Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: A new under-housemaid arrived at the Bellamy household, received the name Sarah, and soon proved to be both a compulsive liar and a thief with a seriously bad attitude. And after about a day, she realised service wasn’t for her and hit the road.
Quick history note: during the filming of the show, there was an industrial dispute over payment for using colour filming equipment (which was fairly new for television shows at the time), so broadcasting unions refused to allow their members to use it. The first episode was later refilmed in colour, but the others completed during the dispute remain black and white, including this one.
It’s June 1904. We open on an artist, Mr Scone, sketching Marjorie. He’s going to be doing a portrait of her and is doing studies while Richard Bellamy looks on. Scone reposes her while Bellamy armchair artists, wondering if the jaw’s a little too strong in the sketches. Scone tries her somewhere else and playfully suggests they kick Bellamy out, because husbands tend to get in the way. He also tells the pair of them to check out some Impressionist work the next time they’re in Paris. Over the course of the scene, we learn that Scone’s a member of the upper class himself, but his family’s disappointed in his choice of profession. Before he leaves, Scone asks Marjorie to send over a couple of her favourite dresses for him to see and get a feel for. She promises to send them along that afternoon.
He leaves and Richard wonders if the man’s the right one for the job. Marjorie likes his spirit, so he stays. We know who really rules the roost in this household.
Scone reclines on a sofa in his studio, looking over the sketches. Someone knocks on the door and he pretentiously calls for them to come in, in French. When the knocker doesn’t respond, he impatiently yells, ‘Come in, damn you!’ Dick. The door opens and in comes…Sarah? WTH? Didn’t she quit at the end of last episode? She’s bringing Marjorie’s dresses. She explains that his servant downstairs directed her to bring them up and Scone wonders why he didn’t just do it himself. Because the script says you two have to meet somehow, Scone, keep up! He pours a drink and asks her name. She introduces herself and he tells her not to call him ‘sir’ because he can tell she doesn’t like it. Which is just one reason why she’s currently in the wrong job and quit. He unpacks the dresses and has her hold them up against her body. He mocks them all and asks her what life in service is like. She kinda shrugs that it’s not too bad, because she refuses to let anyone ride roughshod over her. She chatters about Rose, and how they’re great friends and they’re going to open up a boarding house together someday. She tries on the last dress, which is more like a silk robe, and Scone seems cool with that one. He plops her down in a chair and poses her and tells her to tell Marjorie to wear that one. He then orders her to pack the others up and begone.
Sarah returns to Eaton Place and heads up to her room, where Rose scolds her for being late to set out the tea things. Sarah’s unconcerned about the tea things, because she’s all excited about a letter she’s received, which she can make out a little of, because apparently Rose has been teaching her to read. I feel like we’ve missed a huge chunk of action here. Seriously, when and how did Sarah get her job back? Why did she return? She begs Rose to read the rest of the letter and Rose takes it while Sarah goes to put on her afternoon apron, explaining that when she was coming in, someone handed it to her. Rose takes a look and accuses her of having had someone write the letter out for her, which is also how Rose figures Sarah got her totally faked references, which still landed her the job in this place that clearly doesn’t bother checking the backgrounds of the people living and working there. And neither does the employment agency that sent Sarah over, which seems like a terrible way to do business. These people had unfettered access to homes filled with very, very expensive things, not to mention important people, so not checking references is just stupid. You could have anyone just waltzing in.
Sarah swears up and down that the letter wasn’t ordered by her. Rose reads it. It’s an anonymous note telling Sarah to meet a waiting cab on her next day off. Yeah, that doesn’t seem sketchy at all. But because she’s an idiot, Sarah will go. She thinks it’s really cool that the letter’s addressed to ‘divine Sarah’. Rose says that’s a reference to Sarah Bernhardt, and that the letter writer’s making fun of her, but Sarah doesn’t care. Rose warns her not to get in too deep and wind up holding the baby, but Sarah pretty much ignores her.
