Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One, review
Published 20/02/2012 | 09:17
Sarah Crompton reviews the return of Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One's drama set in the late 1930s.
Upstairs Downstairs (BBC One), which returned last night, still lacks a convincing script. Watching it dressed in all its fine pre-war glory (men digging trenches, crowds queuing for gas masks), you feel you have got all the trimmings of a great meal but no meat.
I think this series is Heidi Thomas’s least convincing because she can’t quite decide whether it is a high-minded historical drama – here Ed Stoppard’s Hallam Holland finds himself at the heart of the Munich crisis – or middle-brow entertainment (which is what both Downton Abbey and the original series settled for with some success).
The show’s creators – Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh – are both, alas, missing here, though Marsh may return when she recovers from a real-life stroke. Atkins’s matriarch, who considerably enlivened the first season, is now an urn of ashes on the mantelpiece, but her interfering half-sister has turned up in the reassuring form of Alex Kingston.
And this first episode did have its moments, particularly in the sub-plot about butler Pritchard’s pacifist Quaker beliefs. This gave centre stage to the admirable Adrian Scarborough and gave Anne Reid’s cook a chance to bustle and worry as she does beautifully. It also gave a glimmer of the series that might emerge if Keeley Hawes’s mannered Lady Agnes can just stop popping into the candlelit drawing room with lines like: “Come upstairs and kiss the children Hallam. They are the future.”