Upstairs Downstairs vs. Downton AbbeyJust to be clear I am referring to the newly revived Upstairs Downstairs that aired in England in December 2010. Both shows are Masterpiece Classic shows on PBS. Upstairs Downstairs aired on BBC and Downton Abbey aired on ITV. They also both happen to deal with a well to do titled family residing in the “upstairs” and the people that wait on them living in the “downstairs.” I really enjoyed both shows and am excited to see each one continue on.
This show has a long history to draw from, and it’s a history that I really can’t draw from as I’ve never seen the show before. I recognize that anyone who watched the former incarnation of the show will feel nostalgia for 165 Eaton Place and for the former parlour maid Rose Buck. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited to see the currently in ruins home turned into something fabulous.
Set in 1936, there are definite world issues concerning just about everyone in the show. Royalty plays a large issue in this series. We become familiar with Ms. Simpson and the Duke of Kent (played by Blake Ritson who I recognized from the recent TV remake of Emma). After having seen “The King’s Speech”I was really rather annoyed at the inaccuracies surrounding the Duke. He didn’t even stutter once. But I guess you couldn’t really have such a young (inaccuracy #1) and good looking actor like that slow down the plot like that. The show wasn’t about him.
The show was about the upstairs family and the downstairs family. Each had their own dramas. For only three episodes I would say a lot was crammed in. At times it felt like a lot. I’m glad the next season will give the writers time to stretch things out a bit so that we, as an audience, can catch our breaths. With so much material to work with I think the cast handled the material very well. The acting is pretty good and I don’t have any complaints.
Again, the only thing I can say is that there is too much packed into three episodes. The final episode feels like overload as well. Everything is resolved as well as throwing us a few revelations about the Hollands. The final Christmas scene is a bit sappy as well. Again, it’s meant to invoke a nostalgia I just don’t feel.
One of the key differences between this show and Upstairs Downstairs is that Downton Abbey focuses more on the drama within the family – which extends to the staff. Sure there are world events that effect the family, but it ends up being more atmospheric. Like U/D we see how “modern” conveniences influence the people of the day. Electricity is the big one in this series. I really enjoy the set of Downton Abbey a lot more than I do U/D. Highclere Castle served as the location for the household so, to me, it felt much more real. Production value felt much higher on this series.
Character back stories of the staff play a large role of the season. I think the writers do an excellent job in taking care of each of their characters. The rest of the time concerns itself with what Lady Mary calls “the Great Matter” aka. the Endowment. After Earl Grantham’s heirs perished in the sinking of the Titanic, his title and endowment is determined that it will go to a distant relative. Because of the workings of his father, the dowry of Cora, the Earl’s wife, is wrapped up so tightly in the endowment that it cannot be broken and passed on to their daughter. And because she is also a woman, neither can the title. Stupid laws.
I love the plot lines in this series. No episode is boring to me. The acting is really top-notch. Yes, it has Dame Maggie Smith as a draw, but even if it didn’t it would still be able to stand on its own.
If you must pick one of these shows, pick Downton Abbey. But, really, they’re both great if you’re into turn of the century peerage and the people in service.
Downton Abbey is available as a watch instantly on Netflix (but it looks soooo awesome on Blu ray as well).