Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Downton Abbey v Upstairs Downstairs

Downton Abbey has taken the television world by storm whilst poor old Upstairs Downstairs - which began it's second 'series' on Sunday - is in some people's eyes the the unwanted bastard interloper.

A lot of the critics who approached Downtown's first series with noses held higher than Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess have since fallen for its charm. They emerged from Lady Sybil's coattails this week to pronounce Upstairs Downstairs not a patch on the Abbey. Hmmm. For me, is the other way around.

Downton is melodrama, riddled with cliches and plot holes, historical inaccuracies and cardboard cut out villains. On the other hand what Heidi Thomas has created, in her reawakening of Upstairs Downstairs, is a more thoughtful, dramatic piece that draws heavily on pre WWII history shedding an authentic light on late 1930's England.

And that might be the problem.

One has the construction of soap opera - albeit very well dressed,shot and acted - whilst the other is an out and out historical drama. DA is an entertainment - fluff - short scenes that almost all end on a tiny cliffhanger but let's not be snobbish about it, people love it. Love it to bits.

Okay, Upstairs Downstairs has missed several tricks, despite being the better of the two shows dramatically. Julian Fellows plundered the old Upstairs Downstairs in coming up with his Downton Abbey and in doing so he recognised that far from being battered old stereotypes the characters the public loves are pretty much the ones who inhabit the Abbey. Damn it, DA's Lords, Ladies, Maids, Footmen and Butlers are just more...colourful. But then this is his world, he's a lord married to one of the Queen's Ladies in waiting. If anyone should be able to write about class devide it should be him. Having said that the continual hob-nobbing that goes on between the Earl of Grantham's family and the servants who butter their toast and pick up their knickers is quite unbelievable, as many have pointed out.

The colour in Upstairs Downstairs was mainly supplied by Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh. Eileen Atkins jumped ship before the second series citing differences in opinion over her character's development whilst poor Jean Marsh (Rose from the original 70's series and the housekeeper in the new one) suffered a stroke and had to be written out. Both these actors were instrumental in creating the original series and their absence from the new series leaves two gaping holes. 

I read one reviewer this week who criticised Upstairs Downstairs for not be funny enough! Come on, there wasn't a better line on televison this week than Pritchard the butler commanding "Place this hot water bottle 18 inches from the bottom of Lady Agnes's bed, slightly to the left."Whilst the show isn't trying to be funny it has it's moments of humour - but it wouldn't hurt to have a few more lighter moments and some more intrigue. 

I shall stick with Upstairs, let's see what this full series brings.

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