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"Upstairs Downstairs" - (BBC)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: BBC America
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
3/2011
Special Features:

Featurettes Rating: NR

Review:

The seminal British TV series "Upstairs, Downstairs" achieved popularity in both the U.S. and UK nearly 35 years ago. What's old is new again as the BBC elected to do a sequel to this popular series for current audiences. I'm not sure that I would call a series that had a 35 year gap between the original and this three part TV series a sequel per se as too much time has passed for the current audience to even be aware of the original unless you were swept up in the series when it originally aired. Those young enough to have seen the original series remember it fondly while much of Britian and the U.S. won't remember this series at all which garnered nearly universal praise and one of the biggest audiences for PBS at the time. Tastes however change and whether or not this series will continue and reach the broader audience that the original did when options for entertainment were limited and the hunger for anything NOT U.S. made (whether it be "Doctor Who" or the original series) was great remains to be seen. ***

The only thing that is common between both is the house itself; set six years after the original series ended we follow a new family that now occupies the headed by Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Hollan the latter a former Washington diplomat returning home after some years abroad. Lady Agnes' first comment upon seeing the house might embody the feelings of many viewers who saw the original series (which ran 55 episodes on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater") recently--"What a ghastly mausoleum. It's also something of an inside joke for fans of the original series and even those who might have watched it recently as that seems to be the attitude of those who haven't spend much time in the same house over the course of the original series. Setting the new series apart by focusing on the backdrop of pre-World War II Britian was a smart idea as it allows the tension to build nicely as Hitler occupies Europe and the minds of the British. As there was in real life there is a division among the British people; those that recognize the early threat of Hitler and want to go to war and those who are more isolationist. The series also focuses on the gradual erosion of the strict wall between various classes and the belief that everyone needed to stay in their place. ***

Essentially an early British soap opera/drama with a historical context, the original series stands up remarkably well although the pacing might be a problem for modern audiences expecting a more rapid fire pace or editing/direction style. The creators of the sequel aren't afraid to play to the modern audience--the pacing while not lightning swift is sharper, quicker than the original which might seem quaint by comparison to many people.

Image & Sound:

The DVD for "Upstairs Downstairs" looks quite nice. Colors pop, fine detail is quite nice. There were a few digital artifacts in evidence and black levels weren't quite as strong as I'd hoped. ***

The 5.1 audio mix is quite good although keep in mind that this isn't a action driven TV show so it isn't always used to the best advantage. There was still nice activity in the surround speakers evident even during quieter moments with nice use of ambient sound effects to enhance the soundtrack. ---

Special Features:

The most notable one is the behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the show. We find out, for example, that great care was taken in creating an accurate representation of Britian at the time down to making sure the food dishes served were accurate or that the under garments worn by the cast was of its time. ---

Final Words:

"Upstairs Downstairs" (evidently the comma bit the dust with the passage of time) is a worthy successor to the original series.

 

 
 
 
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