Upstairs Downstairs: Part Three: The Cuckoo on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 1: Eileen Atlins as Maude Lady Holland © 2010 MASTERPIECE  The new residents of 165 Eaton Place have a “day full of unimaginable things” in The Cuckoo, the third and concluding episode of the revival season on Masterpiece Classic PBS.

Last week’s episode two, The Ladybird, had strong political overtones as rebellious Lady Persie (Claire Foy) and the chauffeur Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) joined the Blackshirts, a fascist group stirring up unrest among the laboring class who are hard hit by the depression. This week, the drama revolves around personal relationships and their effect on the nation and the household, revealing secrets, scandals and new beginnings. Here is the episode three synopsis from PBS.

A chance encounter with greatness goes to Mrs. Thackeray’s (Anne Reid) head, and in turn annoys Rose (Jean Marsh), who, fed up with her pretensions, unleashes an insult so great that it sparks a feud. Yet despite the embattled cook and housekeeper, the downstairs staff is united in their love and nurturing of the child Lotte (Alexia James), who appears to need more help than they can provide. With even more than her customary authority, Maud (Eileen Atkins) steps up to take charge, whisking the child away for treatment even as she guards a secret of her own.

Preoccupied with the abdication crisis, Hallam (Ed Stoppard) attempts to buy some time from the press by hosting a special dinner for the Duke of York (Blake Ritson), placing 165 Eaton Street in the center of the monarchy’s storm. Now preoccupied, Agnes (Keeley Hawes) has abdicated her responsibility of Persie (Claire Foy), who has snapped the long leash her sister provided, and begun engaging in behavior that threatens to taint them all. Only Lotte’s absence galvanizes Hallam to bring light into his home, purging it of dishonor and dark secrets that have been hidden for too long. But just as the king charts his fate, a momentous event will change the Holland family forever.

In this very tightly constructed and emotional charged third episode written by Heidi Thomas, many of the story subplots where concluded and new ones begin. It was indeed a “day full of unimaginable things” for the Holland family and the nation. What a refreshing surprise to witness the selfish Lady Persie being thrown over by the handsome chauffeur Harry Spargo. Bravo Harry. Lady Persie is developing into a repulsive character: ungrateful for her sister’s attentions, uninterested in bettering herself, and uncaring in her selfish actions and how they affect others. It only takes her about two seconds for her to exit Harry’s bed and transfer her shallow affections  to the German Ambassador, Herr Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly) and invite him for a late night cocktail at the house of her brother-in-law Sir Hallam. Ribbentrop’s blaring Nazi pin on his lapel is so shocking. Everything he stands for is controversial, and that is exactly why Persie is attracted to him. I am uncertain of her motivations in wanting to shock and hurt her sister and her family, but sense an interesting family backstory that hopefully we will learn about in future episodes.

We knew that the devastating abdication of King Edward VIII in favor of the “help and support of the women that he loved” was looming over us and history, but it was very interesting to see the political maneuverings to control the bad press transpire in the dining room at 165 Eaton Place. Hallam’s relationship with the Duke of York (Blake Ritson), who in this version is strangely sans a speech impediment and very suave, places us right in the front line of the controversy of the American divorcee Mrs. Simpson and her romantic relationship with the current King of the British Empire, and its inevitable tragic outcome. Watching Maude, Lady Holland matter-of-factly bring the dinner conversation to the point of directly asking the influential editor of a newspaper who has Mrs. Simpson’s ear to encourage her to accept the Morganatic marriage as a suitable compromise is priceless. Lady Maude is my favorite character so far in this new production, which oddly is filled with women that are weak, selfish and unlikeable: i.e. Lady Agnes, Lady Persie, and shockingly Rose the housekeeper, who has evolved into someone that I do not recognize. Does age make people give up their spunk and values? I remember Rose as being outspoken and direct in the original series. This Rose (what little we see of her) seems resigned and ready for pasture.

I am glad to see the shift back to inter-personal relationships of the family and staff in this episode. Even though last week’s foray into the political sphere of fascism was true to events transpiring in London during the mid-1930’s, I found it overpowered the personal drama that I have enjoyed in the original series and hoped to experience in this new revival. In this episode we saw some characters reveal secrets, react to change, emotionally evolve and others make choices that will cause anguish for their families and the nation. In folklore, the cuckoo is symbolic of loss and misery.  One wonders if the cuckoo in this episode is the abdicated King, this new wife, or the spiteful Lady Persie?

