Posted by Jane Murphy
We waited 35 years for Upstairs Downstairs to make its small-screen return after the original series ended in 1975. So the 14-month gap between its three-episode run in December 2010 and the start of this full six-parter is a mere tea-break in comparison. But even so, it feels like it's been a long time coming - with rumours of on-set fall-outs and walkouts occasionally hitting the press in the meantime.
So was it worth the wait? On the strength of tonight's opener alone, I can't help feeling that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Yes, the cast list is impressive and the late '30s period setting spot-on. But I didn't feel gripped by one particular storyline or emotionally involved with any of the characters until well towards the end of the hour.
It may be a very welcome addition to the Sunday-night schedules, but - whisper it - it's not yet a worthy match for ITV1's fellow masters-and-servants saga Downton Abbey. Mind you, ast least it wasn't interrupted by constant ad breaks.
Part of the problem, of course, was that much of this episode was taken up with reintroducing old characters, introducing new ones and explaining away several notable absences. The programme's original creators - Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins - were both key to the 2010 show, but didn't feature tonight.
Marsh is currently recovering from a stroke, so her role as housekeeper Rose has been given far less prominence - although we're promised she will pop up later in the series. And despite stealing the show as the eccentric Lady Holland in 2012, Dame Eileen decided not to return to the series. As a result, Lady H has been killed off - and in her place comes Alex Kingston as her equally eccentric half-sister Dr Blanche Mottershead.
I was briefly overjoyed to see that Lady H's pet monkey, Solomon, had avoided the chop. But less than half an hour in, they'd only gone and killed him off - despite the valiant attempts of butler Mr Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) to revive him at the kitchen table.
But it wasn't all new faces and monkey business. Upstairs, Sir Hallam (Ed Stoppard) was becoming increasingly embroiled with his job as a foreign diplomat and trying his best to convince the government that Hitler couldn't be contained. (Nice try, Sir H - but we all know how that one's going to turn out.) Oh, and then he snogged his sister-in-law, Lady Persie (Claire Foy), which was far more entertaining.
Meanwhile, Lady Agnes - who'd just given birth to the couple's second child - had her work cut out wrestling her husband's gun from the overwrought Mr Amanjit (Art Malik). But even that wasn't really as exciting as it sounds. Still, at the end of this little scene, the best line of the programme fell to Blanche: "The spectacle has concluded. And since we are in England, I suggest you make some tea." Good idea, Blanche - I'm right on it.
So is Upstairs Downstairs really in the same class as Downton Abbey? Tell us what you think.
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