Upstairs Downstairs: Part I

Image: BBC

Just for fun, I’ve decided to institute a ratings system here on the Armchair Anglophile, awarding points to actors and actresses based on the number of costume dramas they’ve been in. For the ladies, we’ll call it a Corset Rating (CR) and the gentlemen, a Top Hat Rating (THR). Let’s see how the cast of the new Upstairs, Downstairs does, shall we?

We open on a ship, where Keeley Hawes (who has a CR of at least 9; more if you count Ashes to Ashes as a period piece, which is quite respectable for someone her age) grabs a large bouquet and looks out the porthole for a moment.

Soon after, she’s walking through the ship’s richly appointed saloon, making her way toward a young man who’s waiting for her in the midst of the disembarking crowd. She apologizes for keeping him waiting, explaining she had to go back for her flowers, which were a gift from the Foreign Secretary.

Off the ship, the camera takes a moment to linger on a clock that says “White Star.” I’m going to take that as a shout-out to the death of Lady Bellamy in the original series, even though White Star merged with Cunard in 1934 and was already Cunard White Star Limited by the time this series takes place. But I digress (sorry—trivia overload, you know). On land, Keeley’s husband, whose name is Sir Hallam Holland, and hers is Lady Agnes, in case you were wondering, reads a newspaper, which is reporting the king’s sudden illness. So, now we know, it’s probably sometime around January 20, 1936. Agnes comments that he wasn’t even ill when they left Washington. She asks Hallam if the king’s death would change things at Whitehall. I’d guess yes, and Hallam agrees.

It’s nighttime now, and the Hollands walk down Eaton Place, stopping at last to unlock the door of 165. Hallam’s surprised the lock isn’t full of cobwebs, so obviously the place has been empty for a while. He sweeps his wife into his arms and carries her over the threshold of their first proper home together.

They step inside, and the place is pretty thoroughly trashed. They couldn’t have arranged for someone to clean it up a bit before they arrived? This seems odd. It also seems odd that a home at such a nice address would be allowed to fall into disrepair like this. It looks like nobody’s stepped foot inside for years. With all the dust and cobwebs and darkness, I half expect Miss Havisham to greet them. Agnes gets it right when she declares the place a “ghastly old mausoleum.” Nonetheless, she goes tripping up the stairs to explore, as Hallam looks around and breaks into a smile.

He joins her upstairs, and she tells him that the house will be full of life again, with lights at every window. He seems to prefer a quieter life and looks forward to spending evenings with her, just sitting there companionably, listening to the radio. She seems to like that idea too.

In the bright light of day, Agnes arrives at Buck’s of Belgravia, a domestic hiring service, to get the servant situation sorted out. She’s got an extensive list of roles that need to be filled. Buck herself (Rose to those who are familiar with the original series, played once again by series co-creator Jean Marsh) sets down a tea tray and Agnes compliments the silver teapot. Rose tells her it was a gift from her former employer, Lord Bellamy. The name doesn’t ring a bell with Agnes at all, which is interesting, seeing as she’s living in Bellamy’s house. Agnes hands over a proposed budget and reveals that the house was bought by her husband’s father, who lived abroad and so never lived there. Now he’s dead, so she and Hallam have the house. She also informs Rose there are no children to arrange for, with a slightly regretful look. She tells Rose the address, which brings Rose up a bit short, and asks Rose to conduct all the staff interviews at the house, where Agnes will be busy supervising the builders.

Later, Rose makes her way down Eaton Place and stops just across the street from 165, where, for a moment, she remembers some ghostly voices from years past.

Back at her office, Rose is visiting with a friend, who exposits the king has, in fact, died. Both women are upset by this in a way I can’t imagine people being now (unless the deceased is pretty, young, and blonde, and then the tears come easily enough). Apparently, Rose’s buddy is a cook, and a good one at that. It would have been awesome if they had gotten Gemma Jones to play this role, just as a little joke. Sadly, they did not. Friend’s not too happy with her current job, so Rose starts to sell her on taking a job with the Hollands. The friend jokingly suggests Rose go work for them as upstairs maid again, since she’d be more secure than she is in her current situation. Rose isn’t keen on going back into service after she gave 40 years to the job and got nothing more than a teapot as thanks. Yeah, that does suck.

At 165, the workmen are hard at work, dangerously dropping bathtubs down into the front hall and nearly crushing Agnes to death. She angrily repeats her plans for that bathtub to the workmen, who apologize. She huffily goes out, hands Rose the housekeys, and tells her she’ll be back later to see the boys interviewing for the footman position. Rose tells her there’s only one boy coming, because the others weren’t keen on the terms of the job, but Agnes climbs into the car and drives off without a second glance. Rose turns back to the house, looks up at it with a happy smile for a moment, and then goes down the stairs to the kitchen entrance. How many thousands of times must she have walked down those stairs over 40 years?

She lets herself into the kitchen, which is crowded with crates at the moment, and then heads topside to see the rest of the house. She seems overwhelmed by memories, and as she goes up the stairs, she pauses for a moment with her hand on the banister. For just a second, her hand transforms into that of a much younger woman, and it almost looks like she’s considering her friend’s suggestion of taking a job with them after all.

But first, she needs to pick out a parlormaid. Rose is standing in the drawing room with an older woman and four young ladies lined up in front of her. Rose asks to see their hands, and one of them just stands there and exudes attitude while the others obediently hold out their hands. Attitude, who evidently thinks she’s the bees’ knees, pissily takes off her gloves, revealing bright red nail polish, which is a big no-no. I already want this girl to get slapped, and I know we’re going to be stuck with her and God am I dreading that. Rose has the girls touch their toes, and then sends them off so she can talk to the other woman, whom she refers to as “Matron.”

Rose tells Matron she’ll take the second on the left, but Matron informs her that the girl wets the bed. Rose suggests another one and learns she’s nervous. And the other girl who’s not Attitude steals. Oh, come on, now. This seems really unlikely to me, that this woman would bring a group of highly unsuitable girls to try for this position. Matron clearly trains and provides girls for service, which means she needs to stay on the good side of someone like Rose, who finds jobs for girls in service. Forcing her to pick a girl who’s clearly going to be a problem by bringing three other girls who would be bigger problems is not the way to stay on Rose’s good side. That’s a good way to have Rose start to look elsewhere. And she probably would, too. And also, are there seriously only four girls in this home Matron runs? There’s not a single other girl who could come in and do the job? I really don’t buy this.

Rose is pissed to learn she only has a choice of one. Attitude, meanwhile, is sitting in the bathtub that’s still in the hall, singing Fanlight Fanny, to the amusement of the other girls. Great, are we going to get some “I want to be an actress, not some skivvy” aspiration story from this girl? I hope not, that’s been done to death.

The amazing Eileen Atkins (CR of at least 23), whom I LOVE, comes parading down the stairs and corrects the lyrics—Attitude sang that Fanny was full of Scotch, but the correct lyrics are that she was full of beer and stout as well. Attitude says those are men’s drinks and Fanny was a woman. “It’s a pun, dear, on the word ‘stout,’” Eileen explains. “The lady in question was clearly well upholstered.” Hee! I like her already.

Agnes chooses this moment to burst in and yells at Attitude to get out of the tub and go wait in the kitchen with her friends. Attitude, surprisingly, obeys, and Eileen comments on the innovative plumbing they seem to be trying out. Agnes has no clue who this woman is and asks if she’s there about the housekeeping position. Before Eileen can answer, a monkey runs in and jumps on Attitude’s head. Go, Monkey! Attitude reacts like she’s being skinned alive, but Eileen calmly calls over a beturbaned manservant and asks him to take the monkey away, because the girl’s upsetting him. Heh. While Attitude continues to freak out and whine that the monkey peed on her (go, Monkey!) Eileen tells the manservant to give the monkey some sweet tea to calm his nerves.

Matron finally appears and hustles the girls away, as the manservant goes to find tea for the monkey. Eileen turns back to Agnes and tells her that, every morning, the monkey applauds her, and it’s a huge confidence boost. Agnes doesn’t know what to make of this woman, but fortunately Hallam arrives just then and blanches when he sees Eileen. He takes a moment to collect himself, then greets Eileen with a perfunctory kiss on the cheek before introducing her to Agnes as his mother, Maude. Wow, Agnes has neither met this woman before nor seen a picture of her? Either that’s a bit of a plot hole, or that says a lot about Hallam’s relationship with his parents. Let’s go with the latter, shall we? Maude apologizes for not being able to make it to the wedding, since Hallam’s father couldn’t get away from his desk. Hallam asks his mother what she’s doing there, since she was supposed to be in Tangiers. Maude says the place was full of British people wintering, so she left after three days. She’s excited to be back in England, where she hasn’t lived for over 30 years. Agnes does not look overjoyed by this development.

Maude goes wandering around in the house and asks Hallam, brandishing a small gold urn, where she should “put [his] father.” Wow. This woman’s going to be lots of fun, you can tell. She puts the urn down on a mantle and looks around the room, declaring it would be perfect for her to use as a study. Hallam urges her not to make such a hasty decision, but she’s made her mind up, because she’s ready to write her memoirs, and she knows Hallam’s father put ac clause in his will that said Hallam always had to provide her with a home.

