Upstairs Downstairs: Part One: The Fledgling, on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Jean Marsh as Rose Buck in Upstairs Downstairs (2010)After a thirty-four year wait, many faces will be beaming and hearts gladdened by the concluding scenes of the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs’ triumphant return to Masterpiece Classic tonight.

As the camera panned the front façade of the stately Georgian townhouse at 165 Eaton Place, my heart was in my throat, and Goosebumps covered my arms. It does not get much better than this for a period drama lover – well – maybe if it is a Jane Austen mini-series, but that is only a far off dream at this point.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the highly successful and beloved original 1974-77 series of the same name, this posh address was the London home of the Bellamy clan. Renowned for its intimate view of an aristocratic family and their household of servants, the series spanned the Edwardian period until post WWI, ending in 1930 with a scene of ladies maid Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) closing the front door and walking down the street. Jean Marsh is the one returning cast member from the original series. It was a very long walk Rose, but we are glad you finally made it back.

Upstairs Downstairs original Masterpiece Theatre series poster 1970'sOne of the delights of episode drama is that it’s never really over, ever. Years can pass in our physical dimension but they stand still in TV land until recalled into service. Happily, the original series co-creators Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh are both attached to this new series – Atkins as eccentric widow Maud, Lady Holland and Marsh reprising her role as Rose Buck, now promoted to housekeeper.  Here is an episode synopsis from PBS:

It’s 1936, and 165 Eaton Place sees its first stirrings of life after years of neglect when the house’s new master, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), and his wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), cross the threshold. Though dust shrouds every surface, Lady Agnes is stirred to proclaim, “This house is going to see such life!” And with relish, she sets about an extravagant restoration and enlists the help of the staffing agency Bucks of Belgravia and its owner, former longtime 165 Eaton Place housemaid, Rose Buck (Jean Marsh).

Rose brings her cherished memories and high standards to the project, assembling a motley staff ranging from seasoned snobs to fledgling teens. Upstairs, the unexpected arrival of Hallam’s mother, Maud, Lady Hallam (Eileen Atkins) — returning from India with a Sikh secretary Amanjit Singh (Art Malik) and monkey Solomon in tow — introduces both eccentricity and tension as she interferes with Agnes’s management of the house. Somewhat in over her head in her new position, Agnes is further tested upon the arrival of her devil-may-care younger sister, Lady Persie (Claire Foy). As King George is dying, and against a backdrop of uncertainty, the residents of 165 Eaton Place host an elegant party to launch the Hollands in London society, and together attempt to field obstacles, both comical and sinister, that come their way.

The opening episode of this three part drama brings us The Fledgling – and very aptly named. Like a young bird, this series has new wings and must learn to fly. Acclaimed screenwriter Heidi Thomas (Cranford) has written a superb script. The storyline is filled with endings and beginnings – a perfect bridge for our memories of the original series and the introduction to the new one. There are nice touches of nostalgia, but it does not get too maudlin. The opening credits use the famous series music, but with a new remix, focusing on the sparkling crystal chandelier in the townhouse foyer. It is a symbol of both the old elegance and lifestyle of the Bellamy’s and a new beginning for the Holland clan and their household of servants. The scene when Rose returns to 165 Eaton Place, her former home of almost forty years, will require a hanky.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010) cast

The casting is top notch and their performances amazing. There is a wide range of personalities interacting in this newly refurbished series, all appealing to different demographics. The standouts are hard to earmark, since everyone was superb. We are happy to see scene stealing conceded to age and experience over youth and beauty. Dame Eileen Atkins as the Dowager Lady Holland and Jean Marsh as Miss Rose Buck dominated every scene over their younger compatriots. Of the upstairs personalities, Keeley Hawes is duly luminescent as the rattled social climber, Ed Stoppard charming as her careening husband, and Claire Foy sizzles as the rebellious baby sister.

Downstairs, Adrian Scarborough has big shoes to fill after butler Mr. Hudson left a indelible impression in our memories of what a proper English butler should be. He has a promising beginning. Anne Reid as the snooty cook should stir up some trouble and Art Malik as Lady Maud’s Indian secretary is imposing and mysterious. The selection of younger actors might attract a new crowd to this Masterpiece series. Ellie Kendrick as saucy orphan housemaid teases footman in the making Nico Mirallego into a risky flirtation, and every household needs a hunky chauffeur like Neil Jackson to drive you around and put naughty thoughts in your head. We concede to being personally delighted with Solomon the monkey, Lady Holland’s particular friend she brought back with her from India, since he is partial to sweet tea and thick-cut marmalade.

