Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

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.

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

Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

Upstairs Downstairs: Part Two: The Ladybird on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Claire Foy as Lady Persie in Upstairs Downstairs (2010) After the happy reunion with 165 Eaton Place and introduction to the new cast last week in part one, The Fledgling, the tone and plot of Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Classic takes a harsh left turn into the reality of the changing political climate in Europe in the mid 1930’s. The popular 1970’s television series of the same name had earned its reputation as a character driven drama touched by the social and political climate, so viewers might be taken aback by writer Heidi Thomas’ choice to jump right in and throw some unpleasant and disturbing subjects in our faces.

Tensions rise both upstairs and downstairs when bored debutant Lady Persie (Claire Foy) has a dangerous flirtation with a servant and an ideology, friction between Maude, the Dowager Lady Holland (Eileen Atkins) and her daughter-in-law Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) requires Sir Holland’s (Ed Stoppard) intervention, and downstairs, the servants struggle with the reality of anti-Semitism in their own kitchen when a Jewish refugee arrives from Germany to take up her duties as the new parlormaid. Here is the synopsis from the PBS website: Continue reading “Upstairs Downstairs: Part Two: The Ladybird on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review”

Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

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. Continue reading “Upstairs Downstairs: Part One: The Fledgling, on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review”

Jane Austen Inspired, Masterpiece Classic

Some Say that Gaskell is Austen embellished with Dickens…

Image of Cranford on Masterpiece Classic (2007)

A comparison (of Elizabeth Gaskell) to Jane Austen for its combination of humor and moral judgment in the observation of character and conduct is often made, not unjustly, though Mrs. Gaskell’s canvas is larger than Austen’s bit of ivory.Edgar Wright 

Image of portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell, (1832)Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) has been said to have a “wit to challenge Jane Austen’s, a conscience of social struggle unrivalled by Dickens, and charm and values to enrapture George Eliot’s fans”. This is high praise indeed to be mentioned with such exalted literary company, and we are fortunate that several of her novels have been recently adapted into movies by the BBC; Wives and Daughter (1999), North and South (2004) and now Cranford, which will be presented on the next three Sundays (May 4th, 11th and 18th) on PBS. 

Image of the book cover of Cranford (2007)Cranford is a combination of four of Elizabeth Gaskells’ stories; Cranford, Dr. Harrison’s Confessions, My Lady Ludlow aka Round the Sofa, and The Last Generation in England;  that were written as short stories for her employer Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words between 1851- 1853. It offers us a glimpse of Victorian life in a rural English village circa 1842, introducing us to many memorable characters that revolve around the lives of Misses Deborah (Eileen Atkins) and Matty (Judi Dench) Jenkyns; – two spinsters who live a seemingly quiet life full of “busy nothings” with their mostly female community of Cranford as they face adversity and change. 

Image of Cranford ladies, Miss Deborah (Eileen Atkins), Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), and Miss Matty (Judi Dench)

The characters are so engaging and finely drawn that comparisons to Miss Austen are inevitable, and we see a bit of Miss Bates (Emma), Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Lady Bertram (Mansfield Park) in Mrs. Gaskells’s characterizations. Life in the village of Cranford has it’s similarities to Meryton (Pride and Prejudice) or Highbury (Emma), but Gaskell’s narrative is more expansive than Austen, introducing a wider social and economic sphere into her characters lives, and we feel the influence of her contemporaries such as author Charles Dickens’ deeper social commentary and moral sensibility throughout the story. 

Image of Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie) and Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Cranford (2007)

The new adaptation of Cranford aired in the UK last fall to rave reviews, so this series is highly anticipated by many Masterpiece fans, and a fit finale to the Classic portion of the re-modeled Masterpiece Theatre which began last January with The Complete Jane Austen series. You can prime yourself for the premiere at these fine sites… 

*Image of the miniature portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1832 by William John Thomson (Scottish, born circa 1771-1845)