Posts Tagged ‘Eileen Atkins’

For those who were so unfortunate as to miss Upstairs Downstairs, PBS has made the series available online one day after the initial airing. Click here to watch Episode One.

Ten points to ponder as you contemplate the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs:

1. Rose is back. She is the bridge between the old series and the new. (Jean Marsh was one of the original creators of the show.) Time has not been kind to Rose. Although only six years have passed since the Bellamys left 165 Eaton Place, the poor maid turned housekeeper seems to have aged three decades.

Rose now runs her own business

2. Co-creator Eileen Atkins was committed to another project when filming of the original series began, but she was available for this series. Her turn as Lady Maude Holland, the dowager mama does not quite rival Maggie Smith’s Violet in Downton Abbey, but unlike Maggie, Eileen was given a most interesting, very capable, quite mysterious and handsome secretary – Mr. Amanjit Singh.

Maude dictates her memoirs to her secretary

3.  Few series feature a monkey or a fledgling in a nest. This one has both.

Mr. Amanjit Sing (Art Malik) and Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) place the egg in a linen closet

4. Agnes and Hallam are passionately in love. I wonder if her bitchiness when talking to the servants turns him on, or is it her thriftiness?

Passion in Eaton Place (Keeley Hawes and Ed Stoppard)

5. Like Downton Abbey, there seems to be a foreshadowing of a relationship between the chauffeur and his young mistress, in this instance, Agnes’s sister, Lady Persie, a rebellious though uneducated minx.

Harry (Neil Jackson) and Lady Persie (Claire Foy)

6. What self-respecting viewer can resist a series that features both the family jewels and a home renovation?

The Holland Jewels

7.  We are given one more reason to despise Wallis Simpson.

Instead of the King, Wallis brings Her Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly) to the party

8. A mystery is afoot. Will Johnny the footman, whose passion for the nubile (but very underage Ivy) has put him in the clinker, be able to highfoot it back to Eaton Place?

Ivy (Ellie Kendrick) turns out to be a tease.

9. Will we ever warm up to Pritchard and Mrs. Thackeray? Or will our fond memories of Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges stand in the way? And where was Georgina (Lesley Ann Downe)?

10. Shall Episodes 2 & 3 firmly answer the question: Which series is better, Downton or UpDown? Inquiring minds want to know. Vote here.

Ivy meets Lady Holland

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Upstairs Dowstairs returns

Coming to PBS this Sunday, April 10th,  is Upstairs Downstairs, the newly minted series. Except for Rose, the characters have completely changed, but the nature of the program, following the family and the servants who cater to them, has not.

165 Eaton Place

It is 1936, and only six years have passed by since the Bellamys last lived at 165 Eaton Place. The townhouse is an abandoned shell when Lady Agnes Holland (Keely Hawes) and her diplomat husband, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), arrive from abroad to renovate it as their first home in England.

Keely Hawes as Lady Holland looks towards a new future

Rose (Jean Marsh), the only holdover from the original series, has left service to care for a sick aunt and is now self-employed, finding work for other domestics. A frugal Lady Holland solicits her to fill her house with servants. This means she does not mind employing help with little experience and who need training.

Young Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) needs training

Heidi Thomas, who also wrote the script for Cranford, delivered a crisp, intelligent, and witty script that draws viewers in right away, preserving the elements that drew us to the original show. This series (which has been renewed for a second season) stacks up well against its parent very well indeed. (Although my heart will always be with Hudson, the first butler.)

Jean Marsh as Rose

Thirty years or so ago, Upstairs, Downstairs was a television sensation, and rightly so. The series had been conceived by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who was working on another project when filming began, and so she did not play a maid alongside her friend, Jean. Thankfully so, for Ms. Atkins has returned as Maude, Lady Holland a character who lights up the screen as delightfully as Maggie Smith’s dowager Countess  in Downton Abbey.

Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud Holland

In this year of The King’s Speech, it is interesting to note that Wallis Simpson makes an appearance in the first episode and that the cast listens to Edward’s first radio speech as king. The story of the king and his abdication has long legs this season (he and Wallis were also featured in Any Human Heart, also shown on PBS)

Although invited to the party, Wallis Simpson's (Emma Clifford) appearance is not welcome.

Comparisons of Upstairs Downstairs to Downton Abbey are inevitable, but this is unfair. After all, Upstairs, Downstairs arrived on the scene decades earlier and provided the template for all the master/servant stories that followed. Viewers will not be disappointed with the renewal of a most beloved series. I certainly wasn’t.

