Upstairs Downstairs, Season Two (2012)


165 Eaton Place is best known for the long-standing television series that began in the 1970's. Two years ago, the BBC revived interest in it by opening up the house and introducing audiences to the Holland family. This go-around, there's more angst, more romance, and much more scandal in the offering.


Several years have passed since the birth of their first child, and Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) is in hospital with the cesarean arrival of their second. Her eagerness to return home in the absence of their beloved housekeeper causes her physicians some concern. With Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) in recovery from tuberculosis, the indomitable butler Mr. Prichard (Adrian Acarborough)  has taken over management of the house, much to the annoyance of certain members of the downstairs staff. Lord Hallam (Ed Stoppard) is busy with diplomatic affairs overseas, as tensions rise between England and Germany. His Nazi-sympathizer sister-in-law, Lady Persie (Claire Foy) has relocated to Berlin. Then there's the presence of Blanche (Alex Kingston), Hallam's archeologist aunt, striving to find means of being useful in society. Soon, the impending war will give her a chance... and bring more distress to the household, as it threatens the plans of Beryl (Laura Haddock), the new maid, who has caught the eye of the chauffeur, and the rest of the cast... upstairs and downstairs.


Six episodes leaves this series more room to breathe, but unfortunately along with it comes certain complications. I found it difficult in the series' infancy to like most of the characters and this follow-up doesn't change that, although it does a fine job of begging compassion now and again. The best move it makes is to introduce Blanche but even her presence isn't without its issues. (The irony of Alex Kingston playing yet another archeologist/professor is not lost on me.) The truly sad thing is that after being the hero of the story, Hallam becomes a cheating husband, indignant over his wife's behavior while falling into the arms of her selfish younger sister, thus upending his marriage and reputation in the process. The third episode explores a lesbian love affair, when an old lover of Blanche's resurfaces hoping to ignite their affair. The nice thing is that the new maid is lovely, and we do get to explore some of the precursor nuances of the war. But overall, the series is forgettable in addition to its disappointing twists and turns. 


At the risk of being shunned by fans of the original, it's much stronger in the absence of the first season's two matriarchs although Rose does make two brief in-hospital appearances. The costumes and music are wonderful, and the period authenticity is always atmospheric, even when dealing with such unsavory topics as abortion (Persie, impregnated by a Nazi, first tries to lose the baby horseback riding and then pays a visit to a nurse and has the child "dispensed with," with a bit of soap). In many ways, I regret that this succession of episodes wandered into territory I couldn't enjoy, because aside from the adulterous romance and sexual mishaps, it's an engaging way to spend six hours.


Sexual Content:
Several same-sex kisses (reciprocated, and once denied); scenes of same-sex and heterosexual couples "afterward" in the bedroom.
One abuse of Christ's name, mild profanities.
Someone is shot; fist-fights in a boxing match; a woman falls to her death.


Drinking. An implied abortion (conversation, the aftermath).

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