Upstairs, Downstairs: Romeo and Juliet is NOT a How-to!

Image courtesy of Acorn MediaPreviously on Upstairs, Downstairs: Emily the kitchenmaid was waaaay too into overblown romance stories.

It’s April 1907.

Emily stares, openmouthed, up at the street through the kitchen window. Mrs Bridges tells her to pay attention to her work and scolds her for doing a crappy job with the dishes. Emily sulks and recommences washing them. Poorly. She doesn’t even rinse, so no wonder Bridges was pissed off. Edward comes into the scullery just as a carriage pulls up carrying some nouveau riche named Mrs Van Groeben. Edward makes fun of her, as Rose joins them. Rose scolds him mildly but joins the other two in staring at the woman as she gets down from her carriage. Rose remarks on the handsome footman and wishes they could get a cute one like that. Emily admires Mrs VG’s dress, guessing the woman has a different dress for every day of the year.

Marjorie’s got Prudence and some cool old lady visiting to discuss their plan for a servants’ day out. You know, a nice outing to the park to make them all forget, just for a little while, how dead-end, monotonous, ill paid, and crappy most of their jobs are. They all think it’s just a spleeeendid idea. Mrs VG is announced and swirls in, all feathers and flashiness, because these nouveau riche don’t have a clue how to dress properly. Mrs VG complains about city traffic and congestion and speaks lovingly of all the space they used to have in South Africa. Lady Templeton, the old lady, who has clearly reached the venerated age at which you can totally ditch your filter and stop giving a shit what anyone thinks, comments that Mrs VG should have stayed there, and can we have some damn tea already? Prudence explains the plan for the servants’ outing while Marjorie tells Hudson to fetch tea and send Mrs VG’s coachman to have tea with the servants, since they’ll be there for some time.

The coachman takes them up on the offer and soon has the downstairs staff laughing at some story about a servants’ picnic that the queen threw in Regent’s Park. Emily killjoys that she thinks it was really nice of her majesty to do it and no laughing matter at all, but the coachman reminds her that one day is pretty meaningless when one could, you know, improve the actual lives of the servants on a more permanent basis instead. He goes back to his story, finishing up by talking about how great it was to work for the Duke of Marlborough.

Upstairs, the ladies discuss budget. Lady T tells the girls to tell her what she owes, then stands and says this: ‘Marjorie my dear, I’ve decided to leave. I’m quite ancient, and easily bored. I cannot afford to be bored at my age. Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!’ Hee! Once she’s gone, Mrs VG laughs about what a character she is. Good to see she took it all in good humour. She then tells Prudence it’s awfully nice of her to spend so much time improving the lot of servants who, after all, have very little to do. The hell, lady? How could anyone actually think that? That’s a level of cluelessness about the 99% I don’t really find all that credible, to be honest.

Cut immediately to Emily scrubbing out a grate, which was seriously hard work. For anyone interested in finding out just how hard that (and other skivvy work around the house) really was, I highly recommend giving The Victorian House by Judith Flanders a read. It’s a wonderfully written social history of the period inspired by various rooms of the house. Really eye-opening. And sometimes harrowing.

Anyway, Emily scrubs and sings and I’ll give her credit for having a really nice voice. Rose comes into the room and scolds Emily for being so slow. Emily whines about having to do it, because she’s not a housemaid and she’s got stuff to do in the kitchen. How has this household not yet replaced Sarah? Hasn’t it been a while? Housemaids were really easy to find back in 1907. Rose snits her way back out.

Downstairs, Bridges tries something on the stove and immediately spits it out in disgust, then checks the sugar jar. Apparently, it’s full of salt, put in there accidentally by Emily. How would that happen? Are they really ordering sackfuls of salt for this household? Maybe they are, I don’t know, but it seems unlikely.

Salt tends to come in much smaller quantities than sugar.

Emily lights the fire and admires her handiwork for a minute, but then gets a move on when she hears a nearby door slam.

She goes back downstairs, where Bridges makes a big show of telling her good morning and then invites her to try a little treat. She smilingly asks the girl to have a taste of the pudding Bridges has slaved over for hours and hours. Mrs B, if you slaved over it for hours you’re doing it wrong. Boiled puddings pretty much cook themselves, you don’t have to stand there and watch them. She shoves a spoonful in Emily’s face and Emily immediately winces. Bridges drops the nice-lady act and yells at Emily for putting salt in the sugar jar. Emily swears it wasn’t her. Bridges continues to scold her for staring at the carriages outside all day instead of paying attention to her work. Emily gets to work on the dishes and cries and begs the Virgin Mary to help her, because she hasn’t even finished the housework. Seriously, Bellamys, just call an agency and get a damn housemaid already! It’s not hard!

