TELEVISION AT ITS FINEST
Upstairs Downstairs was the most popular tv drama in the world. It is almost entirely studio bound and looks like it should be just another worthy but squeaky clean period drama. This is why it is very hard to convince anyone unfamiliar with the series of why it is so special. But John Hawkesworth, the producer, believed television was electronic theatre, not second rate film, and this allows the stories to concentrate on words, emotions and intense acting.
The grittiness of the series, the performances and its skill at depicting human emotions were its chief assets. Gordon Jackson's magnificent character performance as Hudson the Butler is a display of a modest, warm actor who made a character who stood for all he disliked totally loveable.
David Langton's charming, liberal Richard Bellamy was a far less snobbish and severe man than his butler, but his first wife, the statuesque Lady Marjorie certainly made up for him. Simon Williams' portrayal of Lord Lucan lookalike James Bellamy showed real development over the years, the haughty, caddish son who is changed forever by the war and plays his final episode "All The King's Horses" nothing short of brilliantly. Lesley Anne-Down and Jacqueline Tong's introduction, the Christmas story "Goodwill To All Men" in many ways sums the series up, combining a devastating look at the London poor with the escapist charm of a traditional Edwardian Christmas, leading to a bittersweet conclusion offering an idyllic scene of Georgina being giving her presents as the snow falls outside, just after her grandmother's wise observation that her outing to help the needy was more out of a need for adventure than real charity. If the first season was the series finding its feet and the second was it settling down to more of the same, the third season is the oddest of them all.
It reflects a period of change both in pre-war Britain and behind the scenes, as Elizabeth and Lady Marjorie were both written out at the actors' requests. This leaves the upstairs structure of the house unsettled, and the series is dark and sombre, as James' doomed marriage and Richard's bereavement make the house seem a far cry from the high society gatherings and royal dinners of the early seasons.
The fourth series, which depicts the war years so powerfully is considered the best. Good as it is, what is most interesting is the fifth series, as Britain's social structure is collapsing, and the full impact of the war is felt. The roarring twenties try to blot out the horrors of the trenches but leave James and many like him haunted, directionless, forgotten and despairing.
The were few outward signs of the affection between Hudson and "Mrs." Bridges other than the use of Christian names, Angus and Kate, when out of earshot of the other servants. Nevertheless, when Mrs. Bridges appeared before a court in 1907 charged with kidnapping a baby, it was Hudson's promise to marry and care for her that got her off with a light punishment. The marriage was ultimately deferred until 1930 when the two wed quietly at a Register Office just before moving to begin a new life running a seaside boarding house.