She goes, and Scone plies her with champagne, which she declares ‘very refreshing’ in an attempt to seem sophisticated. He’s got a large bed set up in the middle of the studio, allegedly for posing on. She doubts that, so at least she’s a tiny bit savvy. Or maybe Rose actually got through to her. He tells her his cousin’s an earl, and she pretends not to be impressed. She asks about Sarah Bernhardt and he calls her the greatest actress in the world and a consummate artist. He says he wants to paint Sarah because her face interests him. She agrees and he takes his jacket off and orders her into the bed. She starts to protest, weakly, saying Marjorie never has to take her clothes off, but all he does is move her shirt down a little and put her under the covers. Like the child she is, she can’t hold still for more than a few seconds and he snaps at her not to move.
She returns home and finds Rose reading in bed and absolutely baking off waves of disapproval. Sarah basically begs her to ask how it went, and Rose’s disposition changes almost immediately to a friendly one, which seems a little odd. She quickly picks up on the alcohol on Sarah’s breath and calls her out on drinking. Sarah readily ‘fesses to it, calling champagne nectar, not a drink. She tells Rose that her admirer turned out to be Scone and he’s going to paint Sarah as well. Rose laughs, but gets serious fast when Sarah starts telling her how he wants to set her up in a little flat of her own, in order for him to live out some sort of bohemian nonsense dream wherein he becomes a great painter by having a mistress/model just like Monet and some of the other Impressionists. Oh, please. There’s a bit more to becoming a great artist than just living like them, Scone. What a dilettante. Rose warns her against being blinded by the man’s money and connections. Sarah says she doesn’t like wandering about on her own on her days off, so she might as well go pose for the guy. Rose seems concerned in a very big sisterly kind of way.
Marjorie’s posing, dressed in the robe-gown, her hair loose over one shoulder. Scone talks about how he likes seeing her at sunset and compliments her fine hands. They chatter about how everyone wears masks and he likes depicting real life and thinks morality is useless. She seems bemused but admits to being a little frightened of what his painting may show. In comes Sarah to light the lamps and pull the curtains, which is Scone’s cue to leave for the day.
On Sarah’s next day off, she’s back in the bed at Scone’s studio, posing boredly. He gives her a break and she stretches luxuriously and calls for champagne. He obliges and pours some for himself. She raises a toast to the Divine Sarah. She sticks her legs up in the air (she’s now posing in her underwear, stockings, and shoes) and asks if he thinks she has nice legs. He calls her out on taunting him a bit and says she’s a fantasist, explaining it’s someone who lives on airy nothings and tomorrows that will never come. Well, he’s got her pegged. She dramatically agrees, draping herself over the footboard of the bed, as if she were the Divine Sarah herself. He smacks her on the butt and tells her to get back in position. She does, but when she starts chattering about some play she saw once, he tells her to shut up. A few seconds later, though, he asks her to tell him about this boarding house dream of hers. She childishly refuses to answer, so he rolls his eyes and tells her she can speak again. She confesses Rose doesn’t trust him and doesn’t like that Sarah’s posing for him. Furthermore, Rose has put the idea in Sarah’s head that Scone should be paying her to model. He asks what she thinks she’s worth and she sniffs at him to keep his money. He offers to take her out or buy her a new hat or something. Wow, he’s condescending. She asks him to take her to the bioscope to see the moving pictures. He can’t understand what’s exciting about flickering images and she tells him that it’s amazing because it’s real. He goes off on a rant about how photographs and moving pictures are destroying art because now all anyone has to do is look at a picture, after artists have spent centuries trying to perfect the depiction of people and things. Ahh, so he’s an artist with no imagination, who can’t fathom the possibilities of these new inventions and how they, too, could become art (actually, they already were). He’s a snob, really. He thinks art can only be found on a canvas or in a block of marble. Boring. He’ll still take her, though. Right that moment.
Marjorie’s portrait is done, and Scone has brought it to the Bellamy home for a grand unveiling. Richard arrives just in time and is cutely excited. Scone unveils it and it’s…eh. Ok, I guess. Sort of off-brand Gauguin. Or really, really, really off-brand Degas. Richard clearly hates it, but politely says it just takes a little getting used to. He should have probably booked Sargent if he was looking for a classic painting of his wife looking gorgeous. He tries to find things to like about the portrait and goes on and on while things just get more and more uncomfortable. He asks about the blurriness of the brushwork and Marjorie says that’s the new thing and Scone will think they’re philistines. Richard apologies and says he loves it. Really! It’s awesome! Where should they hang it? Well, first Scone wants to borrow it and submit it to the Royal Academy. Richard wonders if they’ll actually hang it, since the RA tens to be pretty conservative, and Scone says things can be arranged. I’ll bet they can, with the right arm twisting.
