she read her fiancé’s letter jilting her on her wedding day. Not only is she dead emotionally, she looks like a ghost haunting her crumbling manor house with the clocks stopped at 11:00, years of dust on every surface, cobwebs across every vertical object and the wedding banquet food rotting in the dining room. Eeek! The first time she literally floated down the massive staircase, I shuddered in horror. This was creepy. Anderson’s glazed over eyes, delayed reactions and hoarse voice only added to her ghostly apparition.  It was not quite Dickens’ original intention, but it worked for me.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)

Everything about this new production was eclipsed by the great white lady after this point. It seemed quite fitting. A tribute to the grand dame of jilted lovers.

Images courtesy of © MASTERPIECE

Follow Friday: Secrets of the Manor House on PBS this Sunday

Secrets of the Manor House on PBS (2012)

Ever wonder what really went on behind the stately walls of a British manor house like Downton Abbey? If so, be sure to catch the premiere of Secrets of the Manor House being aired before the third episode of Downton Abbey Season Two on Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 on many PBS stations (check local listings).

Fans of historical drama and fiction will be enthralled by this new documentary which looks at two English country manor houses a century ago and today.

Secrets of the Manor House on PBS (2012)

Upstairs family

Here is the description of the production from the PBS website and a video preview:

Exactly 100 years ago, the world of the British manor house was at its height. It was a life of luxury and indolence for a wealthy few supported by the labor of hundreds of servants toiling ceaselessly “below stairs” to make the lives of their lords and ladies run as smoothly as possible. It is a world that has provided a majestic backdrop to a range of movies and popular costume dramas to this day, including PBS’ Downton Abbey.

But what was really going on behind these stately walls? Secrets of the Manor House looks beyond the fiction to the truth of what life was like in these ancient British houses. They were communities where two separate worlds existed side by side: the poor worked as domestic servants, while the nation’s wealthiest families enjoyed a lifestyle of luxury, and aristocrats ruled over their servants as they had done for a thousand years.

The program talks to present-day British lords and ladies and to the descendants of those who lived and worked in manor houses across the country. A series of expert historians explain the true picture of how life was lived within the walls of these stately homes that had changed very little for centuries. It explains the hierarchy of the British establishment: led by the king with a supporting cast of dukes, earls and barons, each keenly aware of his or her place. It visits modern manor houses, where aristocratic families sometimes still rule over scores of servants, in homes with 100 and more bedrooms, and where the lord still enjoys a luxurious life of hunting, shooting and fishing among the beauty of rural Britain. And it details the true hardship of life as a “downstairs” servant: maids would carry 45 gallons of hot water along hidden servants’ passageways to fill one aristocratic lady’s bath, and a housemaid’s day would start before dawn and last for 17 hours as she scrubbed floors, cleaned grates and carried coal — all for a wage of $15 a year.

But, precisely a century ago, a perfect storm of financial hardship and political and social change was threatening to engulf this traditional British way of life. Some impoverished British aristocrats married wealthy American heiresses to prop up and sustain their fading manor houses; the working classes were finding a voice and demanding both political power and better jobs; and the terrible disaster of World War I was looming in the wings. When war came, nothing in the life of the British manor house was ever the same again.

Secrets of the Manor House on PBS (2012)The Downstairs servants

Image courtesy of © PBS

Winner Announced in the Upstairs Downstairs (2010) DVD Giveaway!

Upstairs Downstairs (2010) DVD38 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a DVD of the 2010 series Upstairs Downstairs offered by BBC Video .

The winner drawn at random is Vickie Hartwell who left a comment on April 30th. Congratulations Vickie! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by May 11, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Many thanks to all who left comments. I hope you enjoyed the new series as much as I did, and look forward to the next season. The BBC has commissioned six new 60-minute episodes of “Upstairs Downstairs” to air on BBC One in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States in 2012. Huzzah!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose