Wednesday, December 29, 2010

165 Eaton Place

For those of us colonials who got to catch the new version of Upstairs, Downstairs that aired over the past few nights in England, we had a special treat indeed. All worries that the show would just bank all its credibility on nostalgia and star names was forgotten once the old theme music started playing. But it wasn't all veneer. We get the thrill of the old sets newly built and repainted in a blue that would have made the Beeb producers proud back in the 70s but coupled with story lines that did a credible job creating a new generation for 165 Eaton Place. Sure the comparisons are to be drawn between the current and the past inhabitants, but this reinvention was obviously done with a reverence and a love for the old series. The production also embraced the ideals of the old show to portray current events and politics in a real and human way.

Sir Hallam Holland and his wife, Lady Agnes, have just inherited 165 Eaton Place, which has remained empty since the tragic end of the original series, 35 years ago in our world, a mere 8 in theirs. Hallam's father inherited the house from James Bellamy but never set his foot through the door. Sadly for Hallam, that doesn't stop his mother, Lady Holland, her secretary Mr. Amanjit, and her pet monkey from invading the house and making over one of the rooms as a study for which to write her memoirs of her life abroad, much like a bohemian M.M. Kaye. There is also Lady Agnes' younger sister, Persie, who is brought under the wing of her sister, only to develop radical ideals and ties to the Nazis. Because as ever, Eaton Place is a battleground of politics and intrigue, with Wallace Simpson walking through the doors with her lover, the one who isn't the King. To Cecil Beaton, to the future King of England himself, what happens in Eaton Place is a microcosm of the outside world. There's life and death and acceptance and forgiveness, and humor and tears.

But life above stairs would never be what it is without those below. As ever, we have Rose Buck... who you can barely believe is 35 years older. Jean Marsh looked as stalwart and true as she ever has. Running a household she lived in for 40 years, she is finally back in her element and not in Bucks of Belgravia. We have a new cook, much the perfectionist that Mrs. Bates ever was, and a butler, who warms the cockles of your heart just in the way Hudson did, even if Hudson never had a letter of recommendation from Errol Flynn! We have discontented housemaids who are a little saucy, and a tempting chauffeur, as it seems all chauffeurs must be, radical and just the little extra dash of sex appeal.

What I found most wonderful is how, for the first time, I got the politics. I saw Upstairs, Downstairs originally long ago... long before I had evolved into the Anglophile I am today, in fact I still suspect that Christmas present all those years ago was more of an excuse for my parents to get their hands on the show again. The show had so much more depth knowing who Walter Mosley was when they started to discuss him, so I could see the looming storm clouds of what was to come. He was a fascist who, eventually, married Nancy Mitford's older sister Charlotte, of which Jessica Mitford gives a great account of in Hons and Rebels. Also the waiting with baited breath for the King to abdicate the throne for Wallace Simpson in December of 1936, which was captured very well in the tv movie, Wallace and Edward. But as always I must say that I hate those two selfish people and am grateful for his abdication because Hitler probably would have won the war with Edward's appeasement and buddyy buddy attitude. Because any "fairy tale" that ends with dinner parties with The Hitlers is no happily ever after to me.

Stateside the new miniseries won't air till April, when they will painfully draw it out over three long weeks. My advice. DVR them all and marathon it, it's the only way to watch it. But thankfully there's Downton Abbey in the meantime... but more on that gem later... but until then, a little something to tide you over.


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