Image @Radio Times

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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

2010 Upstairs Downstairs cast

Last night, Tuesday 27th December, saw the final episode of the three-part revival of Upstairs Downstairs (2010). It was shown on BBC 1. This new reincarnation saw the action move on in time, from the final years portrayed in the original series, to the years between the two World Wars.

Front door. Image @Tony Grant

Upstairs Down stairs was the idea of two actress friends, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. Eileen Atkins was not able to take part in the original series because of acting commitments in the West End at the time. In this new version she plays the part of Lady Agnes, the dowager head of the household. Jean Marsh reprises her role as Rose from the original series. Now she has become the head of a servants letting agency.

Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh in Upstairs Downstairs 2010

The series portrays the lives of people from two different strata of society, the servants and the aristocracy. One of the main themes reveals how these two social groups are closely entwined and rely on each other. It is interesting to note the period, between the two wars, when the action takes place in this new series was the time when the relationship between the classes and indeed the classes themselves changed. One class serving another class that intimately was near its end. A new world was being born out of the necessities of war.

Harrods truck

My own roots lie with the working and servant classes of that era. My Great Aunt Kate, my Great Grandmothers sister, worked as a nanny for the Chamberlain family and lived in a flat in one of the Chamberlain family houses in Cheney Walk, Chelsea. Neville Chamberlain was the prime minister at the start of the second world war. Neville Chamberlain himself lived in a house in Eaton Square, the main square in Belgravia.

Transformation of Clarendon Square in Leamington Spa for Upstairs Downstairs 2010

My grandfather, on my father’s side, had been a guardsman fighting in France during the First World War. After the First World War he became the head barman of the Cunard Line, serving the famous and the elite on the transatlantic ships crossing to New York in the interwar years. My other grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a skilled draughtsman and worked in shipyards on the Tyne River in Newcastle upon Tyne and later, because of the depression, moved south to work in a shipyard in Southampton.

Belgravia and park. Image @Tony Grant

The action to Upstairs Downstairs is set in a house in Belgravia, number 165 Eaton Place.

West side of Belgrave Square, 1828. Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

Belgravia, is the most salubrious address in the United Kingdom and one of the top addresses in the world to this day. The Duke of Westminster owns the land and many of the freeholds and leaseholds on the property in Belgravia. In the 1820’s the then Duke of Westminster, Richard Grosvenor, had as one of his titles, Viscount Belgrave, and it was this name he gave to the area.

Belgravia House. Image @Tony Grant

To the north is Buckingham Palace but to the east side is Victoria Railway Station with it’s grand railway hotel looking like an old French Chateaux. This symbol of steam and industrialisation represented the Victorians desire to see and conquer the world. From here the boat trains would leave London for the ferries at Dover and Folkestone and the route to Europe. Many of the rich who lived nearby in Belgravia would leave London on the Orient Express for Paris, Rome, Athens, and Istanbul, and take tours to The East. Victoria Station is a symbol of the growing desire for travel and to see the world. The Belgravia set got there first.

St. Peters, Eaton Square, Belgravia. 1827.

The Duke of Westminster employed Thomas Cubitt – who built mostly grand terraces with white stuccoed fronts – to develop the area. Construction was focused around Belgrave Square and Eaton Square.

Thomas Cubbitt, 1788-1855

From the start the super rich and the aristocracy bought properties in this area and used the land for their town houses. This part of London has remained exclusive to this day. The Queen lives in Buckingham Palace bordering the north part of Belgravia; and Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil oligarch, has a property in Lowndes Square. He is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and one the richest men in the world. The average price of a property in Belgravia today is £6.6 million pounds. But prices going up to and above £100 million pounds have been known. Apart from the very rich, many famous actors, film stars, writers and politicians have lived and still choose to live in this area.

Image @Tony Grant

Margaret Thatcher lives in Chester Square and Joan Collins lives in Eaton Place. Elle MacPherson, the model; Arcelor Mittal, the Indian Steal producer magnet; and Christopher Lee, the horror film star, all live in Belgravia.

Dame Edith Evans' house in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

In the past, both Mozart and Chopin stayed there. Other more recent tenants include: Dame Edith Evans;Vivien Leigh; Ian Flemming, the writer of the James Bond books and, indeed, Sean Connery himself; Roger Moore; Tennyson, the poet; Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein; Noel Coward; Henry Gray, famous for his Grays Anatomy; the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein – the list could go on.

