Friday, February 4, 2011

Upstairs Downton

I am really sick of the comparisons in the press of the new revived Upstairs, Downstairs (BBC, 2010-) with Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010-). The revived Upstairs Downstairs is a very different show from Downton Abbey though the latter clearly riffs on, or is paying homage to, the upstairs downstairs and downstairs downstairs relationships of the "original" Upstairs, Downstairs. Where they are similar, in other words, is in the character traits of those downstairs--Downton has its own Mr. Hudson, Mrs. Bridges, and Ruby in Mr. Carson, Mrs. Patmore, and Daisy--the relationships between those downstairs, and the relationships between those downstairs and those upstairs.

Upstairs, Downstairs, of course, is not the only influence on Downton Abbey as several critics have noted. Downton has obviously also been influenced by the Jane Austen industry, the BBC Forsythe Saga (1967), and the film Gosford Park directed by the legendary Robert Altman and written by Downton's creator Julan Fellowes (Fellowes script was based on Altman's and Bob Balaban's original ideas for the film). Fellowes has also been accused of ripping off a host of British film and TV landmarks beyond Upstairs, Downstairs such as Mrs. Miniver (1942), specifically the ripping off of the annual flower competition in Mrs. Miniver in episode three of Downton, Brideshead Revisited (ITV, 1981) with its rural manor house, and the "reality" show the Edwardian Country House/Manor House (Channel 4 and PBS, 2002).

While Downton may have been influenced by the original Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-1975) Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey are also very different shows. Compared to Upstairs, Downstairs Downton Abbey, whose narrative is centred around the impact of the law of entail on the Crawley family, particularly the daughters, and on the Abbey itself, is more formal, more rural, and more apolitical in its narrative than the new Upstairs Downstairs which, like the old Upstairs, Downstairs, is centred on a family, in the case of the revived Upstairs on the Holland family and their servants, and is more intimate, more urban, and more political in its narrative than Downton Abbey. Asserting that both the new Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey are the same because they both have masters and servants in them is akin to arguing that Degrassi High, a dramedy, and Saved by the Bell, a sitcom, are the same because they are both teen high school shows.

I really liked both Downton Abbey and the revived Upstairs, Downstairs. Admittedly, I was a bit put off by the first episode of the revived Upstairs, Downstairs but once I watched the second episode I was hooked. I find the "new" series very much like the old mixing a bit of fact with the a lot of fiction. I hope I will be able to see a lot more of it in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Also, I loved the revived version's second season better than the first, because the latter moved too fast, in my opinion.

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