Mrs VG has returned to speak to Marjorie on a rather delicate matter: she wants to make sure that no ‘undeserving’ girls are allowed out on this outing. Marjorie doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Mrs VG explains that of course they don’t want to include the riffraff that work in middle class households. Yes, of course, the nouveau riche lady is the obnoxious snob. And I’m kind of confused, because I was under the impression that this outing was just going to be for the staff at the Bellamys’, Lady Templeton’s, Prudence’s, and Mrs VG’s house, so where would these suburban workers be coming from?

Lady M: I think you’re a bit of an asshole, as well as a ridiculous caricature of all the worst stereotypes of the nouveau riche. But of course I won’t say so out loud. Oh, hey, look, it’s raining!

Downstairs, Rose catches Emily staring at Mrs VG’s cute footman, standing out in the rain. Rose yells at her for failing at being a replacement housemaid, and Emily snaps that she can’t manage it all. Rose doesn’t care and tells her to just deal. And presumably grow some extra arms. Rose adds, in a slightly nicer tone, that Mrs B doesn’t mean it when she gets all snappish and mean, and that she’s really quite fond of Emily.

Marjorie notices that Mrs VG’s footman is getting soaked.

Mrs VG: Huh? Yeah, whatever. Not like he’s human or anything.

Marjorie: Why don’t we invite him in so he can stop freezing to death?

Footman and coachman are invited into the servants’ hall, looking surprisingly dry. The footman takes a seat just opposite Emily, who stares at him like he’s the most amazing thing she’s ever seen. I guess he’s ok in a 1970s sort of way. He and she make eyes and exchange smiles while the coachman natters on.

Soon, Emily and the footman are dating, holding hands and reading snippets of A Little Princess from the newspaper at a cheap teashop. The footman’s name is William, by the way. Emily talks about how she wishes she could read and write like he does. She also chatters about her dead dad and how he was buried standing up. She gets a tiny bit downcast at the thought of her starving relatives back home, and morosely comments that she and William are the lucky ones. He thinks they’ve made their own luck by being good at their jobs (and good looking, in his case, which apparently hasn’t escaped Mrs VG’s notice. She plucked him out of an orphanage because of it, and is now teaching him ‘how to get on’ and how to behave. Uh huh.) Emily thinks she sounds like a good mistress.

The rich ladies’ committee is back together again, talking ignorantly about their servants and how stupid and pointless they are. They set a date for the servants’ outing in a month’s time. Mrs VG tells the ladies she hopes to hold a masked ball in aid of their aims to take servants out for a bit of air. Without a hint of irony, she says she plans to have the theme be Versailles before the Revolution. Yes, ladies, it’s the servants who are the idiots. Only Lady Templeton calls her out on it, because she’s kind of great.

Emily and William are cozied up on a bench in a park at night. There’s some chat about Emily’s real name (too difficult for the English to pronounce, so they gave her a new one, which was not uncommon at the time). She then starts to get a little creepy, talking about how they were clearly meant to be together because it was all predestined and she just knew it the very first time she ever saw him. They’re soulmates! William starts to look a bit uncomfortable, as most people do when their significant other starts to get waaay too clingy too fast. ‘Everything I do I do for you,’ she tells him. ‘Everything I do in the house I imagine I do it for you.’ Man, girl. Take it down a notch or 12. He tells her he’d totally run away with her if it wasn’t for Mrs VG, but I’m pretty sure he’s just appeasing her. She gets all sad again and says the world is full of running people and where would they go? She asks if he loves her and he says he does, because she’s the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. She keeps pushing and he reassures her that he does love her, for God’s sake! Finally convinced, she tells him there would be nothing in her life without him. He’s starting to look a little disturbed. I don’t blame him. She wails a bit about what would happen if Mrs VG finds out they’re dating. He puts an arm around her and asks if he can kiss her, but she tells him they shouldn’t, because it’s wrong. But she lets him and they exchange the chastest kiss you’ve ever seen in your entire life. I’ve seen first-degree relatives show more affection than these two. A policeman comes along and hurries them along.

Mrs VG finds out about the romance and summons William to her bedroom to tell him to break this relationship off.  She offers to get him a fancy new uniform to sweeten the deal. William, wanting to get along in the world more than he wants to date a needy scullery maid, seems fine with all this and reassures her this relationship was all just a bit of fun.

Emily is summoned to speak with Lady Marjorie, who informs her that she’s aware of her relationship with William and Mrs VG has forbidden the romance. She warns Emily that Mrs VG will fire William and ruin his chances of life in service if they don’t break up. Seeing that Emily’s distressed, she reassures her that this will pass and someday she’ll marry someone and look back on this fondly. ‘A passion spends itself very quickly,’ she says, knowing of what she speaks.

Emily goes to Rose for help writing a letter to William, but she can’t pull herself together long enough to dictate it, so Rose tries to prompt her. Instead, Emily basically begs him to tell her that he loves her. Man, this girl’s in deep.