At his studio, Scone shows Sarah the finished picture of her, and she notes that he’s drawn her nude. He’s also managed to depict the room the two girls share at the Bellamys’, based entirely on Sarah’s descriptions of it. Oh, and he added Rose into the background. Scone tells her he’s going to call it ‘The Maids’, which she hates because it’s not romantic. She suggests ‘Waiting for Dawn’ and he sneers at that. She sadly notes he won’t need her anymore, now he’s done with the picture, and accuses him of having used her. With your permission, Sarah. Where do you get off getting all pissed off about that? Because she’s a bizarre person, she gets mad at him for not making her his mistress and starts whacking him with a pillow. So, does she want to end up in the worst possible scenario Rose laid out for her? That was not supposed to be fun sounding, Sarah, you moron! She shouts that she wouldn’t be his mistress if he were the last man on earth, but it would have been decent of him to at least ask. He laughs at her, then pulls her down onto the posing bed and kisses her. He then offers to take her to supper and the bioscope.
Back at the Bellamys’, Sarah’s in a fine mood, going about singing while Hudson reads the paper in the servants’ hall and sniffs at the exorbitant sum being paid for some footballer. Sarah agrees with him, and he snaps at her for offering an opinion. He then spots something else in the paper, blanches, and, in a panic, asks Sarah what she’s done. Sarah’s confused. A bell rings and Hudson rips something out of the paper and orders Sarah to burn the rest of it.
Upstairs, Richard comes down the steps and asks Hudson where the newspaper is. Hudson lies that it hasn’t come yet and promises to look into it. Richard tells Hudson to remind Marjorie to meet him at the Academy that afternoon. He’s really chipper, which worries Hudson. After Richard leaves, Hudson returns to the servants’ hall and shows Sarah what he tore out of the paper. She recognises it as a picture of her painting. Wait, isn’t she nude in the painting? No way would any newspaper available for public consumption print a painting of a nude in 1904. I don’t think they even do that now. It certainly wouldn’t appear in a paper that a Tory household regularly bought. Hudson orders her to read aloud what it says, but she says she can’t because the print is too small. He grabs it back and reads:
‘Sensations of this year’s Academy are undoubtedly two striking pictures by Geoffrey Scone.’ Guess it was an off year. ‘Hung side-by-side in counterpoint, The Mistress and the Maids are both scenes from the home of Mr Richard Bellamy MP and will set a new fashion for home portraits. Asked to name the model for the scantily clad maidservant, Mr Scone referred this reporter to 165 Eaton Place.’ Sarah, still not getting that she’s in a huge amount of trouble here, smirks at his cheek, but Hudson wants to know immediately how the guy got up to her room. She insists he’s never been there, that she posed at his studio. He warns her that there’s going to be hell to pay before he leaves to go answer a bell. Once she’s alone, Sarah smiles again about having got her face in the papers. Oh, what an idiot.
At the Academy, there’s a huge crowd around the painting as Richard and Marjorie come in. They take a gander and she blanches when she sees The Maids (it’s our first time seeing it, and it’s a bit better than Morjorie’s portrait. Also, Rose is depicted from the back, but is also nude.) The Bellamys immediately leave and the crowd gets back to buzzing.
Back home, Richard is short with Hudson and sends him off before raging to Marjorie that Scone must have snuck up the back stairs while he was there to do her portrait. Marjorie thinks the sensible thing is to treat the whole thing as a joke, even though she’s not terribly pleased at being made a laughingstock. She can’t believe Rose behaved so appallingly (obviously they’re assuming both girls posed for the painting) and calmly says that both maids will have to be dismissed immediately. Oh, great, so now Rose is going to be collateral damage. Well done, Sarah. Though, to be fair to her, she’s young and naive and didn’t know Scone was going to put Rose in the picture, so she couldn’t have possibly anticipated this outcome. Richard agrees to the firings and goes back to ranting about Scone’s impudence.