Dress shop in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

After the Second World War many of the houses in Belgravia became embassies, company offices or the headquarters of charities, and the number of houses owned by a single family reduced. However, since the year 2000 many houses are now being converted back into family homes, a visible sign that the number of rich in the world has increased.

Mews houses in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

Mews houses sit behind the great terraced houses fronting the squares. When the properties were originally built in the 1820s, these were the stables that once housed the horses and carriages used by the rich for transport. As cars became fashionable, the mews were turned into garages. Nowadays many have been converted into very desirable homes. To own a mews house in Belgravia is nearly as posh as owning one of the grand terrace houses.

Belgravia through the trees. Image @Tony Grant

The area has not changed much since it was developed in the 1820’s. Except for modern transportation, the streets and house exteriors are the same.

Leamington Spa street transformed for Upstairs Downstairs 2010. Image @BBC

As you walk around Belgravia today, try and imagine the area as it was in the 1820’s. In your mind’s eye, you can still imagine the servants disappearing down the stone stairs behind the black ornate iron railings into the basements. You might be lucky enough to glimpse a Lord or Lady, or even Margaret Thatcher mounting the steps to her front door and seeing it opened by a starch-collared butler. Pick a door yourself, take the large black, iron hoop suspended from the jaws of an angry looking iron lion’s head, rap it smartly, and the door might be opened by Mr. Hudson himself.

Mr. Hudson, 1970s series

Upstairs Downstairs 2010 will be aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic in April, 2011. It was recently aired on BBC One in the U.K.

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Murder on the Orient Express, PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, Sunday, July 11, 9 PM local listings. Starting 7-12, watch this episode online at this link.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot arrives at Masterpiece Mystery for Series X and the viewer will not be disappointed. David Suchet is back as Poirot, the Belgian detective, and I can imagine no one better in the role. This summer’s Masterpiece Mystery! will feature three new Poirot mysteries based on Agatha Christie Novels: Murder on the Orient Express (July 11), Third Girl(July 18) and Appointment with Death (July 25).

The Orient Express was more than a train – it was an experience. Considered the height of luxury in travel, it was also the turbojet Concorde of its day in that it provided the fastest route from Paris to the East. Agatha Christie and her husband traveled in style all the way to Instanbul, and her trips gave her the background information and details she needed to craft a truly unique murder plot. More a string of luxury sleeping cars, seating cars, couchettes, and dining cars than a regular passenger train, the Orient Express crossed many borders over rail lines owned by a number of companies and nationalities. With so many consortiums and countries involved in its smooth running, one marvels that the train made its destination at all, much less in record time.

Passengers trapped on a snow bound train

In 1929 the train was stalled in a snow storm in Turkey, leaving the passengers stranded for days. Christie based her 1934 murder mystery on that true event, as well as on the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., which made the headlines in respectable newspapers and scandal sheets for weeks.

Toby Jones plays the evil victim

This PBS production of Christie’s famous tale is darker in tone than the famous Sydney Lumet adaptation of the book in 1974, which starred Albert Finney as Poirot. That movie’s ending was more pat and Hollywood in style. There was no doubt that Ratchett, the villain (Richard Widmark), was evil through and through, whereas the villain (Toby Jones) in this PBS production seems to operate more from fear and self-protection.

The suspects have no place to go

The ending in this most recent adaptation is strikingly dark and ambivalent; raising questions of justice, ethics, and morality. I confess that it has been so many years since I’ve read this mystery that I cannot recall how faithful this film’s ending is to Agatha’s book.

Barbara Hershey as Caroline Hubbard

The actors are once again superb. We do not see Barbara Hershey enough these days, and the fabulous Eileen Atkins makes an unforgettable appearance. Samuel West, David Morrissey, and Hugh Bonneville round out a sterling cast. My major complaint about this production is its length, which was too short to develop the story lines for many of the suspects.

Eileen Atkins as Princess Dragomiroff, one of the suspects

Watch behind the scenes videos at this link.

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I love old-fashioned, sentimental movies filled with likable characters and well told stories. I like films that take me out of time and place and land me smack dab in another world. I adore ensemble casts made up of famous and not so famous British actors. Ergo, I am wild about Cranford, which will air at 9 pm tonight on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic

This early Victorian tale, based on the writings of Elizabeth Gaskell, is about change and resisting change. Cranford is a sleepy town that time passed by until the coming of the railroad. It is ruled by women – Amazons, as Elizabeth Gaskell described them.

