Upstairs, Downstairs (Season 2), PBS

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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‘Upstairs Downstairs’
(Season 2)

Written by Heidi Thomas
Directed by Mark Jobst (parts 1 & 2), Brendan Maher (parts 4 & 5) and Anthony Byrne (part 3 & 6)

Starring: Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Claire Foy, Alex Kingston,
PBS stations, Sundays, Oct. 7 – Nov. 11, 2012 at 9 p.m. ET/PT
Coproduction of the BBC and MASTERPIECE on PBS

This new, engaging and appealing six-part second season of the new “Upstairs Downstairs” begins two years after the end of the first season. It is now 1938 at the 165 Eaton Place home of dashing diplomat Sir Hallam Holland (dramatist Tom Stoppard’s son, Ed Stoppard of “Zen” and “Any Human Heart”). Joining Hallam in the sumptuous residence are his beautiful, egocentric wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes, “Wives & Daughters” and “MI-5”), their two children (rarely seen and never heard), and Lady Agnes’s defiant, self-centered younger sister, Lady Persie Towyn (Claire Foy, “Little Dorrit”) who is in love with all things Nazi.

The private lives of all the residents are intriguing and more complex, making Season 2 more exciting and absorbing than Season 1. The pace is faster; the writing is better.

As Germany flexes its muscles, the impending political crisis creates an ominous atmosphere. Hallam, now Principal Private Secretary to Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary, disagrees with Halifax and other insiders concerning Britain’s appeasement of the Nazis. Much of the plot here is based on the diary of Oliver Harvey, a witness to the acrimonious disagreements among members of the British government at the time.

Unfortunately, Hallam’s autocratic mother Maud, late of Raj-era India (Dame Eileen Atkins), has died during the two-year gap. Rumors are that Dame Eileen Atkins was unhappy with the direction the series was taking and bowed out of the cast. Instead, Hallam’s aunt, the liberal Dr. Blanche Mottershead (Alex Kingston, of “ER” and “Moll Flanders”) seems to be ever-present at Eaton Place. Blanche is a dull second to Maud; the season suffers by the absence of Dame Eileen Atkins.

Another loss is the upright housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh, “Sense and Sensibility”) due to Jean Marsh’s ill health. She does make a cameo appearance, however.

A welcome new member downstairs is lovely spirited new senior parlour maid Beryl (Laura Haddock, “A Pocket Full of Rye”). Returning is the trustworthy and accomplished butler, Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough, “The King’s Speech”) of whom we learn more about, the comic cook, Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid, “Bleak House”), and the late Lady Maud’s Indian secretary, Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik, “The Jewel in the Crown”). The handsome chauffeur, Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson, “Quantum of Solace”), plays a more prominent role this season when he meets the girl of his dreams.

Season 2 is bolstered by brushes with the rich and famous e.g., young Jack Kennedy and his father, the American ambassador; the rakish Duke of Kent, the King’s youngest brother; and Lord Halifax.

The intertwining of the upper class and working class is played against a backdrop of impending war. These shattering occurrences personally affect the household members, yet lead them to divergent response. The characters’ reactions to world events and their consequences at home lie at the heart of “Upstairs Downstairs.”

In my review of Season 1, I wrote: “Its characters are underdeveloped; its writing hints at interesting plot possibilities, yet none is expanded and cultivated sufficiently. More than three episodes are needed to flesh out the bares bones of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Luckily, more episodes will be shown in 2012.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Season 2 of “Upstairs Downstairs.” It fulfills my expectations, as the characters’ personalities become three-dimensional, their lives are more exciting and the war’s rumblesareas loud as thunder.

©Emily S. Mendel 2012 All rights reserved

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