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

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

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:

As fascism spreads within Europe, its threat is felt at 165 Eaton Place, both downstairs and up. A new parlormaid, Rachel Perlmutter, arrives safely from Germany having lost nearly everything, but carrying a secret. And the foreign office calls on Sir Hallam to appease the exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, whose country has been annexed by Benito Mussolini. But Hallam’s diplomatic skills are also required at home — Maud continues to find Agnes lacking in her duties, as Agnes’s attentions are happily occupied elsewhere. Persie takes a detour from the boring requirements of her social debut, rejecting a performance of La Bohème in favor of a flirtation with a servant and a dangerous ideology — pursuits which imperil her moral and physical standing.

A genuine companionship grows between Rachel and Mr. Amanjit, both outsiders who share knowledge of loss firsthand. Rachel tells Mr. Amanjit, “We are not forced to accept the things that grieve us,” but it is Hallam who embodies that sentiment when he draws the line about who will live in his house, and how.

Fervent fans of the 1970’s series will feel the abrupt shift in emphasis from the inner relationships at 165 Eaton Place to a politically driven plot. New viewers will not, and take it for face value. It appears that the producers have chosen to push the series in a new direction. It was inevitable. How could they ignore the mounting political atmosphere in Europe in the mid 1930’s, one of the most unsettling and disruptive series of events for England and the world, dominating everyone’s lives? We are introduced to these events through Lady Persie’s romantic interest in the Holland’s chauffeur Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) and his affiliation with the fascist movement of Oswald Mosely, leading to her involvement in the Blackshirts movement in London. This is a far cry from our previous exposure to violence during World War I with the Bellamy family and their servants in the first series. A soldier writing home or arriving in smart uniform on leave is romantic and melodramatic, totally removing the viewer from the violent reality of war. Here we witness first hand the fascist and anit-fascist riot during the Battle of Cable Street in London. It is harsh, but it is impossible not to face it.

The inner-household relationships that we do witness are interesting, particularly Lady Agnes Holland. Keeley Hawes is superb as the social climbing “perfect wife” to her ambitious foreign diplomat husband Ed Stoppard. As she strives to connect with the right people in London and present her younger sister Lady Persie into society, we begin to see beyond her shallow facade of appearances and possessions and feel for her plight to conceive a child. We are exposed to a bit of the Holland’s back story and her previous losses when she expresses her reservations and grief to her husband with the possibility of new pregnancy. “It is such a cruel thing to lose a baby. Nothing is ever untainted again. Not even hope.” I found this profound statement ran true through many of the events in this episode: Lady Persie’s dangerous adventures, Sir Holland’s introspection over his job, and the refugee parlormaid Rachel, whose hope is very guarded. She is the Ladybird in this drama, who ironically can no longer fly away home.

Sadly, housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), who I always enjoy meeting again, had few lines and only Solomon the monkey got a laugh from me. If this all sounds a bit grim, it was. Growing pains. It was, however, beautifully produced with fabulous acting. I suspect it will take a few more episodes for me to adjust to the newness of it all, and then I will never look back, being totally engrossed in the new characters and events.

Image courtesy © MASTERPIECE

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

Preview of Upstairs Downstairs 2010

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 1:  full cast, © BBC Worldwide Ltd 2010

Last night, UK television viewers had a chance to return to 165 Eaton Place and all the nostalgia, charm and drama of the 1970’s beloved series Upstairs Downstairs when the first episode of the new series, “The Fledgling,” premiered to much acclaim. *goosebumps* We have seen it. We were mesmerized.

We won’t reveal spoilers for North American audiences who will not have a chance to see the three new episodes until they air on Masterpiece Classic PBS on April 10, 17 & 24 next year, but will tempt our readers with a few teasers. The scene when Rose returns to her former home at 165 Eaton Place after many years will require a hanky, and 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. This was a nice twist and one of the rewards of being the series original creators in the 1970’s.

If you would like to learn more about this wonderful new revival of Upstairs Downstairs, we direct you to a flattering array of advance publicity and glowing reviews:

And, for those who are unaware of this new series based on the classic British drama series of the same name that originally aired in the 1970’s, here is brief blurb from our Masterpiece Classic 2011 season preview:

Upstairs Downstairs 1970's cast © BBC Worldwide Ltd

The original Upstairs, Downstairs cast, top row: Jean Marsh, Christopher Beeny, Angela Baddeley, Gordon Jackson, Jacqueline Tong. Middle: Simon Williams, Meg Wynn Owen, David Langton. Front: Lesley-Anne Down and Jenny Tomasin

From 1971-1975, I was enthralled by the life of the wealthy Bellamy family and the servants of 165 Eaton Place in the British drama Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. Set in a large townhouse in London from the Edwardian period until post WWI, the series was, and still is, incredibly popular. I was delighted to hear that co-creators Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins were behind the updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. Both ladies will be part of the cast; Marsh returning as the only original cast member reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose Buck, and Atkins will introduce new character Maud, the Dowager Lady Holland. The script is by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas who brought us the delightful Cranford in 2009. Three 90-minute episodes.

