Saturday, September 22, 2012

UpDown v. Downton

Hit British television drama Downton Abbey is beginning its third series.  But how does it stack up to the beloved 1970s program Upstairs Downstairs?

The Crawleys have so much money their household has to be shot in widescreen.
The Old Guard:  Because in a show about social changes in the early 20th Century, someone's got to represent the old world, right?
Lady Marjorie Bellamy:  Richard Bellamy's wife is an earl's daughter, and as such represents the mores and aspirations of the uppermost of the Edwardian upper class.  Unable to face the changing times, she takes a trip on a little boat known as the Titanic and is never seen again.
Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham:  Perfers things they way they used to be, but, unlike her UpDown counterpart, she doesn't fade away.  Oh, no, Violet uses sarcasm and wit to voice her displeasure at everything modern.
Winner:  Violet.  Lady Marjorie came across as a very unsympathetic character (rumor has it that Rachel Gurney hated playing her so much she begged to be killed off), whereas Violet's sense of humor makes her endearing no matter how old-fashioned she is.  Plus, she's one bad-ass grandma!
 
The Suffragette:  Neither Eaton Place nor Downton was safe from intrusion of radical politics at the hands of a feisty daughter.
Elizabeth Bellamy:  Dabbled in feminism, married a gay socialist poet and had a child by his publisher.  Then, at the beginning of Series 3 we're told she's happily (re?)married and living in New York with her kids.
Lady Sybil Crawley:  Wears trousers, attends political rallies, becomes a nurse, and marries the Irish nationalist chauffer.  As of the Christmas special, she was exiled to Dublin and expecting.
Winner:  Lady Sybil.  Both girls got put on a bus (metaphorically speaking), but Sybil stuck to her principles and now she's back for Series 3. 

The Young(ish) Upstart:  Someone's actually got to spark change while the young ones are busy shouting silly things like "Votes for Women."
Virginia Hamilton:  The war widow who comes to Richard for help for her son who's being tried for cowardice.  She keeps pestering him about various things until he finally marries her.
Isobel Crawley:  Matthew's mother, a quasi-socialist reformer who sees in Downton a great opportunity for change.  Naturally, she and Violet butt heads in nearly every episode.
Winner:  Isobel.  Viginia may inject 165 with a (somewhat) youthful vigor, but Isobel gets things done, whether Violet likes it or not.
  
The Wounded War Hero:  Because even rich people can't escape the horrors of war.  Or, can they...?
James Bellamy:  Badly injured at the front, he's brought home and is able to make a full recovery from his wounds.  But the emotional scars are deep, and, already a volatile personality, James falls deeper and deeper into depression over the course of the 1920s until he takes his own life at the end of Series 5.
Matthew Crawley:  Looses the use of his legs.  But--even worse!!--his paralysis renders him impotent and unable to produce an heir.  Luckily, though, Matthew was misdiagnosed and regains the use of his limbs.
Winner:  James, because Matthew's whole "It's a miracle!" situation was just riddiculous.  It's more realistic that the costs of war have long-term effects.  Unless, of course, Matthew hasn't regained the use of all of his limbs....

Kissing Cousins:  Hey, what's the English aristocracy without a little romance between people who are distantly related?
James and Georginia Worsely:  Step-cousins who have a fling at the front during the War.  Though Georginia is an adult, James, her step-father's only male relative, is technically her guardian.
Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley:  Matthew is Lord Grantham's third cousin and heir to his estate.  So that means he'll get all the money and property that would fairly be Mary's.  But hey, they love each other!  Uh... right?
Winner:  James and Georginia.  Vaguely incestous adultery is far sleazier than money-grubbing love.

Ill-fated Lady Loves:  Both James Bellamy and Matthew Crawley marry (or nearly marry) women they don't really love who then, naturally, have to be written out.  How do they compare?
Hazel Forrest:  Daughter-of-the-middle-class Hazel is introduced in Series 3 as Richard's secretary.  James, who loves to slum it, marries her and she struggles in her new role but manages to hold 165 Eaton Place together during the War.  A victim of the influenza epidemic, Hazel is the only member of the household not to make it through Series 4--uh, I mean, World War I.
Lavinia Swire:  Series 2 opens and--surprise!--Matthew is engaged to the drippy daughter of one of his lawyer friends.  Lavinia pops up occasionally to complicate Matthew and Mary's relationship, though she does stand by her man when it looks like all three of his legs don't work.  She suddenly dies of what seems like a case of the sniffles, but is actually the same thing that killed Hazel.  What a conicidence!
Winner:  Hazel, because, as a real character and not a convienient plot device, her death is actually sad.