Once they’re alone together, Agnes complains to her husband about her mother-in-law moving in, since she was planning a cocktail party on the ground and first floors, and she can’t do that now. I hope she gets more likeable as the series goes on. Right now, she’s sort of a clueless, obnoxious brat, even if she did manage Attitude pretty well. She asks him why he didn’t stand up to his mother and he jokes that he was brought up to be polite to strangers. Heh.

Agnes and Hallam take a break from complaining to interview a potential footman, who was apparently trained in service by the scouts. Interesting. Was that before or after he was taught to camp and make fires with a flint or whatever it is they teach you in scouts (I have no idea, I was never in any sort of scout troop.)? Hallam asks the kid, who seems like a nice, slightly nervous young lad, not unlike dear William, if there isn’t any work in his part of the world. The boy’s mother, who’s come with him, interrupts to say that she wants her son to get on in the world by getting out of their little village and mixing with a higher class of people. Looks like things didn’t change much between 1912 and 1936. Agnes says this will be a great opportunity for “Johnny.” She seems fine with the idea of taking the kid on.

Johnny and his mother head out onto the street, and the mother tells him that that’s his fresh start sorted. Hmmm. For some reason, the way she said it almost made me wonder if she’s actually his mother, or just pretending to be so he has the appearance of a relative to vouch for him. Johnny looks up at the house for a few moments, and then follows his mother, or whatever she is, down the street.

Later, Agnes comes by, her arms full of boxes, and is immediately met by Maude, who asks the turban-wearing manservant (he’s her secretary, and his name’s Mr. Amanjit) to bring out “the Moroccan box.” As he goes to fetch it, Maude tells Agnes she has some misgivings about this new footman, because he only came with one reference, and she’s never employed a servant with less than two. Agnes defends her decision, saying the boy deserves to have a chance. Maude’s not playing along and tells Agnes she chose the kid because he comes cheap.

Amanjit returns with the box, and Maude unlatches it, saying it’s time for them to discuss the jewels. Inside the box are some fabulous diamond pieces—a tiara, bracelets, necklaces. Agnes’s eyes widen and she tells Maude that her father had to sell all their family pieces, and she used to envy the other girls their heirlooms when she was younger. They have a nice moment, during which Agnes mentions she’s bringing her sister from the family home in Wales to live in London. Maude’s happy to hear it and pulls out the tiara so Agnes can try it on. Agnes eagerly removes her hat and Maude settles the tiara on her head. She wears it well, and Maude tells her so. She also says that she herself never had the face for a tiara, and even though her husband knew it, he never failed to compliment her. Awww. She looks down a little sadly.

Late at night, Rose and her friend the cook are waiting in the rain with a load of other people to view the king’s body lying in state. Rose once again brings up the job with the Hollands, but her friend’s not too keen on it, because aristocrats tend to expect a lot from a crappy kitchen. She’s also a bit of a snob, commenting that these people are barely aristocrats, because it’s a very new baronetcy Hallam’s inherited. Rose fills her in on some of the top-of-the-line kitchen appliances that are being delivered and her friend seems to unbend just a little.

Hallam, meanwhile, is spending an evening at the theater, where instead of seeing the show, he’s having a sit-down with one of the late king’s sons, the Duke of Kent. Ahh, Prince George,  one of the more interesting and scandalous members of the royal family. This should be interesting. He’s horribly miscast, though, being played by an actor who’s unassuming and has this really light, wishy-washy, wispery voice. George says that, despite the fact he’s still just the youngest sibling, everyone thinks he now has increased influence, since his brother’s just become king and all.

George asks Hallam how he made out in his father’s will and Hallam reveals he’s the owner of a bunch of asbestos mines. Oh, great. George comments that the pair of them are old men now, splendidly married and starting families (or, in Hallam’s case, not, sadly). After a pause, George asks Hallam if he knows Joachin von Ribbentropp, who helped broker the Anglo-German Naval Agreement the previous year. Hallam doesn’t know much about the man. George explains that con Ribbentrop has no fixed position in Germany, and he may be approaching Hallam socially in the near future.

Hallam observes that his buddy seems tired and George says he is tired, because his oldest brother David’s being a pain in the ass and causing fights and doing whatever he likes, now he’s king. They talk about David’s affair with Mrs. Simpson, which was all over the papers in Washington but has so far been kept relatively quiet in London.

