Upstairs Downstairs-Series 1 (Universal) (1971)

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Released 11-Feb-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 401:16 (Case: 400)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Brian Parker
Derek Bennett
Joan Kemp-Welch
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Angela Baddeley
Christopher Beeny
Gordon Jackson
David Langton
Jean Marsh
Nicola Pagett
Simon Williams
Case ?
RPI $49.95 Music Alexander Faris


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Originally the creation of two actresses, Jean Marsh (who went on to portray Rose in the series) and Eileen Atkins, the original concept of Upstairs Downstairs was for a comedy series concentrating on the downstairs servants, in particular two maids that would be played by the two actresses. After shopping for a studio to produce the series it ended up at LWT with a substantially changed format. It was to become a very serious drama and at times a very hard-hitting social commentary.

    Set in the Edwardian period, with its first episode presenting life as it was in 1903 at the residence of the Bellamys, the head of the house, Richard Bellamy, is a member of parliament and the husband of Lady Margery Bellamy who is the daughter of an earl. They have two children, James and Elizabeth. Elizabeth turns 21 during the first season. I think James is a little older. These are the main characters 'upstairs' for the first season.

    Downstairs are the servants; Rose the upstairs maid, Edward the footman, Emily and later Ruby the scullery maids, Mrs Bridges the cook, and lastly but certainly not least, Mr. Angus Hudson the butler, played with consummate skill by Gordon Jackson. While all the performances in this show are excellent it is Gordon Jackson's portrayal of the butler that really shines.

    The show tracks the daily lives of our characters in a society that is undergoing incredible upheaval. The Victorian era has come to an end and the rigid society that then existed is starting to crumble. The various attitudes displayed by the characters are fascinating - the pure and unashamed snobbishness and complete disregard for the servants displayed by the Bellamys is astounding. The attitude of most of the downstairs servants to their 'correct place in society' is also jaw dropping. Caught in between are the new middle class that don't belong upstairs or downstairs. Their own attitudes contrast wonderfully with the confusion as the first two groups try to fit these new people into the scheme of things.

    On these discs is part of series one - the first episode and then episodes seven through thirteen. These are the colour episodes. According to fan sites, there was some form of strike during the first season which meant that colour production was not available until episode seven. They also went back and re-shot episode one in colour. It's a bit of a shame that they did not include the full first season. The episodes on the disc are marked as episodes one through eight, but I have followed the real episode numbers for this review.

1.1 : On Trial (49:37)

    We are introduced to our main characters, but the episode focuses on the story of a new house maid, Clemence, who claims to be French. She is very good at spinning a story and has many of the people in the house believing her. She impresses Lady Margery with her needlework but is causing some dissention downstairs with the airs that she affects.(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) This episode has a wonderful twist at the end where the character that was the focus for the entire story packs up and walks out the door. This show has a reputation for not being afraid to knock off main characters and this is simply the first of many shocks.

1.7: Magic Casements (50:05)

    James' friend from the army, Captain Hammond, comes over for tea. A certain spark jumps between him and the very married Lady Margery. Events move and we find that the young captain has invited Lady Margery to the opera and things blossom from there. A second string to this story is that Richard Bellamy is bucking the party line on an important vote in parliament and is reminded that his position is the result of his marriage to Lady Margery and he should not be thinking independently. Meanwhile, downstairs is buzzing with rumours of an affair.

1.8: I Dies from Love (49:46)

    Probably one of the hardest-hitting episodes of the first season, the young scullery maid has fallen in love with the footman of one of Lady Margery's upper class friends. The love affair continues until it comes to the notice of the ladies and they move to interfere. The contrast between downstairs and upstairs is never clearer than in this episode; upstairs they sit around in arrogant comfort and appalling condescension while downstairs have their noses rubbed in the fact that at this time in England, a job meant food and therefore life itself.

1.9: Why is Her Door Locked? (49:49)

    This episode focuses on the grief of the cook, Mrs Bridges. Overcome with grief from the loss in the last episode she is wandering the streets of London after visiting her friend and walks past a baby in a pram outside a shop. In a moment of weakness, she picks up the baby and brings it back to the house. The next morning, the door to her bedroom is found locked. This is expressly forbidden by the Lady of the house. Investigations turn up the child, leading to an uproar. Lady Margery does not want to lose her cook so close to a big party, and so hatches a plot to return the baby directly to its parents rather than involving the police. The parents are not so forgiving and Mrs Bridges ends up in court.

1.10: A Voice from the Past (51:04)

    Young Elizabeth is involved in the growing movement to help the poor and is helping out at a local soup kitchen. While there she spots Sarah, who claimed to be Clemence in the first episode. She is starving and looking for a feed at the soup kitchen. When Elizabeth spots her, she takes pity on her and invites her back to the house again on trial. This time, the only position available is one that is below her previous position within the house and she is not happy. She hatches a plot around her supposed psychic abilities to replace the girl in her old position. The whole plot is complicated by some form of tension between Sarah and James.