Just like a family... but not.
(Un)Dignified Butler:  Managing a well-run house has got to put a lot of pressure on a man.  Even the best of the best have to let that decorum slip sometimes.
Hudson:  During a mid-life crisis, he proposes to a housemaid and is so embarassed he almost quits when she, who thinks of him like a father, turns him down.
Carson:  Used to be part of a music hall double act.
Winner:  Carson, because that is well cool. 

Baby Crazy:  The downstairs of both 165 and Downton are in the capable hands of Mrs. Bridges and Mrs. Hughes respectively.  But sometimes, they can both have their bizzare out of character moments.
Mrs. Bridges:  Feeling responsible for the original kitchen maid's suicide, Mrs. Bridges kidnaps a baby, and only manages to avoid prison when Hudson tells the judge they'll get married when they retire.
Mrs. Hughes:  Feeling guilty that the housemaid she chucked out for sleeping with a soldier winds up pregnant, she steals food for, financially supports, and tries to help the mother and child connect with the father's family.
Winner:  Mrs. Bridges not only takes the crazy cake, she also wins because, apart from her and Hudson getting married, this incident was fortuneately never mentioned again.  Mrs. Hughes's moment of baby crazy became a tedious Series 2 subplot.

Unlucky at Love:  It's hard enough to find a man while you're in service, but add in a World War, and it's a one-way ticket to spinster city.
Rose:  Before the series begins, she lost a finace in the Boer Wars, and then looses a second in WWI.  Plus, an attraction to Thomas (the chauffeur) ends when he starts flirting with her best friend.  As of the second series of the reboot, Rose is still single, and now she's got tuberculosis.
Anna:  Ah, Bates and Anna.  Will they?  Won't they?  What about his wife? Oh,  now she's dead so they can get married.  But now he's on trial for murder!  And he's got the death sentence!!  But it's been commuted!  Will Anna be able to prove his innocence... ENOUGH ALREADY!!!
Winner:  Rose.  There's so much more to her story than just the romance.  Plus, TB.  Dude, that is sad

Scheming Servants:  You can't trust the help under normal circustances, but when they put their heads together, watch out!
Thomas and Sarah:  Sarah's ambitions lead her in and out of service and to her getting knocked up by her employer's son.  Thomas is more cunning in his manipulations of his master to work his way up from valet to chauffer.  When Thomas and Sarah's affair results in her pregnancy, the pair use it as a means to get Mr. Bellamy to give them money to start their own business.
Thomas and O'Brien:  This unlikely pair of footman and lady's maid look out for each other's interests like they're on Survivor:  Servants' Hall.  They are particularly ruthless in their attempts to get Bates, Lord Grantham's valet, fired.
Winner:  Tie.  Thomas and Sarah are as adorable as Thomas and O'Brien are despicable.  And while the latter pair seem to be more what we'd think of as "scheming," unlike the former, they have yet to feature in their own spin-off series.

Soldier Boy:  Just because you serve one the greatest households in all England does not exempt you from getting blown to smithereens for King and Country!
Edward:  165's footman doesn't want to go to war, but gives in to pressure and enlists.  Marries his sweetheart Daisy, the housemaid, and comes back with a bad case of shell shock.
William:  Downton's footman is nervous about going to war, but misses a lot of it thanks to Violet's scheme to make sure the house has a full staff.  Eventually becomes Matthew's assistant and is fatally wounded when the two of them are blown up.  He marries his sweetheart Daisy, the kitchen maid, on his deathbed. 
Winner:  Generally, I prefer Eddie's cheekiness, but William really fits the young solider stereotype better.  And, his death was sad.  Like, really sad.  I cried.

Downstairs Dim-wit:  With all the melodrama going on upstairs, the kitchen is the perfect place for a little comic relief.
Ruby:  The bane of Mrs. Bridges's existence, Eaton Place's kitchen maid is as incompetant in the kitchen as she is about personal hygene.  (Pictured above:  third row, second from left.  See that hair??)  However, she does on occasion display some cunning, like her plot to get all of the Hudsons's money when they die. 
Daisy:  More suggestible than stupid, