April 11, 2011
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Upstairs, Downstairs, Again

It’s interesting to see the new Upstairs, Downstairs. The original series arose when actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins sat down in the late 1960’s to dramatize family stories of life in domestic service. The original series has not always aged well, but it was an early and fine example of the feminist impulse to write the history of people who had once been invisible.

Now we’re back at Eaton Place, not just for nostalgia and a profitable sequel, it seems, but to bridge the transition from that old Edwardian London and its newer, more colorful, and busier descendant. We end the pilot episode with Lady Holland and the new housekeeper sitting together on a park bench. “We have experience, you and I,” she tells Rose, who was once (in our youth) an inexperienced parlor maid. It’s a good moment, and I don’t think Lady Marjorie Bellamy would have been up to it a generation before.