Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TV Show of the Month: Upstairs, Downstairs

For my British-Irish Modernism class, I have to create an annotated bibliography for the historical contexts of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. I came across this really interesting article by Carl Freedman, about the connection between the Merchant Ivory production and a 1970s TV show called, Upstairs, Downstairs. Thus, in the course of research and in honor of feeding my habit, I decided to put the first season on my Netflix, and I finished it just now. While the show covers quite a long time period, the first season focuses on 1903-1909, which works really well with researching the Edwardian period. The show actually starts the same year that Queen Victoria died and features an episode in October 1908, which is the same month that A Room with a View was published. [This episode was a little lame, "The Swedish Tiger." It didn't really fit into recreating history the way a number of the other episodes have.]

This TV version of Altman's Gosford Park has a number of interesting plot lines and twists that makes Altman's attempt to capture the intrigues of early twentieth-century British life as a feeble attempt at best. While their plots are not the same, the documentation of classed and gendered life in Upstairs, Downstairs is amazing! I would say the stand out episodes from the first season would be the first one, "On Trial," episode two, "The Mistress and the Maids," and episode eight, "I Dies from Love." The show does a great job of showing what life for the upper and lowers classes was like and how gender relations were conducted between the classes. Of course, you see the men cheating on women, the servants fighting and dying for the chances of love, and surprisingly, the mother, Mistress Belamy, having her own affair.

This video is from the episode where the maid, Sarah, and the Mistress Marjorie Bellamy are both being painted by this artist only for their paintings to be displayed in public, which goes on to create quite a scandal in the Royal Academy.

Along with the really interesting episodes/writing, the show has some first-class acting. The show went one to win BAFTA and Emmy awards. One of the anchors of the show is Jean Marsh, who plays the main housemaid, Rose, and in fact she helped to create the show with fellow actor, Eileen Atkins. [You might recognize Marsh as Mombi from Return to OZ or Queen Bavmorda from Willow.] I would also note that Pauline Collins, who plays Sarah, is another very interesting actress whose role on the show is great. I've never laughed so hard in my life.

Anyways, I just thought I would share this rather interesting "Bits and Bobs" (as one of my favorite EW blogger says) from Britain would be something cool to share.

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