1.11: The Swedish Tiger (51:24)

    While James was overseas with the army in Sweden he was billeted with another young officer from the local military. Apparently on a reciprocal visit, the same young Swede is now enjoying the hospitality of the Bellamy residence. He has with him a footman that is acting a little strangely and is certainly upsetting the downstairs staff with his actions. While in residence, things, valuable things, start to go missing with the suspicion eventually falling on Sarah. This is a very convoluted episode and you need to stay alert to keep up with the twists and turns.

1.12: The Key of the Door (50:36)

    Elizabeth has revolted against the society that she is living in and in particular her parents whom she sees as the epitome of the times. She holds values and beliefs that dumbfound her parents. She has fallen in with a crowd that are at the edges of society and are a result of the pendulum swinging away from the extreme rigidity of Victorian society. While with this Bohemian group that come over to the house while the parents are away and scandalise the servants, she meets and falls in love with a poet, Lawrence Kirbridge.

1.13: For Love of Love (48:55)

    A wonderful episode that ties together so many of the social threads that have been explored in the first season. Elizabeth is still rebelling and announces that she does not believe in marriage and is going to live in sin with her poet. The reaction of her parents is as can be expected. While this is all happening James renews his affair with Sarah, who is now a successful singer in a music hall. While not a particularly respectful position in society, it still places her above the servants. All tumble together with an ending that I really wanted, but felt might disintegrate at any moment, bringing a wonderful feeling to the end of the first season when ......

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Unfortunately, this transfer is badly affected by the age of the source material. From the look of the material, this show was shot in the typical BBC fashion - film for the outside shots and video for the inside and neither is in good condition.

    The show is presented at what is undoubtedly its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness varies from just acceptable to outright disastrous. The opening sequences of Episode 1, shot on film, is little more than an indistinct blur with lots of grain, film artefacts and even the occasional hair. Shadow detail also varies but again never reaches an acceptable level. There is lots of low level noise, particularly in the darker sections of the transfer and video noise is also ever-present. Overall, the image is also somewhat dull with the whites leaning toward grey at times.

    Colours are also affected by noise and age. There are also occasions where false colour is present, such as the dress at 25:56 in the first episode. Skin tones are undersaturated, though it could be that these are all English actors!

    The constant video noise and in outside sections the grain has triggered a general problem with the MPEG compression. It is struggling to manage the amount of change between frames and about every sixteen-odd frames it does lose track, leading to a general blocking and emphasis of the noise. This can be seen at 25:13 in the first episode. There is occasional posterization in the faces such as at 4:32 - 4:33, again in the first episode. Video artefacts also abound with ringing on white to dark transitions (Episode 4 48:29), horizontal smearing (Episode 1 9:13), a blue flash over the entire screen (Episode 2 28:58), the entire picture wobbling (Episode 2 38:20), motion blur and so on. Film artefacts in the outside material are also fairly heavy with scratches, white and black marks, dirt and a very distracting black vertical line down the whole picture lasting for several minutes at the start of Episode 1.

    There are no subtitles on these discs.

    The layer change on the first of the two discs is in between the second and third episodes but on the second disc the layer change occurs at 3:44 into the third episode.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There is only a single English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack on these discs.

    Despite a small amount of hiss, the dialogue is easy to understand. One slightly distracting thing is that there are occasionally some crackles or strange high frequency noises - the source of this noise appears to be the leather shoes that the cast are wearing as far as I can tell. Why these noises are so prominent is somewhat of a mystery.

    There are no problems with the audio sync.

    The theme music for this series won an award and I also love it - it sets a lovely appropriate tone for the opening of each episode.

    There is no subwoofer nor surround activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    A static menu with no audio and a picture of one of the characters in the background. Simple selections allow the playing of a particular episode or all of them.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Our discs appear to be identical to the R2 release including not having the black and white episodes. There are two ways to own this series in R1, in individual seasons and in a monster boxed set including all the episodes. The single season release in R1 includes the missing black and white episodes and thus becomes the version of choice.

Summary

    If costume dramas, particularly ones of very high quality, are your cup of tea then this series is a must-own. With drama, intrigue, and a smashing commentary on life in every episode you cannot really go wrong. This series went on to win seven Emmys, a Golden Globe and an Ivor Novello for its theme song. I just love the use of the theme song at just the right moment in the last episode - very appropriate! On a sober note, it is hard to sit and watch these episodes without seeing a growing parallel between society then and where society today may just be headed.

    The video is badly affected by its age.

    The audio is functional.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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