Image courtesy of © 2010 MASTERPIECE

14 thoughts on “Upstairs Downstairs: Part Three: The Cuckoo on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

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  1. In your synopsis of part three of “upstairs Downstairs” you have confused Prince George Duke of Kent with Prince Albert Duke of York. Prince Albert became King George VI. Prince George Duke of Kent did not have a speech impediment.


  2. I purposefully waited until after the episode to read and comment on this post. I agreed with what you said. I was shocked to learn the truth about Pamela. I loved the ending, the way it brought so many things together. I look forward to new episodes coming our way. I forget, are they already in production or is that still to start?


  3. Laurel Ann:
    You wrote a good synopsis, covering everything!
    Could the “cuckoo”, perhaps, be an oblique reference to Lotte, who was left, by her mother’s untimely death, to be raised by others?
    The cuckoo, deliberately, lays its eggs in another bird’s nest, to be reared by that bird, who never knows the egg is not its own. The sad consequence is that sometimes the chosen nest is that of a much smaller bird and, thus, the cuckoo’s offspring eats the mother out of house and home, and her own chicks do not fare as well!
    Just a thought…


  4. I have long admired the photography of Cecil Beaton and was interested that he was featured in this third episode. Once Elizabeth, Duchess of York, became the Queen Consort to King George VI, Beaton photographed her many times — he employed some of the tricks discussed with Mrs. Thackeray — he made the new Queen Elizabeth look both taller and more slender than she was. He was a favorite photographer of the Royal Family. He also photographed Mrs. Simpson later Duchess of Windsor — he took the famous wedding photos of the Windsors. His diaries are replete with tales of meeting and photographing all of them.

    Duke of Kent as I recall was a casualty of WWII.

    Finally, Lady Persie seems more and more like Unity Mitford. I wonder if we will hear more of her in the next season of UD?


  5. Perhaps the cuckoo could also stand for the displaced footman who is now back at eaton place who came from the country and now is being looked after in London, his fresh start. It may even pertain to Hallam’s sister who was placed in care away from her family to be raised by others. You make a valid point about the Duke. In either case a good comment by all.


  6. Oh Laurel Ann, I can’t wait for this show to continue next year! For all it’s problems, mainly the result of so much story crammed into three short hours, I adored it. Just posted my last review!


  7. Good synopsis. I enjoyed the new episodes, but they could have been better. I liked the idea of Lady Persie becoming fascinated by fascism and finally running off to Germany like the Mitford girls. I also thought that one could understand why the chauffeur would be attracted to Mosley, and ultimately repelled. But there were other things that didn’t work so well. Art Malik was completely wasted for one thing.

    I disliked the conclusion. Lord Hallum just seemed a wee bit too progressive for the times — taking in both Pamela and Lotte seemed unlikely. I hated that it wound up being like a soppy version of The King’s Speech combined with The Notebook.


  8. I have not seen the original series of Upstairs, Downstairs, but I found this new version to be fairly uneven. I liked certain parts of it, but felt oddly disconnected with most of the characters and their plotlines. I did like Episode 3 more than the rest as I liked the Pamela storyline – I was very surprised!

    I think my other problem is that Downton Abbey was very similar in premise, but far superior – and also happened to be playing this season.


  9. Nice review of the third episode–I was actually wondering if there were more seasons/episodes officially planned as this 3rd tied up all the loose ends of all the stories. It felt like a complete wrap and not a story continuing to unfold.

    I was glad to see Johnnie the footman return, and Lady Persie leave.

    I do hope future seasons are more leisurely. Its seems like they had a full story arc and crammed everything into 3 episodes.


  10. “special dinner for the Duke of York (Blake Ritson)” and “Hallam’s relationship with the Duke of York (Blake Ritson), who in this version is strangely sans a speech impediment and very suave” from above have not been corrected as you claim in your response to Jean, who pointed out that the character is in fact the Duke of Kent, hence the absence of speech impediment.


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