Agnes is waiting in the kitchens, I think, surrounded by parcels. Rose comes in with a basket and, after reassuring Agnes nobody saw her, pulls out and unwraps some fish and chips. Agnes digs in enthusiastically—she’s been craving the dish for ages, because evidently the builders have it a lot. She offers Rose some, but Rose says she’s fine.

Agnes moves on to something more in Rose’s line of work: the staff. Agnes has decided that she won’t need a housekeeper after all, because she thinks she’s doing well enough with the job herself. But there’s really no house to keep at the moment, Agnes. Wait until there’s a staff that needs to be directed and you’re busy with entertaining and the like. Rose says that’s fine, and Agnes adds she’ll need Rose’s help until everything’s quieted down. Excuse me? Last I checked she was just finding you a staff, not actually taking the positions herself.

In his new room upstairs, Johnny, now dressed in his ugly footman uniform, finds a note from his mother wishing him luck. It accompanies an embroidery that says “Blessed are the Meek” and I immediately have horrifying Agent Van Alden flashbacks. He looks at it for a moment, not exactly pleased with the gift, but then hears a woman crying like her heart’s breaking. He steals down the hall and gently knocks on her door (male and female servants weren’t segregated? Interesting.) The door opens and, of course, it’s Attitude, dressed in her maid’s uniform. She rudely asks him who he is and he introduces himself. She introduces herself as Ivy Morris and tells him she’s “all at sea.”

Seems she’s got to make up the bed in the room and can’t manage, because the mattress is too heavy. What a wimp. Johnny comes in to help her and tells her how to do the job, which is interesting. Once they’re done, in a hushed voice, Johnny reminds her they’re not supposed to go into the other servants’ rooms. Ivy, pulling the attitude back out, sasses they’re not supposed to lock their doors either. She wonders if the higher-ups snoop in the rooms, and points to a bottle of lacquer or polish or something and says she left that there deliberately, “in case they think they’ve got me beat.” I’ll admit, I have no idea what happened there. What was that a bottle of? And what would leaving it out accomplish? Whatever, I still hate her, so I don’t really care.

In her office, Rose reads letters from potential butlers. Upstairs, Johnny and Ivy make up beds, giggling and winking at each other. Rose starts training Johnny on such basics as safely carrying a tray up stairs, and then goes out to greet the Hollands as they arrive, driven by a chauffeur who winks at Rose, who rolls her eyes. The Hollands enter their lovely new home and meet the staff—Johnny and Ivy and Rose’s friend the cook, Mrs. Thackeray.

Everyone’s now moved in, including Maude, who’s hard at work on her memoirs, dictating to Mr. Amanjit. Johnny enters with coffee and notices there’s a bird’s nest with an egg in it in the grate. Maude guesses it fell down the chimney and asks him to get rid of it before her monkey eats it. Amanjit takes it instead and settles the nest and egg in a linen cupboard to hatch, which I don’t think will work, based on what I remember from the egg-hatching we did in the 3rd grade.

At night, the Hollands have gathered in the drawing room to listen to the king’s first broadcast to the nation on the wireless, while the servants do the same downstairs in the kitchen. We soon see the servants have been joined by the Hollands themselves, who couldn’t get any reception on their fancy radio upstairs. Everyone stands as the national anthem is played, and they ignore the ringing of the front doorbell. Could you imagine people ignoring a doorbell or a ringing phone or anything like that for a national anthem nowadays? I can’t. For that matter, can you imagine people standing at attention in their own home when the anthem is played? Oh, how times have changed.

The doorbell ringer’s pretty obnoxious, and when her leaning on the bell doesn’t get results, she resorts to pounding on the door, and then wailing for someone to open the door because she’s just come all the way from Wales! So, this must be Agnes’s already delightful younger sister. Poor Agnes looks mortified, and finally runs off to open the door.

Her sister, Persie, comes breezing in, asking Agnes to pay for the cab, and explaining she just caught an earlier train, ignoring the fact that she just disrupted the plans her sister had already made.

Persie continues wreaking havoc in the house, managing to reduce Ivy to tears soon after her arrival by refusing to allow her to unpack her suitcases and referring to her as a “grimy brat.” Because I don’t like Ivy, I’ll let that slide. Also—Ivy and the sobbing. When did she get so emotionally unstable? Seems like the littlest thing sets her off. She was in tears over having to put sheets on her own bed, for God’s sake. How did she not have a stroke when that monkey jumped on her, if that’s how delicate she is?

