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Posts Tagged ‘PBS Movie Adaptation’

The third episode of Upstairs Downstairs will be shown this Sunday. Will you tune in?  (Watch all three episodes from April 25 through May 24 at this link.) Better yet, the BBC will make the DVD available for sale Tuesday, April 26th.

BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs DVD is available for purchase!

Upstairs Downstairs has been brought back with a fresh new cast. It is 1936 and six years since parlormaid Rose (Jean Marsh) left 165 Eaton Place. Fate brings her back to the house and its new owners, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), and his mother, Lady Maud Holland (Eileen Atkins). Rose recruits a new “downstairs” family to help run the elegance and finery of the “upstairs” world. Set against the historical backdrop of a pre-World War II Britain with a new King on the throne, with Fascism on the rise on the continent, and with sexual, social and political tensions at 165 Eaton Place, this new series provides an evocative take on the master-servant relationship.

In honor of the U.S Premiere on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, the BBC is giving away a free DVD just two days following the conclusion of the third episode. This DVD includes the making-of featurette Upstairs Downstairs – Behind Closed Doors. (SRP: $34.98 ($43.98 in Canada)

CONTEST is CLOSED. The winner is Felicia!!: For an opportunity to win the DVD, all you need to do is leave a comment stating what you liked best about this 2010 series! The drawing (by random number) will be held on Tuesday, April 26th at 11:59 PM, EST.

Read this blog’s reviews of UpDown in these posts:

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Oh, my, Upstairs Downstairs turned down a darker road in the second episode, which can be seen online this week until May 24th.

The arrival of parlor maid, Rachel Perlmutter, changes the mood of the show from light-hearted to somber. She is a Jewish refugee from Germany who is forced to work as a maid, a career that is dangerous to her asthmatic condition.

Rachel (Helen Bradbury) suffers from asthma, which strikes her at the most unexpected moments.

Race and prejudice are the very obvious subtexts of this episode, in which Mr. Amanjit, who at first lived apart from the staff, is slowly accepted downstairs.

This scene, in which Mr. Amanjit was invited to listen to music on the radio, was most gratifying

Harry Spargo, the chauffeur, has developed a political interest that is typical of many people in the 1930’s, but his leanings are towards the far right and with the black shirts of Oswald Mosley’s fascist party.

Harrys social politics will place him at odds with the family and lead to tragedy belowstairs

A bored Ladie Percie flirts with danger as she pursues the chauffeur and his interests.

Bored and rebellious are not a good combination in the mind of a none too bright woman. Lady Percie races up the stairs to join an unsuspecting Harry at a far right rally.

And Agnes, the mistress, is pregnant.

A montage shows the stages of Agness pregnancy in swift succession

While I liked that Upstairs Downstairs embraced the many social upheavals of pre-war Britain, the one hour format is too rushed for these complex plot developments. I know the original series was based on one-hour shows, but back then each episode centered on one plot line that was often developed over several episodes. There were too many holes in the various plots that have been introduced and this series seems rushed, giving almost no time to character development. I hope that the pace slows down in Season 2 next year. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see what develops in Episode 3, for at this point the twists and turns have intrigued me.

I must admit to being disappointed with the costumes, which did not appeal to me at all.

Other Upstairs Downstairs posts on this blog:

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Created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), “Downton Abbey” depicts the lives of the noble Crawley family and the staff who serve them at their Edwardian country house. It is April and the Titanic has just sunk.The world will never be the same for the Crawleys, for both the heirs to Downton Abbey went down with the ship.

Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. This image speaks of power and privilege.

The earl and countess of Grantham’s three daughters cannot inherit the estate, which is entailed to the male next in succession. He is Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, son of a doctor and a nurse, and a lawyer by trade. Matthew knows nothing about running such a vast estate, and cares little about the niceties of protocol.

Dan Stevens plays Matthew Crawley. He also played Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility.

The answer to the earl’s predicament is simple really – Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, should marry Matthew. But nothing is simple in Downton Abbey, for Lady Mary is stubborn and has a mind of her own.

The Crawley sisters: Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

The series is lushly produced and the story lines are riveting. In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television’s most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs, which aired on MASTERPIECE (then MASTERPIECE THEATRE ) in the 1970s. One of the thrills of MASTER PIECE’s 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Episode 1
Sunday, January 9, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
When the Titanic goes down, Lord Grantham loses his immediate heirs, and his daughter Mary loses her fiancé, throwing Downton Abbey and its servants into turmoil. The new heir turns out to be Matthew, a handsome lawyer with novel ideas about country life.