Hudson goes downstairs and shortly tells Rose and Sarah that they’re fired and need to be gone by the morning. Sarah protests that it’s unfair, because they did nothing wrong. Hudson gets in her face and tells her she made the house a laughingstock. She apologises to Rose for having gotten her into trouble. Rose, it should be noted, hasn’t said a single word in her own defence. I guess she figures it’s pointless. Hudson hasn’t escaped the lash either, having been taken to task by Richard for not knowing what was going on. Hudson apparently shifted the blame to ‘girls today, amirite? No respect!’ Dick. He stomps out and Rose sinks into a chair. Sarah goes to comfort her and announces she’s heading upstairs to tell them everything, because what does she have to lose at this point? Rose, a maid through and through if ever there was one, gasps that they can’t go upstairs unless they’re sent for, but Sarah’s on a tear and drags her up and into the morning room.
The Bellamys try to send them away, but Sarah refuses to be dismissed. So, Marjorie gets up and leaves. Sarah tells Richard it was all her, and that Rose isn’t to blame. She explains that she posed at the studio, not at the house, and Rose wasn’t involved at all. Taking it down a notch, she tells him this is an injustice, and he’s a fair man, isn’t he? He puffs a cigar and says he won’t be badgered by his own servants in his own home. He rings for Hudson, who gets rid of the girls with a jerk of his head.
On their way downstairs, Sarah suggests appealing to Scone for help, but Rose tells her it’s pointless, because no gentleman will stick up for two servants. Sarah insists he’s different and she’ll make him help them.
Cut to Sarah appealing to Scone to at least speak up for Rose, if nothing else. He doesn’t care, just like Rose said, so she turns to tears. He calls out her faking, so she gets mad, and he offers to find the two girls skivvy jobs in his aunt’s castle. What a prince. Sarah informs him that everybody thinks he snuck up to her room and he obnoxiously laughs about the bourgeois mentality and outrage. She accuses him of having humiliated Marjorie and says he really shouldn’t have done that. He counters that that’s the price of being in the public eye. Really? Being blindsided by the guy you paid to paint your portrait? He pouts and stomps and says he’s going to go back to Paris, where presumably nobody cares about this sort of thing, although the uproar over Sargent’s Madame X portrait would indicate otherwise. Man, what an asshole this guy is. Nobody’s asking you to take the paintings down, all you have to do is tell the Bellamys that Rose had no part in it. How hard is that? Why won’t he do that, when it’s the truth? What would he have to lose? What does he have to gain by refusing to help this poor woman out? Scone:
Sarah turns to the only tool she has left: her body. She offers to come live with him and do whatever he wants, if only he’ll speak up on Rose’s behalf. He seems interested. Because he’s that disgusting. He orders her to take her clothes off and she immediately begins to disrobe. He offers her a drink and tells her he’s got crazy tastes. Someone hammers on the door and calls for Scone. It’s Richard. Scone acts like this is just such a hassle and tells Sarah to hide. She does, while Scone lets Richard in. Richard accuses him of courting scandal by putting the pictures up and Scone disingenuously claims that never crossed his mind. What utter bullshit. Bellamy says Sarah claims she posed at the studio and Scone says she did. When asked, he gives his word that he was never upstairs at the Bellamy household. So, now he’ll have to let the girls keep their jobs. Bellamy uptights that that’ll depend on Marjorie’s feelings. Scone says he’d better keep them, or he’ll be giving the Liberals some ammunition to use against him. He advises Richard to forget all about this and soon everyone else will follow suit. Richard realises the guy’s right and bids him farewell.
Once Richard’s gone, Sarah emerges and thanks him. See, Scone? Was that so hard? He helps her back into her blouse and comments that she would have done a great deal for Rose. He offers to pop open a bottle of champagne so they can celebrate.
That night, as the girls get ready for bed, Sarah suggests she and Rose go and see their picture, but Rose worries that they’ll be recognised. I doubt it, Rose. Especially since your face isn’t even visible. Anyway, the field trip’s out. Sarah asks if they can go back to their reading lessons, so she can read the title cards at the bioscope. She offers to take Rose along with her sometime and apologises for getting Rose into trouble. Rose basically says that all’s well that ends well. True enough, I guess.