The new cast is quite impressive, if not downright blinding in star quality:

The upstairs cast

  • Maud, the Dowager Lady Holland (Dame Eileen Atkins), the matriarch
  • Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), master of the house
  • Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes), his wife
  • Lady Persephone “Persie” Towyn (Claire Foy), the debutant sister of Lady Agnes

The downstairs cast:

  • Miss Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the housekeeper
  • Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), the butler
  • Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid), the cook
  • Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik), the secretary
  • Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson), the chauffeur
  • Rachel Perlmutter (Helen Bradbury), parlourmaid
  • Johnny Proude (Nico Mirallegro), footman in training
  • Ivy Morris (Ellie Kendrick), kitchen maid

Upstairs Downstairs airs on three consecutive nights, December 26, 27 and the 28, 2010 on BBC One in the UK. Be sure to catch appearances by Austen actors Blake Ritson (Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park 2007) and Anthony Calf (Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice 1995).

Images courtesy © BBC Worldwide Ltd 2010

Masterpiece Classic 2011 Season Preview

Masterpiece Classic logo

One of the consolations of being trapped inside during the cold, wet Pacific Northwest winter in the prospect of great television from Masterpiece Classic on PBS. Celebrating its 40th year on the air, the longest-running and most-honored drama series in primetime announced its new 2011 season this past week. There are some exciting new productions in the queue: Downton Abbey, Any Human Heart, Upstairs Downstairs and South Riding, and encore presentations of My Boy Jack, The Unseen Alistair Cooke and 39 Steps in store for drama lovers.

Since girlhood, I have been entranced by Masterpiece Theater, now Masterpiece, broken down into the Classic, Mystery and Contemporary seasons a few years back. This superbly produced series has for the majority of my life enriched my viewing experience and opened up new possibilities in reading classics which many of the shows are adapted from, and more recently contemporary fare with books and stories from the twentieth century.

I am really looking forward to five months of great television entertainment. Here is a preview of the new season.

Daniel Radcliffe in My Boy Jack 2009 battle scene

My Boy Jack (encore) – January 02, 2011

An intense and poignant story of author and British national icon Rudyard Kipling’s (David Haigh) patriotic ambitions for his only son John “Jack” Kipling (Daniel Radcliffe) during WWI. Based on actual events in their lives, the story is set in 1914 England during the patriotic fervor brewing for young men to enlist in His Majesties service. Kipling’s outspoken American wife Caroline (Kim Cattrall) and sister Elsie (Carey Mulligan) are opposed to his enlistment, and for good reason. His poor eyesight would greatly hamper his abilities in the field. My Boy Jack offers an interesting look at one family’s divided views of honor and duty. One 120-minute episode

Image from Downton Abbey Season 1: The Crawley sisters: Jessica Brown-Findlay, Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael© Carnival Film & Television Limited 2010 for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey – January 09, 16, 23 & 30, 2011

Set in Edwardian England, the story revolves around a stately country house, a noble family, their servants and the challenge of primogeniture. Yes Jane Austen fans. All that English inheritance law you studied to understand the inner workings of who got what, and why, in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice will pay off when you watch this great new series created and written by Julian Fellowes. Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, Edward Bridges in Miss Austen Regrets and Mr. Bennet in Lost in Austen) and his family are still governed by English laws of succession. When the Titanic goes down with his next male heir, and the spare to the estate, minds must work fast to keep their power, money and loyalty to the great estate of Downton Abbey. Staring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith (Becoming Jane 2007), Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens (Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility 2008) and an amazing supporting cast. This new drama took the UK by storm when it aired in Fall, 2010. I predict Downton fever when it hits colonial shores. Four 90-minute episodes.

Alistair Cooke and his daughter

The Unseen Alistair Cooke (encore)February 06, 2011

This excellent tribute of Alistair Cooke, British/American journalist and host of Masterpiece Theater for twenty one years, is not a drama in the fictional sense, but his life surely unfolds like one. Documenting Cooke’s early travels across the United States armed with an 8mm camera, this documentary is told in his own voice and by interviews of several who knew him. It chronicles his early ears in America as he worked as a journalist, his friendships with Hollywood icons such as Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and later years as host of Masterpiece Theater. One 60-minute episode.

Any Human Heart (2010) Mathew MacFadyen and Hayley Atwell

Any Human Heart – February 13, 20 & 27, 2011

Author William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel following the life of writer Logan Mountstuart played by three actors in different stages of his life: younger years by Sam Claflin, middle years by Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 2005) and older years by Jim Broadbent. As Mountstuart travels to 1920s Paris to 1950s New York and 1980s London, we witness some compelling history and meet dazzling personalities: Ernest Hemingway (Julian Ovenden), Ian Fleming (Tobias Menzies) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Gillian Anderson and Tom Hollander) to name a few. The many women in his life include: first fling Tess Scabius (Holliday Grainger), first girlfriend Land Fothergill (Charity Wakefield, Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility 2008), first wife Lottie (Emerald Fennell), second wife Freya Deverell (Hayley Atwell, Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park 2007) third wife Allanah (Natasha Little), later fling Gloria Scabius (Kim Cattrall), and guy friends Peter Scabious (Samuel West) and  Ben Leeping (Ed Stoppard). As you can see, the cast is as amazing as the story itself. Three 90-minute episodes.

The 39 Steps (2009) Rupert Penry-Jones

The 39 Steps (encore) – March 27, 2011

Filled with intrigue, romance and humor, this adaptation of the popular John Buchan adventure novel, set on the eve of World War I, stars Rupert Penry-Jones (Captain Wentworth in Persuasion 2007) as Richard Hannay, a mining engineer caught up in a conspiracy following the death of a British spy found in his apartment. The novel has been adapted into four major movies, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 film of the same name. Be sure to watch for the iconic scene where Hannay runs across a Scottish moor and is strafed by a bi-plane. It will trigger memories of Hitchcock’s later film, North by Northwest. This new adaptation by Lizzie Mickery literally ‘beefs up’ Buchan’s 1915 novel by giving us a sexy glimpse of Penry-Jones’ hunky bare chest and expands the romance considerably. The cast also includes Lydia Leonard as Victoria Sinclair, David Haig as Sir George Sinclair and Patrick Malahide as Professor Fisher. One 90-minute episode.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010) cast

Upstairs Downstairs – April 10, 17 & 24, 2011

From 1971-1975, I was enthralled by the life of the wealthy Bellamy family and the servants of 165 Eaton Place in the British drama Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. Set in a large townhouse in London from the Edwardian period until post WWI, the series was, and still is, incredibly popular. I was delighted to hear that co-creators Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins were behind the updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. Both ladies will be part of the cast; Marsh returning as the only original cast member reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose Buck, and Atkins will introduce new character Maud, the Dowager Lady Holland. The upstairs cast includes the master of the house Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), his wife Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes), the debutant Lady Persie Towyn (Claire Foy); and downstairs the butler Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), the cook Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid) and the secretary Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik). The script is by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas who brought us the delightful Cranford in 2009. Three 60-minute episodes.

Anna Maxwell in South Riding (2011)

South Riding – May 1, 8 & 15, 2011

Based on Winifred Holtby’s 1936 novel, South Riding has been adapted to the screen by the venerable Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995, Northanger Abbey 2007, and Sense and Sensibility 2008). Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Emma 1996), this 20th-century classic is a rich portrait of a Yorkshire community in the 1930’s. In the devastating wake of WWI, unmarried Sarah Burton (Anna Maxwell Martin, Cassandra Austen in Becoming Jane 2007) leaves London and returns home to take up a position as headmistress at a struggling Yorkshire girls school. Robert Carne (David Morrissey, Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility 2008) is also struggling as a gentlemen farmer who is destined to clash with Miss Burton. Among the others in the community are Councilor Mrs. Beddows (Penelope Wilton), school girls Lydia Holly (Charlie Clark) and Midge Carne (Katherine McGolpin), school mistress Miss Sigglesthwaite (Brid Brennan), and Councilor Huggins (John Henshaw). “South Riding is a rich, compassionate and humane story of politics in small places and, in the end, the indestructibility of the human spirit.” Three 60-minute episodes.

Sadly, there are no nineteenth-century bonnet dramas in the lineup this year, but readers will be happy to know that since Downton Abbey was such a resounding hit when it aired in the UK in the Fall of 2010, that producers are likely to be encouraged again to send some our way in 2012.

Be sure to check out the Masterpiece Classic PBS web site for additional information on casting, story synopsis and programs streaming free online, the day after broadcast.

Enjoy!

All images courtesy of MASTERPIECE PBS, Downton Abbey image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2010 for MASTERPIECE