Upstairs, Downstairs Series 2

  • Series Title: Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 2 (Season 2)
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4
  • Cast: Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Rachel Gurney, Christopher Beeny, Nicola Pagett, Pauline Collins, Jenny Tomasin, John  Alderton
  • Network: ITV (UK) – Granada

The second season of Upstairs, Downstairs focuses on the Bellamy family and the “family” downstairs of their servants. Now married, Elizabeth finds that life with Lawrence (Ian Ogilvy) wasn’t what she expected. He has no desire to have a physical relationship with her, and when his failings become a problem, he arranges for her to have an affair with his publisher. Elizabeth does as he wants, but decides the entire situation is intolerable and returns home – but discovers she cannot get a divorce. She has the other man’s child and lives separate from Lawrence. Almost immediately she meets and has a torrid affair with Julius Karekin – an Armenian. However, Julius turns out to be a social climber who uses her to raise his own social position and then dumps her.

James, meanwhile, has his own issues – he has an affair with Sarah, the former house under parlour maid, who has left the household to pursue a career on the stage. When Sarah becomes pregnant, Lady Marjorie and Richard are not amused. Sarah is packed off to Southwold (Lady Marjorie’s father’s country estate) and James is sent to India as a captain in the Life Guards. Sarah, never one to leave well enough alone, returns to 165 Eaton place when her baby is due – arriving on the same evening that King Edward dines with the Bellamy’s at their house. Sarah survives the birth, but her and James’ baby dies.

Later, Sarah and the new chauffeur, Thomas Watkins, have an affair – when Sarah becomes pregnant again, Lady Marjorie decides that it’s too much and prepares to sack the maid. However, Sarah and Thomas have a plan – Sarah tells an elaborate story of a strange man taking advantage of her, and Thomas offers to marry her to make her “respectable”. Lady Marjorie has a fit and forbids the marriage, telling Thomas to think of his career – even though Richard had given them “permission” to marry. In the end, Thomas and Sarah leave, and Richard even gives them the money for Thomas to start his own garage business. It’s Ruby, the simple kitchen maid, who is the only one who realises that there was no “mystery man” and Thomas was the father of Sarah’s child all along. Thomas and Sarah spin off into their own series.

Series 2 avoids the controversy and social comment of the first series and focuses on the Bellamy family and their servants. But Upstairs, Downstairs continues to show historical attitudes that are really quite shocking to a modern audience – such as the racism and class-ism. Even, Hudson, the stalwart butler, seems not only happy with his lot, but protests any movement towards modernity, especially in social attitudes.

Two episodes are of note, besides the previously mentioned episode of the king coming to dinner while Sarah has and loses her baby. The first has to do with the suffragettes. Elizabeth befriends one of the leaders of the suffragettes and agrees to not only let them meet in the Bellamy household but to attack an MP who lives nearby. Rose objects to not only Elizabeth’s actions, but to women voting. However, when she goes to prevent the suffragettes’ violent attack – she is arrested along with the middle-class women who had organized the attack. Where Elizabeth is released right away after paying a fine – Rose and the other women are not only put in prison – they are force-fed. The brutality, and horror of what happened is just awful. It is important to remember just what these women endured so that women could have the right to vote.

The second is a study in contrasts – when both Mr. Bellamy’s brother, Hugo and Hudson’s brother come to visit. Hugo has inherited his family’s wealth and his position, and is a hopeless snob, bully, and basically a terrible person. But Hudson’s brother, a self-made man, and engineer, who is literally building the Empire, by constructing many bridges and such – is a kind, gentle man. Hudson, however, feels somewhat inadequate, decides he must impress his brother and his family – so he puts them up in an expensive hotel, and takes them to expensive meals. The contrasts between the two men and their relationships were very well-done and I enjoyed the episode a lot. Besides, Gordon Jackson is just wonderful as Hudson, the butler, and he gets to really shine in the story.

Overall, Series 2, feels much more like the Upstairs, Downstairs I remember – and the suffragette episode is one I clearly remember watching when I originally saw the show. I highly recommend the series.

One warning – I have the 40th Anniversary Edition on DVD, and I watched the making of special and Simon Williams and Alfred Shaughnessy interview on this DVD – both are filled with spoilers for the rest of the series. If you have not seen Upstairs, Downstairs before, do not watch any of the extra features until you have watched the entire series. In addition, the interview of Simon Williams and Alfred Shaughnessy takes place outside and the sound is abysmal. I had to use the closed captioning/subtitle feature to have any idea what Simon was saying, as he seems to have either lost or turned off his mike halfway through the interview – it’s really an awful presentation.

Read my Review of Upstairs Downstairs Series 1.