Matthew and his mother are formally received by the servants and family during their first visit to the Abbey

Episode 2
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Mary entertains three suitors, including a Turkish diplomat whose boldness leads to a surprising event. Downstairs, the shocking former life of Carson, the butler, is unmasked, and Bates risks his health to remain valet.

Jim Carter (Cranford) as Mr. Carson, the butler

Episode 3
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Growing into his role as heir, Matthew brings out the bitter rivalry between sisters Mary and Edith. Servants Thomas and O’Brien scheme against Bates, while head housemaid Anna is increasingly attracted to him. Lady Violet’s winning streak in the flower show is threatened.

The Countess (Elzabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) at the flower show.

Episode 4
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
The heir crisis at Downton Abbey takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile, rumors fly about Mary’s virtue. Her sister Sybil takes a risk in her secret political life. Anna unearths Bates’ mysterious past. And O’Brien and Thomas plot their exit strategy.

The Countess of Grantham with her daughter Lady Edith

My posts about Downton Abbey

Cast

Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda, Filth)…Robert, Earl of Grantham
Jessica Brown-Findlay…Lady Sybil Crawley
Laura Carmichael…Lady Edith Crawley
Jim Carter (Cranford)…Mr. Carson
Brendan Coyle (Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act)…John Bates
Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford)…Lady Mary Crawley
Siobhan Finneran (The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard)… O’Brien
Joanne Froggatt (Robin Hood)…Anna
Thomas Howes…William
Rob James-Collier…Thomas
Rose Leslie…Gwen
Phyllis Logan (Wallander)…Mrs. Hughes
Elizabeth McGovern (A Room with a View)…Cora, Countess of Grantham
Sophie McShera…Daisy
Lesley Nicol (Miss Marple)…Mrs. Patmore
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)…Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens (Sense & Sensibility)…Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton (Wives and Daughters)…Isobel Crawley
Charlie Cox (Stardust)…Duke of Crowborough
Kevin Doyle (The Tudors)…Molesley
Robert Bathurst (Emma)…Sir Anthony Strallan
Bernard Gallagher…Bill Molesley
Samantha Bond (Miss Marple)…Lady Rosamund Painswick
Allen Leech (The Tudors)…Tom Branson
Brendan Patrick…Evelyn Napier
David Robb…Dr. Clarkson
Helen Sheals…Postmaster’s Wife

More on the Topic

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Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) examines microscopic evidence

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. The ending of the final episode of Sherlock!, which represented the final Mystery! for PBS’s 2010 Masterpiece season left me sitting on the edge of my seat, and … I won’t spoil your enjoyment if you haven’t watched it yet. Click here to view The Great Game online if you missed it. Two of the three episodes will be available until December 7.

The countdown clock is ticking: 12 hours

Sherlock’s ingenuity is put to the test in The Great Game, which a darker and more complex tale than the previous two episodes. Holmes races against time to solve a mystery that began when he was a boy. Clues arrive from an adversary worthy of Sherlock, whose detective skills are put through their paces. Dr. Watson is also on top of his game, and more critical as Holmes’s partner than ever.

Watson accuses Sherlock of enjoying himself, even as another victim's deadline has dropped to 3 hours

The cat-and-mouse games become more and more intricate as clues arrive from Sherlock’s dangerous adversary. His presence has been hinted at in previous episodes, but, again, I won’t give the game away.

Watson (Martin Freeman) puzzles through the clues, which are elementary for Holmes

The script is fiercely funny and its wit sharper than the edge of a freshly honed knife. The ending is shocking. I won’t give it away except to say that PBS MUST air the second season of this series. That’s all.

The ending is a game changer that makes this series a must-see

Reade other Sherlock! reviews :

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I had never heard of the book Small Island or author Andrea Levy until PBS scheduled the film as the last presentation for Masterpiece Classic this season. The story follows two couples, one from London, England and the other from Jamaica, whose lives intersect at crucial moments. Against the backdrop of World War II and post war England, we learn about the dreams and ambitions of Queenie, Bernard, Hortense, and Gilbert.

David Oyelowo as Gilbert Joseph

The story is about the reaction of the British to the 492 men from the British Colonies who bought passage on the Empire Windrush in 1948 and emigrated to England. Prior to that event, 6,000 West Indian men had volunteered for the RAF during World War II. After the war, they wanted a better life and sought it in the motherland.