Agnes tries to talk her sister down through the bedroom door, and then Maude arrives on the scene to ask just what the hell is going on. Ivy whimpers that Persie hit her, so Maude takes command of the situation and tells Persie that, in the last 40 minutes, she’s slapped a servant, upset her sister, and held up dinner, which caused the cook to ruin a soufflé. She sounds like a treat. Maude goes on to calmly tell Persie that, if she wants to eat at all during her stay, she’d better open the door. Persie knows better than to argue and opens the door.

Turns out her real malfunction was the fact that she was embarrassed about the measley wardrobe she had to bring with her, not that that excuses her obnoxious and selfish behavior. Maude tells her that can be fixed, and Persie pissily says she might not want it changed. Except she clearly does, and Maude calls her on it, lightly saying Persie’s just being contrary before offering her a cigarette. Persie says she doesn’t smoke, so Maude offers to teach her, “but not tonight, you’ve behaved too badly.” Hee! Maude settles down with her own cigarette and tells Persie that, when she was Persie’s age, she threw all her drawers out a porthole on her way to India because they were so shabby she was ashamed to give them to the stewardess to wash. When she went ashore, she bought cheap silk replacements. Persie whines that her things smell of home. Maude guesses “home” is actually a castle and sniffs “damp.” Ha! Can she be in every single scene, please?

Persie says Agnes thinks she’s rescued her little sister, but Persie doesn’t want to be rescued. Oh, yes you do, you just don’t know it yet. Wait until you try on the diamonds and go to some fancy parties. You’ll never want to go back to Wales again. But if that’s really how you feel, why did you come out to London early? And what’s stopping you from hopping a train and going right back home?

Wow, look at that, the egg actually hatched! Johnny’s now holding the nest, which contains a tiny, fuzzy, chirping bird. The other servants look on in appreciation (except for Mrs. Thackeray, who wonders what the thing’s going to eat.) Amanjit advises a light diet of spiders and such. A tall blonde guy—the chauffeur, apparently, and his name’s Spargo—offers that there’s plenty of those around the garage, since Ivy never comes around there to clean. She slaps him playfully, and then Persie comes down to spoil the fun by telling them that, in Wales, they think birds in houses are unlucky. She orders Spargo to get the car and drive her to the British Museum to meet her sister.

Persie stalks out to the garage and climbs into the front passenger seat. Spargo tells her she’s really supposed to wait out front of the house and sit in the back, which she should know, coming from the aristocracy as she does. Agnes certainly knows. Persie tells him to refer to her as Lady Persie, and he sassily tells her he won’t call her lady anything if she doesn’t act like one. Woah, there. Persie gets out and gets in the back, slamming the doors. Spargo really pushes his luck by turning around and condescendingly telling her that there are rules, and she has to stick to them just as much as the servants. Persie looks sulky.

Johnny takes breakfast in to the family, teasing Ivy as he passes. That little moment right there seemed kind of unbelievable—for one thing, Ivy’s vacuuming the hall right outside of the breakfast room, which she wouldn’t be doing while the family was in there, and second I find it hard to believe the servants would be allowed to be so playful and familiar in the main parts of the house. There was just a certain decorum that was usually maintained. But then, this is Ivy and Johnny we’re talking about.

In the breakfast room, Maude’s got her monkey sitting on the table right next to her. She asks Agnes to speak to the cook about the marmalade she sends up, because it’s not the type Solomon the Monkey likes. Agnes looks really put upon. I’m not sure why Maude can’t speak to the cook, but maybe she’s just trying to observe the house’s pecking order, which would put Agnes ahead of her. Hallam, a little meanly, says he thought they agreed his mother would eat elsewhere. Maude says the room he wants her to eat in is occupied by Amanjit, and I guess she and he can’t eat together. And anyway, why is Maude being banished to another room to eat alone like she’s a naughty child? These two should be grateful she’s there to put Persie the Pill in her place.

Speaking of, Persie speaks up to tell her sister she met Mrs. Ernest Simpson at a recent exhibition. The rest of us know her better as Wallis Simpson. Agnes has heard of her as a very chic woman, but Maude doesn’t seem impressed. She pointedly says to her son that she’s heard Mrs. Simpson’s a “favorite” of the king. He bluntly says she’s his mistress, and Maude wearily tells him she knows what “favorite” means. She also knows that Mrs. Simpson’s in quite the position of power, and it might be worthwhile to get to know her better. Agnes won’t hear of it, because she thinks Mrs. Simpson will be out the door as soon as the king finds a wife. Persie suggests Edward might marry Mrs. Simpson but Agnes says that’s silly. She also tells Persie she’s been booked into a charm academy. I give that a day, two, tops. Hallam lets slip that they’re planning on giving a cocktail party in a week or so, which Maude doesn’t think is a great plan, since they don’t yet have a butler.

Agnes goes to Rose and tells her she just has to find them a butler, and soon. So, Rose goes back to the applications and starts going through them. The very last one, of course, catches her attention, so she calls him in.

He’s Mr. Pritchard, and he’s played by Adrian Scarborough, best known to us as Barnes, the miserable valet in Gosford Park. He’s also been in The Madness of King George, Cranford, and, briefly, The King’s Speech, giving him an excellent THR of 13, if you include this program. This is the first role I’ve seen him in where he didn’t seem fairly miserable, so that’s a nice change.

Anyway, it seems Mr. Pritchard has been working on cruise ships, something Rose refers to really disdainfully, for some reason. Pritchard proudly tells her he worked for Cunard for 27 years, hence his reference from Erroll Flynn. Hee! Apparently his seagoing days are over, since he developed a mastoid disorder that gives him nausea on rough seas. He knows his stuff, nonetheless, and he’s hired.

Agnes goes to Maude’s room to ask to borrow her typewriter so she can type up the canapé menu for the party. Maude’s already one step ahead of her and informs her Amanjit has already typed the menu up and agreed to play piano at the party. Agnes doesn’t jump for joy at that. Nor is she pleased to hear Maude’s replaced one of the canapés with diced egg in aspic. Egh. Maude’s also taken it upon herself to issue a few extra invites, including one to Mrs. Simpson. Agnes’s jaw is clenched so tight she could probably crack a walnut in there. There’s actually a vein throbbing in her forehead too. Even Maude notices and guesses Agnes isn’t too pleased. Agnes diplomatically tells Maude she knows Maude was a fine wife, and now Agnes is trying to be a fine wife too. She chose the guests carefully, and now she wants Maude to phone all these extras and tell them there’s been a mistake. Maude’s just begging for a writeup on Maude will call all but one: Mrs. Simpson, who’s promised to bring a very particular (unnamed) friend. Why, who could that be?

Belowstairs, preparations are well underway for the party. Pritchard directs deliverymen as the cook lays out her tools and titters over the idea of cooking for the king. Johnny’s bird is getting big, but still living in the linen closet, where he visits it and tells it the king will be swinging by for canapés soon. Rose bitches about the flowers arriving sans vase, so Pritchard takes over arranging them. Instead of being grateful, Rose goes to complain about him to the cook. Apparently the man perspires occasionally. Good god! Am I supposed to like Rose? I don’t. I don’t understand why she doesn’t like this affable guy who’s taking on extra work he’s not supposed to be doing so she can bitch and moan with her equally busy friend.

Upstairs, Ivy’s in the bath, once again singing Fanlight Fanny, which I guess is the only song she knows. Johnny listens as he feeds Bird and says he can’t believe they let Ivy have a bath in the middle of the afternoon. Ivy explains that she was “sweating bricks” and then gets out of the tub. Johnny sneaks up to the door and peeks under the crack, where all he can see is her feet. He tells her so, and she lays down on the floor, asking flirtatiously what he can see now. He says he can’t see much and asks her to open the door. She won’t, yet. She suggests a hookup later that night, when they’re finished work. Yeah, Bates and Anna these two aren’t.

Hallam pours Agnes a steadying drink just before the party starts and they share a “now we have everything” moment.

Downstairs, Pritchard is schooling the staff hard on how the guests are to be addressed. The cook speaks up (while waving her cigarette precariously close to the food) to tell the others to wait until the king arrives before taking out the duxelle canapé, because she read in the Tatler the king’s partial to mushrooms. Pritchard gives her a slight nod and sends everyone up top to make the household proud. As Johnny and Ivy file out, Pritchard closes his eyes and takes a moment. Rose, actually sounding concerned, asks if he’s ok, and he confesses his stomach’s all over the place, just like it was at “Jimmy Cagney’s 21st”. He picks up a tray of martini glasses, says that didn’t end well, and heads upstairs.

Upstairs, the party’s in full swing, and seems to be going well as the servants circulate with glasses and canapés and Amanjit plays light, soothing music. Persie looks bored, off by herself on a sofa, but everyone else is having a good time.

The bell rings and Pritchard admits a tall, slender woman in a rather flashy dress, whom Maude immediately greets as Mrs. Simpson. Wallis compliments the vestibule and asks for the name of Maude’s decorator. Wallis then introduces her date for the evening—not the king, of course, but Herr Ribbentropp. Well, at least Pritchard’s stomach can get a break now.

