Tuesday 24 October 2017

Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One, review

Sarah Crompton

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.”


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