Queenie (Ruth Wilson) and Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch)

As the story unfolded I was struck by the Jamaican islander’s view of their mother country. Their attitude towards England was  loving, deferential, and loyal. While the Jamaicans learned everything they could about English customs and history, the British knew or cared very little about the people they had exploited. Reality sunk in for the young Jamaican men who had signed up to fight alongside the British in WWII. They dreamed of fighting as pilots, but were assigned menial jobs, some not even at the front. Worse, they encountered racism designed to squash their pride and put them in their place.

Hortense (Naomi Harris) goes out shopping properly dressed

David Oyelowo plays Gilbert Joseph, a wonderfully optimistic and cheerful man, who aims to find a better life in the motherland. His dream was to become a lawyer, but in reality he became a postman for the Royal Mail. His scene on the park bench after being humiliated by other postal workers broke my heart. I think I fell a little in love with Mr. Oyelowo then.

Hortense and Gilbert

Hortense (Naomi Harris) dreams of becoming a school teacher in London. An orphan, she pursues her teaching degree in a Jamaican school and learns how to conduct herself properly. Her ambition prompts her to betray a friend and finagle her way into a marriage of convenience with Gilbert, whose passage on the Empire Windrush she finances. Their deal is that he will send for her as soon as he finds a nice place for them to live in London.

Ruth Wilson as Queenie

Queenie (Ruth Wilson)dreams of a more exciting life than on the pig farm that her parents own. We first meet her with her aunt in London, practicing elocution lessons – “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”. Queenie’s dreams are squashed when she makes a compromise after her aunt’s death and marries the dull colorless young man who has fallen in love with her. Her existence becomes lackluster and uneventful, and she chafes under her boring routine. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bernard in the unsympathetic part of Queenie’s husband. Sadly, Bernard has already realized his dream, which was to marry Queenie, who does not love him. He must confront his disillusionment and resistance to change if he is to hold on to his marriage to Queenie.

Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Then the war begins and suddenly life changes for Queenie, whose path crosses with Gilbert and Hortense, and a mysterious man named Michael, who (coincidentally) Hortense has loved all her life. Rather than spoil the plot, I encourage you to read a lovely synopsis at this PBS link along with an interview with the author, which I recommend highly.

Ashley Walters as Michael

These days we do not often encounter black ladies of the old school. Do you remember them? Their postures were ramrod straight. Their neat clothes did not allow for a single crease. Their hats were proper and decorous, and their purses were held just so in their gloved hands. Their language was grammatically correct, old-fashioned and Victorian, as if they had been taught from a 19th-century grammar book. I volunteered with such a lady, Miss Edna, who had been a school teacher since the 1930’s and who volunteered as a tutor well into her 90’s. Hortense reminded me of Miss Edna. I thought that Naomi Harris captured every aspect of Miss Edna, including her unassailable dignity.

Queenie and Michael

To my mind, Queenie, is the tragic character of this tale. As Andrea Levy said “She is a warmhearted person, a kind person, an open person.” Yet she is not perfect. None of the characters are. The author explains, “With all my characters, I never want them to be perfect, they have faults, just like us all.” Despite her imperfections, Queenie is the heroine who, when faced with a King Solomon decision, does not flinch from choosing the right course.

The acting is superb. There were scenes that caused me to hold my breath, they were that good, and there were times when I literally ached for the characters. When I cried, it was from sympathy, not from a contrived plot. Like real life, this drama is sprinkled with humor, which cuts the tension. At the end of the film, I wanted to see more. Rarely does this happen. PBS will air the first part of Small Island tonight, April 18th at 9 p.m., and the second part on April 25th. I highly recommend that you see it.

Hortense, Michael, and Queenie

If you have missed the first part, you can watch it online at this link starting April 19th through the 25th.

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Rupert Penry-Jones in The 39 Steps

John Buchan wrote The 39 Steps in 1915, creating the genre of the espionage thriller, particularly that subset involving the upper-class gentleman spy. In the book, Richard Hannay, had recently returned to London after years of living in Africa, serving in the Boer War and then working as a mining engineer. It is late spring of 1914; he is bored blind by his present life, and ready for some action. He gets his wish when his neighbor, Scudder, entrusts a mysterious notebook and story of spies about to destroy the British Navy to Hannay and gets killed by German spies in his flat. Naturally, Hannay is assumed guilty of the murder, and, with both spies and police searching for him, he goes to Scotland to unravel the story and thus be found innocent. Like all stories of intricate and slightly implausible plot, the tale unfolds at breakneck speed. Buchan’s book is filled with chance encounters, plot twists, double crosses, chases across the Scottish moors, once with an airplane tracing his movements, and ends with Hannay back in England, uncovering the traitor and foiling the German plot. The book was a huge success.