She’s barely able to get her work done, staring off into the distance. Mrs Bridges notices and, knowing the reason for it, is kind of nice. Instead of yelling at her, she talks about romances in her own past and then talks some shit about William, saying he’s a household pet and sort of doll for Mrs VG to dress up. This is clearly not helping, but Bridges is clueless. Every time a carriage passes, Emily rushes to the window, but William doesn’t come. Bridges harps on about how the whole romance was doomed and how she knew two servants who ran off and got married and were so poor the wife had to sell her hair. Better than selling other things, right? She goes on and on about William until Emily bursts into tears and goes tearing off upstairs. Rose catches her and asks what happened and accuses Mrs B of reducing her to this state. Mrs B defensively says she was just telling her ‘a few facts of life’. Right, Mrs B. Learn to read a room, will you? Emily sobs and Mrs B apologises, explaining she only wanted to help. Rose is like, ‘yeah, great lot of help you are!’ She urges Emily to cheer up and hope to see William at the next day’s picnic. A carriage pulls up and Emily goes to check and, yes, yes! William is on it! Hurrah! She admires his new uniform and Rose laughs and tells her to go get herself cleaned up. The coachman and William come in, and William’s outfit is predictably ridiculous. Looks like Mrs VG started that Versailles before the Revolution theme early, but mashed it together with some Prussian military uniforms for fun. William drops off a hamper for the picnic and quickly leaves when he sees Emily. She tries to follow him, but the coachman blocks her way and tells her it’s no good. Furthermore, William is returning Emily’s letter. By way of the coachman. Coward.

That night, Emily paces her room and sits on the bed, letter in hand, and cries.

In the servants’ hall, Rose excitedly talks about retrimming her hat and urges Mrs B to come along on the picnic the next day. Mrs B politely declines, saying she’s too old to go larking about in parks. Rose talks about some of the other guys who’ll be there and Edward snatches her hat and runs away with it, dashing upstairs. Rose gives chase. He hides himself in Emily’s room, where she sits on the bed crying. He completely fails to take note of her clearly seriously depressed state, claps the hat on her head, and takes off. She lets the hat flop to the floor.

The following day, everyone’s been loaded onto the omnibus for the picnic. Everyone except Emily, that is. Hudson sends Rose to find her.

The ladies who have arranged this sip tea and comment on how happy their servants are, ‘like children going to the seaside.’ Lady T worries they’re going to enjoy themselves too much. Can’t have those servants being too aware of joy, after all. They might be spoiled. The mistresses are going to serve the servants tea later and think it’ll be such fun to see their faces. Fun and hugely awkward, I’m guessing.

Rose rushes up to Emily’s room and finds the girl hanging from the ceiling. Yikes, this just got severely grim. All we see is her feet, which is probably for the best.

Rose hurries outside, meets Hudson, and tells him what happened, collapsing into tears. I can’t even imagine how traumatic that discovery must have been, because I think we can assume Emily didn’t have the hangman know-how to tie a neck-breaking noose, which means she would have strangled to death, and that does not leave a pretty corpse. Hudson quickly comforts Rose and sends her to fetch Edward from the omnibus while he figures out what the hell to do. Servant suicide is probably not something that’s generally covered in the butler’s manual.

Hudson goes to fetch Marjorie, pulls her out of the room, and tells her what’s happened. She returns, ashen, and informs the ladies she won’t be able to go, because the kitchen maid has ‘had an accident.’

The omnibus sets off, loaded with gaily singing servants, while the Bellamy servants go back downstairs.

Later, the coffin—just a plain wooden box—is hefted out of Emily’s room. Rose pulls the crucifix off the wall. The undertakers (presumably) ask to stash the coffin and body in the servants’ hall (on the table they eat off of) for a little while until they can discreetly remove it. My god, this is awful. Rose fetches some tea while Bridges sobs and beats herself up for not being kinder. Mrs B, much as I think you were a bit hard on Emily, clearly this girl had some serious issues. I mean, nobody who is at all well adjusted kills themselves over a teenage romance ending. So, you can’t really blame yourself here. You could have been a second mother and it probably wouldn’t have done much good. Rose reassures her that Emily thought the world of her, which I think is a significant exaggeration, but under the circumstances, perfectly acceptable.

The undertakers compliment the tea. Hudson muses that Emily was Catholic and the undertakers are like, ‘bummer. God loathes a suicide, you know.’ Hudson asks where she’ll be buried and hears that her body’s going to be sent to some doctors for medical research purposes before being disposed of. This is what sends Hudson over the edge and he pulls off his glasses to dash away a couple of tears. Rose, crying, places Emily’s crucifix and rosary on the coffin.

Later, Hudson watches the undertakers load up the body and solemnly waves them off. And then the super perky title music jarringly begins to play. Guys, there are some episodes when you can just let the end titles play to silence, ok? This is definitely one of those times.

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