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.