Eileen Atkins as Miss Deborah Jenkyns and Francesca Annis as Lady Ludlow are at the pinnacle of Cranford society: the former rules over poor widows and spinsters, and the latter commands everyone’s respect as the lady of the manor. These two powerful women are suspicious of anything that upsets their well-ordered lives. Miss Jenkyns cannot abide Charles Dickens’s modern stories, or suck juice from an orange in front of others, since to her the very thought of the word ‘suck’ is abhorrent. News that a railroad is coming to ruin her perfect town is so distressful that it brings on an apoplectic fit.

Lady Ludlow firmly believes that people should remain in their station and behave accordingly. She will not hire servants who can read or write, declaring that too much education upsets the natural order of things and would foment a revolution, as it did in France. This subplot sets up the film’s dramatic ending.

Simon Woods as Dr. Harris, represents new ideas and innovation. A frisson goes through the community when he elects to save Jem Hearne’s injured arm rather than amputate it. After the young doctor’s successful but revolutionary treatment of setting the bone and stitching the wound, his partner Dr. Morgan (John Bowe) declares testily, “Cranford has been disturbed by you.” The old doctor, thinking to relieve his work load and to turn his practice over to a younger physician once he retires, is completely taken aback by his assistant’s newfangled ways. “Cranford is a town that knows itself, he admonishes the doctor. “It is a town at peace.”

Cranford is also a town that takes care of its own. The staid ladies of Cranford donate their expensive candles to allow the doctor to practice his modern surgical techniques on the young carpenter before it is too late. They are charmed by this single man, a rare commodity in a town filled with spinsters. Many of the plot’s developments and misunderstandings that ensue are caused by their wishful thinking.

The people of Cranford are adept at hoarding scarce goods, such as candles and coal for fire. The lace incident, which, next to the cow incident, is one of my favorite scenes in the film, is all about recycling. Hand made foreign lace was a precious commodity, especially for a widow living on a meager income of 100 pounds. Any article of clothing that still had value was laundered, mended, or reworked rather than thrown out. When the cat swallowed the lace, along with the buttermilk that was bleaching it, it led to a series of events that had me choking with laughter. The ladies’ expressions as they watched a cathartic mixture being forced down the poor cat’s throat and listened to the ignominious expulsion of milk and lace into a boot were priceless.

Careful attention to detail was paid in this production, from costumes, such as the frayed bonnet of the impoverished widow (played by Julia McKenzie with Imelda Staunton at left), to the setting (the British Heritage village of Laycock), to props (two footmen huffing and puffing as they run while carrying their mistress in a sedan chair), to the plaintive wails of the cat as it expels the sadly abused lace.

As a drama, Cranford has it all: young romance (Kimberley Nixon as Julia Hutton at right), old romance, sweet comedy, dreadful calamity, deep sorrow and profound happiness. The town is populated with individuals who do what is right for themselves, their families, and their fellow man, even if it means breaking the law. I’ve read the book and was struck by how well Heidi Thomas’s script holds up against Mrs. Gaskell’s novel, which was actually a series of vignettes written for Household Words, a magazine published by Charles Dickens. Oh, the story is melodramatic and there are a few too many coincidences to be believed, but the characters are so well defined and likable that one forgives the script’s treacly overtones and neatly tied up ending.

Jane Austen’s novels were never so sugary sweet, but this film production offers us an interesting glimpse of a world that Cassandra Austen, Jane’s beloved sister, must have known before she died. Changes caused by the industrial revolution had swept England, and new inventions in manufacturing, machines, science, and travel caused wholesale changes in how people lived and worked. Jane Austen only caught a glimpse of what was to come, but Cassandra lived long enough to see macademized roads replace dirt roads, gas lights put up on public streets, and steam engines overtake stage coaches as public transportation. Other aspects of society remained the same, such as the plight of widows and spinsters whose income was inadequate, and a high mortality rate among children.

Post Script: Winning her first BAFTA award at the age of 73, Eileen Atkins edged Judi Dench for best actress for her performance as Miss Jenkyns. Eileen wasn’t sure about the role at first, saying, “I didn’t think it was too good a part – I thought she was the only one who wasn’t funny.”

More about Cranford:

  • Penny for Your Dreams features a series of great Cranford reviews. Here is the link to Episode One if you don’t mind spoilers, along with the other four posts.

I would also like to direct you to Laurel Ann’s Cranford review on Austenprose, and Kay Daycus’s take on this movie adaptation. Mrs. Elton offers a unique perspective about this first episode on Jane Austen Today. Learn more about Elizabeth Gaskell in Jane Austen in Vermont. See you next week for the second installment!

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