The staff at 165 Eaton Place, Upstairs Downstairs (2010)

Welcome home Upstairs Downstairs fans. It has begun again. A new period drama series filled with secrets, scandals and seductions from both sides of the stairs. Episode two, The Lady Bird, continues next Sunday April 17 on PBS

Images courtesy © MASTERPIECE

25 thoughts on “Upstairs Downstairs: Part One: The Fledgling, on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

  1. I never watched the original series. (I was young and foolish and didn’t know a good think when it was right in front of me.) But, I did watch tonight’s episode and loved it. I was, however, disappointed that the episode was less than an hour long. I suppose I’m used to Masterpiece’s other productions. It was hard to have such a good program end so soon but I’m so glad I watched it! I’m really looking forward to next Sunday’s episode!

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  2. I thought it was amazing how the brought the character to life and how the customs where beautiful. I was to young to watch the orginal series. My only dissapointment is that it was so short!! They could of at least shown two episodes because of the shortness of one!!! I can’t wait for next week!!!

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  3. Just finished watching the new Upstairs Downstairs, opened my mail to find this! I am CRAZY about this – the scenery,the costumes, the AMAZING cast! OMGoodness! It does make me want to watch the original series which came out when I was too young to appreciate it. Thanks so much for posting this!

    I am SO looking forward to this!

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  4. I enjoyed the show very much and am looking forward to next week. I remember watching the Forsythe Saga years ago on PBS. I hope you continue this type of programing.

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  7. Ooh, I think we are in for a treat! I really enjoyed the first episode. Especially loved Lady Holland’s bit about the lily pond saving her marriage. ;-) It’s hard to wait a week for the next one!

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  8. I enjoyed it very much. The characters, the costumes, everything is beautiful. But it was too short, so I watched it twice. My only regret is that the action is too fast. It seems to run from one event to another without taking the time to develop the characters. The conversations between the characters are too short. A glimpse here, a glimpse there, and then rush to the next scene. It was too fast.

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  9. I thought it was wonderful! I loved it from the first episode. I watched it the first time, the second time, and every re-run I could ever find!
    The look on Rose’s face when the lady said Eton Place was perfect. When she saw Mr. Hudson’s key hanging on the peg, I felt tears well up in my own eyes.
    I’m watching all the old ones on Netflx. A complete pleasure.

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  10. Isn’t it splendid!! I was in grade school when the original aired and followed it faithfully. I just love great stories to continue. D

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  11. I LOVED IT, and just posted my own review this afternoon. Thoroughly entertaining…I can tell my biggest problem with this miniseries is that it is only going to be three hours long. *sigh* :)

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  12. I loved the first episode & I cannot wait until next week! I never watched the original series but I will have to find a copy to watch because I enjoyed this one so much.

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  13. I agree with Dolly’s analysis of this first episode of the new “Upstairs, Downstairs”.
    It all seemed rushed; both the story line and the script. It felt like you were being asked to eat a seven-course meal in half-an-hour!
    The stellar cast, combined with a lavish set and wonderful costumes could not compensate for the hurried tempo in this truncated version of the original “Upstairs, Downstairs”.
    The fact that this production has followed, so soon, on the heels of “Downton Abbey”, made this shortcoming (pardon the pun), more apparent.
    With that said, I will definitely be tuning in to watch episode 2 next Sunday!
    Barbara

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  14. I thought it was lovely – the house brought it all back – I remember it playing at my house when I was younger, I am dismayed to say, I didn’t watch it myself – It was a long running series and I hope this one will be as well.

    Lovely to see Rose again and Eileen Atkins is always a delight. I do remember the butler from the old series and I think those are very big shoes to fill – I do love this butler with his nervous stomach!

    Looking forward to next weeks episode!

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  15. After one brief episode, it’s not fair to compare the new UD to the old one — or to Downton Abbey. DA is a vast country estate before WWI and the new UD is fashionable London on the brink of WWII. In the first episode, though it was rushed, I enjoyed Jean Marsh as Rose, the only link to the old series, and Eileen Atkins, what a scene stealer! I also enjoyed Anne Reid as the cook and Art Malik as the Indian secretary — who remembers him from The Jewel in the Crown? I do! The production values are superior but so far, none of the characters can rival Lady Marjorie, her husband Richard and her son James or the impeccable cast of downstairs led by Hudson the butler from UD1. However, I will certainly continue to watch it and look forward to the next season. I’ll be keeping an eye on Lady Persie, the Mitford like sister of Lady Agnes! A mischief maker, no doubt.

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  16. Those who watched the recent BBC production of Little Dorrit will recognise Amy Dorrit (Claire Foy), in a far different roll,as Lady Persie!
    She promises to be a lightning rod for excitement and scandel in the weeks ahead!
    Heidi Thomas will not disappoint…
    Barbara

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  17. I never saw the original series myself…. I remember that my mother was a BIG fan, and I just didn’t “get it”! LOL I was a young teenager when the series came out, and more interested in my friends & sports at the time. So… I guess I need to see the original series & get myself up to speed. Looking forward to seeing this!

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