Ribbentropp quickly picks up on the fact that everyone’s disappointed to see him, but the scene moves ahead before anything really plays out with that. Agnes quickly locates Kent and asks him why the king’s not there with Wallis. Kent tells her Wallis and Ribbentropp are lovers, which shocks her, because she apparently thinks a woman who’s having an adulterous affair should be faithful to the man she’s screwing around with behind her husband’s back. Ribbentropp, meanwhile, is entertaining Persie, who’s cackling in a very undignified manner. How did she and Agnes come from the same family? Were they raised by totally different nannies or something?

Hallam’s with his boss, Mr. Eden, who asks what Ribbentropp’s doing there. Hallam explains the guy’s a guest of a guest and couldn’t very well be turned away. Eden informs Hallam that Ribbentropp’s trying to drum up upper-class support for the Nazi party, which doesn’t delight the government. Hallam goes and grabs Agnes to tell her to get rid of Ribbentropp. She lays blame for this squarely on his mother, but it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Agnes is the hostess, so she has to do the kicking out. Agnes has no idea what to do, so she goes running to Rose, who calmly says she’ll inform Pritchard.

Persie, meanwhile, is talking with Ribbentropp about some German governess she had once. He tests her German, which she doesn’t understand a word of, clearly.

Oh, good lord. It seems Pritchard’s and Rose’s big idea to get rid of Ribbentropp is to send poor Johnny to upend a tray of drinks over him, accompanied by the Music of Wacky Highjinks Ensuing. Are you kidding me with this? Was the original show this goofy? Adding to the wackiness, the servants are all gathered in the doorway, stacked up like cartoon characters, watching the show go down in the most obvious way possible. This is absurd. Johnny looks scared to death, but he gets the job done. Persie giggles like a child at the sight of dripping Ribbentropp and Kent lazily glances over to the doorway, where all the servants are still gathered. Lord, this is making me miss Downton. At least the silly subplots in that weren’t quite so Three Stooges.

Ribbentropp and Wallis leave, observed by Maude, who seems a little sad to see them go. After they’re gone, Agnes coolly asks her mother-in-law to let her choose her own guests next time.

Post party, Johnny takes off his alcohol spattered shirt, then takes a minute to breathe in the smell before stuffing part of his shirt into his mouth and sucking on it. Wow. Just how alcoholic do you have to be to try and suck it out of fabric? He glances over at the tray of used glasses next to the sink, finds one that’s still got a bit of wine left in it, and downs it, followed by several others. How long before he steals the key to the wine cellar from Pritchard do you think?

Rose, Pritchard, and the cook are sitting around having a nice cup of tea and dissecting the party. The cook grouses about the king not showing up, and Pritchard nicely tells her that Kent loved her anchovy pinwheels. The mere Duke of Kent isn’t enough for this woman, though.

Johnny comes in, chuckling, and asks Pritchard if spilling drinks over an unwelcome guest is really a trick from the ocean liners. Pritchard stiffly says it might be. The cook suggests Johnny eat something (I think she knows he’s been tippling), but then Spargo comes in and invites Johnny and Pritchard to the pub. Pritchard has previously been established as a teetotaler, so he declines, and he also declines on Johnny’s behalf. Spargo urges Johnny to come along, but Johnny, watching Ivy go by, says he has other things to do.

Upstairs, Ivy and Johnny are having a serious makeout session in the hallway. She gigglingly observes he tastes like champagne, and then she runs into her room and locks the door, grinning. Tease! Johnny asks her what she’s up to and she tells him he’s not being a gentleman. He points out that she’s not being much of a lady, since ladies keep their promises, and then he goes back to his room in a snit. She hears him go and pokes her head out into the hallway, asking him where he’s going.

Her plans with Johnny thwarted by her own stupidity, Ivy tarts herself up and goes down to the pub, where she drapes herself against the bar and looks, well, pretty cheap and easy, if we’re being honest. She gives Spargo and Johnny, who apparently joined him there, a come hither look, and then orders a crème de menthe in a ladies’ glass from the bartender. Oh, Ivy. A glass does not a lady make.

Spargo tells Johnny Ivy’s giving him the eye, and Johnny sulkily says he and Ivy had plans, but he stood her up. The random third guy sitting with them starts making crude jokes and finally Johnny loses his temper and punches the guy fakely in the stomach. The guy falls forward, breaking a glass, and getting a hunk of glass stuck in his neck. Spargo tells him not to move, but the idiot pulls the glass out and sends a spurt of blood straight across Johnny’s face.

Johnny races home and pounds on the front door like a madman. Rose opens it, confused, and he runs past her, up the stairs to the servants’ bathroom, where he lies on the floor in a fetal position, crying. Damn.

Rose gently knocks on the door sometime later and tells him he’s just making things worse. We switch to a view of the hall outside the bathroom and see Rose is accompanied by Agnes and two policemen. She asks Johnny to come out, but he says he’s sick and can’t. But he will allow her to come in. Rose goes in and sits on the floor next to him. He tearfully confesses he’s on probation for brawling, which is something he tends to do when he’s been drinking. He had to leave his village, and he was doing really well, but then he had one bad day. He grabs Rose’s hand and cries and says he’s sorry. Aww, poor kid. Finally, a character I feel for!

Rose finally convinces him to come out, and he leaves with the policemen, walking past Ivy, Pritchard, and Spargo as he goes. Ivy tries to look upset, but I think this girl’s a really poor actress and can’t seem to pull it off convincingly.

Hallam joins his mother and the monkey for breakfast and tells her Johnny’s in custody, charged with wounding with intent. Maude says it was only a matter of time before things got out of hand, since Agnes clearly can’t get the servants in line. Hallam tightly informs her Agnes is busy writing to Johnny’s mother at the moment. Talk then turns to blame throwing over the Ribbentropp fiasco, and Maude points out that, unpleasant as he might have been, Ribbentropp didn’t bring the police to her son’s door. Hallam wonders what his father would have done in a situation like this, and Maude says he wouldn’t have been in the situation at all, because he left everything to his wife, who was actually capable of running her household. And asked for more than one reference for her servants.

Maude takes Rose to the park for a chat and to ask her to stay on at Eaton Place as the housekeeper. She says the house needs both Rose and Maude to keep it running, because they have experience, which the younger generation lacks.

Rose’s next meeting is with Agnes, who realizes that the hurried hiring might not have been the best plan after all. She realizes the staff need training and asks Rose to come on board as the housekeeper. Rose tells her the offer’s already been made by Maude. Agnes’s face falls and she nods a bit, realizing she’ll never really rule in her own home, as long as Maude’s there. I’m curious as to why Rose felt it necessary to tell Agnes about Maude’s offer. It served no purpose, other than to make Agnes feel bad. Seems unnecessarily bitchy to me.

Amanjit finds Ivy in the linen closet, sobbing, while Bird chirps merrily beside her. He gently tells her she’s cried enough, then takes Bird and releases it outside, where it flies off.

Rose, carrying a basket and carpetbag arrives at 165, smiles happily up at the place, and lets herself in through the kitchen door. Agnes meets her, hands over a keychain marked “housekeeper” and welcomes her home. When did Agnes find out about Rose’s history with 165?

Ok, it’s just the first episode, and I don’t want to make any sweeping judgments, but I have to say, so far, I’m not liking this. There are a lot of things that aren’t quite working—I don’t feel a connection to any of these people; I don’t really care about them at all, which is problematic even this early in a series. By the end of a first episode, you should care genuinely about at least one person in an entire ensemble drama and want to see more of their story play out. To be honest, even Eileen Atkins is starting to grate on my nerves, and everyone else is either irritating, bratty, or incredibly bland. And that Fawlty Towers-esque moment during the party totally took me right out of the action. No way would something like that be planned at an important party and that all the servants would gather really obviously in the corner to watch it go down. Just…no. And speaking of servants, we’re missing a few. We’re told this couple is really posh, so why don’t they have a valet and a ladies’ maid? They would definitely have those around, along with a kitchen maid and a Daisy-type maid-of-all-work. I guess they’re trying to keep the cast small and avoid superfluous characters, but this is puzzling to me. Have them as background characters if you must, but they should really be there. It makes it hard for me to get into this world, because it all feels kind of fake, like watching a stage play instead of a high-budget TV drama. I think we all expect more from those nowadays.

We’ll see how this all shakes out. Meanwhile, share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear what others have to say!

12 thoughts on “Upstairs Downstairs: Part I

  1. I’m with you on just about everything you said. It’s just not that good. I had heard that it wasn’t as good as Downton so I did lower my expectations. But even with lowered expectations, I didn’t really enjoy it.

    As you said, none of the characters are likable. They do things which make no sense (as you noted).

    Really disappointing is my verdict. I’ll watch the whole thing, but I won’t be counting the days like I did with Downton.

    Did the woman who wrote Cranford really write this, too? I guess she’s not that good if there’s no original source material.

  2. I agree! I did not love it neither did my husband we never saw the original series. I love Downton, Cranford and am still upset about losing Larkrise. Everyone of these shows has characters you love and connect with and want to see again. The only one I did connect with in USDS was the young footman. I think the cast is too small and uninteresting. I had such high hopes for this series.

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