Downton Abbey vs Upstairs Downstairs

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

Over the past year, British Period Drama has been catapulted in to the world psyche – via a television show. Downton Abbey – this slick period drama, written and created by Sir Julian Fellowes was an overnight success and seem to show that Britain is still interested with the Class system. It also helps that ITV is pouring huge amounts of money in to the production; spending a staggering £1 million pounds per episode. It has a stellar cast, Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville etc. But, is also championing up and coming actors, who had steady careers before the show, such as the two love birds, Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) who have reached new amounts of fame and wealth since the show aired in November 2011.

The show is like over-indulging in Thornton’s chocolate with a quality champagne. However, it is often marred by the strict ITV rules, such as the amount of show time to the advert time, which thousands of fans complained about to the channel and on various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The show has gone on to be multi-award winning, successful across the pond in America and is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for the ‘most critically acclaimed show’ of the year. As I said, the eighteen strong ensemble cast have reached new amounts of fame and are some of the most sought after actors of the year. Phew.

It was announced way back in October 2009 that the BBC would revive one of it’s most successful Period Dramas, Upstairs Downstairs which was successful between the years of 1971-1975 and launched the career of many an actor, Jean Marsh included. It was revealed that the BBC would show two special 90 minute episodes in the autumn on 2010.

It was set to star, Keeley Hawes, Claire Foy, Jean Marsh, Ed Stoppard and Dame Eileen Atkins, amongst others.  Written by Heidi Thomas, it was set in 1936, six years after the original TV show ended.

The poor BBC could not have timed this worse, the first series of Downton Abbey had ended a matter of weeks ago and was still fresh in the audiences and critics minds alike. There were subjected to the ‘comparing period drama’ debacle. Despite a slick production, glorious dresses and ample amounts of sex and scandal. The show simply failed to hit the mark of Downton, some critics felt that it lacked Fellowes’ quick wit and snappiness. It was good, but not as good as Downton.

Now, surprisingly, the BBC is due to air the Second Series, of six 60 minute episodes. Foy, Hawes and Stoppard will reprise their roles as the ‘Upstairs’ lot. Whilst Atkins left due to the direction the scripts were taking and her character has been written off. There are new faces, the brilliant Alex Kingston, perhaps best known for her role as River Song in Doctor Who, and Emilia Fox from Silent Witness. The only original actor, Jean Marsh, sadly will not be joining the cast due to illness at the time of filming. Clearly, the BBC have tried to reinvigorate this lackluster television show.

It is due to air sometime in 2012.

So, based on these facts, which one is better? For me, I believe that Downton is simply everywhere, it is in the nation’s psyche, the stars are everywhere. It is a show which has something, a certain ‘X’ factor. Upstairs Downstairs, though the production is visually brilliant and the actors try to create some sense of a forgotten period, something, for me at least, is missing.

However, I wait with baited breath of this new production.

What do you think is better, Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs?


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