Berkeley Square (1998)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop
 
   

London just after the turn of the century is an unexpected world of twists and turns as three young women find themselves employed as nannies the wealthy households of Berkeley Square. Matty is the earnest, rule-abiding proper nanny of them all with two vivacious young children under her complete control. But when a stranger -- a new footman -- enters the house, her world is about to be turned upside-down with shocking revelations and missing children. Her employer, Victoria Singent, is the toast of society and the apple of her husband's eye. Unfortunately Victoria has grown tired of family life and is chasing after a handsome but flightily Captain Mason under her husband's acquaintance.

  

Secrets abound downstairs in the kitchen and Matty soon begins to suspect that something is afoot. But it is then that she meets Lydia, a soulful, earnest, innocent farm girl brought to London for an education in caring for high society's children. Lydia's progressive-thinking employers are but a shadow behind the top nanny, who is very old-fashioned in her beliefs. But while Lydia is being groomed into a well-defined young maid, disaster enters the house in the form of her employer's willful son Hugh who immediately sets his cap at poor Lydia. The auburn-haired Irish woman Hannah makes up the last of the nannies. Fired from her position in Yorkshire due to the fact that she bore an illegitimate baby by the family's only heir, she is forced to forge her recommendation as an under-nanny in Berkeley Square. 

 

Leaving her child with a friendly and well-meaning Londoner, Hannah soon finds that her superior rules the nursery with far more than an iron hand. Befriending the little boy, who slowly begins to trust in her, she is faced with a series of life-and-death choices ranging from the baby's grandmother attempting to kidnap him to when Typhoid spreads throughout London. Baby affairs, overbearing employers, crooked servants, a man wanted for murder, a threatening young lord and a determined grandmother make up this meticulous miniseries by the BBC.  From the sweeping grandeur of London's most elite to the breathtaking countryside, Berkeley Square is another example of fine filmmaking. One Amazon official reviewer says it's on par with Little Women and Anne of Green Gables for a memorable "coming of age" story. There I would put my foot down. It has not the high moral lessons or the humor and while it does bring you forcefully along in desperate hope everything will turn out all right in the end, the miniseries is not the best of family viewing.

  

Mild language and fistfights aside the most noticeable flaw in this mindless miniseries is Victoria's pursuit of the Captain and his obvious interest. It goes from flirting to meeting behind her husband's back and finally taking advantage of a room together in the hotel while her unknowing (but suspicious) husband is out. Adultery is not glorified but examined and the worst of it is that the Captain, after an afternoon tryst with his married lover, sets his cap at an innocent young girl. Hugh also comes on to Lydia one night after he's been drinking but she bites him and gets away. Hannah's illegitimate child is made much of.  The new footman brings a girl home from the pub but winds up not sleeping with her due to his affection for Matty. Similarly he turns down a midnight visit from Pringle, the housemaid. There's some mild innuendo and traumatic experiences to fill in the cracks and what you end up with is a wonderfully mislead story that begins to grow on you.

 

From part one until the end you concern yourself with Hannah and her baby, hope Lydia learns to adjust to city life well, and walk with Matty as she slowly begins to loosen up. You also feel for the footman, who's been accused of a crime that was in truth an accident. If you can stand to take Victoria and the Captain's affair (implied, but never graphic) with the rest of the tea tray, it's a good film. There's really no redeeming quality or moral lessons to be learned but it's a mindless and oftentimes intriguing way to spend an afternoon. However, one should be mindful that the story just... stops. Apparently the series was canceled and no ending episodes were made up, leaving a nice packet of loose ends. Seeing as only a few are resolved the series is pretty much a waste of time from the objective point of view.  

 


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