In 1935, Alfred Hitchcock undertook the challenge of making The 39 Steps into a movie. It was a challenge because of the intricate details and large cast in the book, so Hitchcock developed a very different version: he kept Hannay’s name, the murder of the agent in Hannay’s apartment, and the trip to Scotland to discover whatever he could. But Hitchcock updated the time of the action to the mid-30s, made Hannay Canadian and the spies vaguer in nationality, incorporated a music hall performer named Mr. Memory, and changed the 39 steps from a physical location to a conjuring trick. He also brought in a woman to provide the requisite cinema love interest; they meet cute and dash across the moors of Scotland, handcuffed together for some of the time. Robert Donat played the hapless Canadian Hannay; he was the best part of the movie.

The 39 Steps, as broadcast by PBS Sunday night, is much truer to the original. Rupert Penry-Jones, who has the jaded upper class part down cold, plays Hannay, once again the bored Brit. He is aloof when Scudder barrels into his apartment, disbelieving of the story, until the milkman breaks in and Scudder is murdered. Penry-Jones, who previously appeared as Captain Wentworth in Masterpiece’s broadcast of Persuasion, plays a somewhat understated hero. He is quick off the mark, and, in the manner of such heroes, good looking in face and form. Lizzie Mickery, who adapted the novel for this screenplay, also added female interest: Victoria Sinclair, played with spirit by Lydia Leonard, is a suffragist and also a British agent. Again, there are a number of runs across the moors displaying some really splendid scenery. And once again, Hannay is chased by an airplane; although in a clear homage to Hitchcock, the folks in the plane don’t simply spot him, they shoot at him a la North by Northwest – another great Hitchcock spy caper.

Rupert Penry-Jones (Richard Hannay), Lydia Leonard (Victoria Sinclair)

Captain Maynard, my trustee co-viewer, was delighted to note that the cars and guns were all authentic to the 1914 date. He loves the wonderful Masterpiece productions for this reason. And in my fashion, I liked the accuracy of the costumes, both men and women. The story starts very quickly and tautly, and unwinds without a moment wasted; we were both drawn into it immediately.

We enjoyed the Hitchcock version of the movie, although I thought the addition of the music hall unnecessary, even while recognizing that this was a favorite Hitchcock device. (See also, The Man Who Knew Too Much.) And I could see no purpose to have Donat be Canadian; things were already difficult enough. Hitchcock also likes his hero to be pretty clueless, bumbling from one near-disaster to the next, until he finally adds up the pieces and solves the riddle. Over all, I like my hero to have a little more on the ball, and in this 2008 update, Penry-Jones is quick-witted and in charge; he solves the cipher, recognizes his foes, and works through the puzzle ahead of the Secret Service. He is a nice combination of James Bond and Lord Peter Wimsey: not so over the top or predatory as Bond, a little more physical than Wimsey. The love story is believable, not the comic relief of the Hitchcock version. Victoria is also sharp, has a photographic memory, runs without falling down in a swoon, and altogether plays an effective sidekick. One thing did strike a false note: Victoria calls herself a suffragette rather than suffragist, the less derisive term used always by those indomitable women. The story plays out against the beginning of World War I, building both tension and reality for the spy plot. The last scene shows Hannay, now an officer in the British Army, at St. Pancras station setting off for France. The tantalizing hope is that he and Victoria will have a future after the war. And at this point, Co-viewer and I have changed our allegiance: truer to the book, while building in a female character, this remake is by far the better 39 Steps.

Gentle Readers: My good friend, Lady Anne, an avid fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, wrote this review for my blog. I am, as always, ever so grateful for her learned insights. Watch The 39 Steps online at PBS until March 30. 2010.

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Two years ago PBS offered Northanger Abbey during Jane Austen Season. Tonight we are having an encore presentation. Such fun! For information about this series, click on this PBS link.

John Thorpe, Catherine Morland, Isabella Thorpe, and James Morland

For my original review and others, click on the links below!

Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland

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