TV review: An Upstairs downer

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Lifeless: The new folk of Eaton Place are uninspiring, despite their eccentricities. Photo / Supplied
Lifeless: The new folk of Eaton Place are uninspiring, despite their eccentricities. Photo / Supplied

Peculiarly, and probably pathetically, I was rather excited about the idea of a remake of Upstairs, Downstairs. (The remake's title is sans the comma. Which ought to have been a bad sign, and was.)

It's silly, really. Can you be nostalgic about a remake of a series which was about nostalgia, even in 1971 when it was first made? Not my nostalgia, of course.

You could only be nostalgic about the days of having swags of servants to plump your cushions and pour your tea if you'd had such a lifestyle, and then you would have had to be born a long time before 1971.

The thing about nostalgia telly, and it's why Downton Abbey has been such a hit, is that you can imagine what it was like to flutter about in lovely gowns having your cushions plumped and so on.

But the nostalgia attached to the idea of Upstairs, Downstairs, (the comma-ed version) is nostalgia for something else altogether: a simpler time which has nothing to do with the period the series was set in, from 1903 to 1930, but for your own simpler times, before video recorders, let alone MySky, and all of those channels.

You're yearning for your own youth, sitting around with the family, watching Upstairs, Downstairs with a cup of Milo.

Was Upstairs, Downstairs boring telly? It was a bit and I only know this because I went back in time and had a look, on YouTube.

But it was a hell of a lot better telly than the version which has lost the comma.

In the first episode of the first version, written by Fay Weldon, there was a lot of bustle and shouting and the new servant, a minx with a Frenchie name (can't have that) had her bum pinched by the footman. How cheeky. There was Mr Hudson, stern and laconic and Mrs Bridges, shouty and sweaty. She had some good lines. "I'm all behind like a cow's tail." And, "she couldn't tell a feather duster from a boa constrictor." The cast were loveable stereotypes. And it was funny.

The first episode of the new version was as boring as a feather duster, despite the eccentric mother-in-law who has a monkey that prefers thick cut marmalade and the butler whose reference came from Errol Flynn and who has a mysterious past.

And it was made almost unbearably depressing by the storyline which brings us back to 165 Eaton Place: Rose, after 40 years service to the family, has set up her own domestic agency. She's free from servitude; she's a businesswoman.

But business is bad; the year is 1936. She hires the servants for the new owners of Eaton Place - the rising MP, Sir Hallam, and his "from old money which means no money" wife, Lady Agnes Holland, who doesn't have a clue how to run a house.

And she returns to become the housekeeper, and that's the horribly depressing bit. She is old now, and a tiny, fragile character, still with her spine of steel. Imagine having to go back into service, after 40 years!

She's the most interesting character. But is she only interesting because there is some fascination in watching her so much older and back where she began? That's a fairly thin sort of fascination.

"What a ghastly old mausoleum," said Lady Agnes on first encountering a cobwebbed, faded Eaton Place. Yes, alas, it is.

* What did you think of Upstars Downstairs? Post your comments below.

- NZ Herald

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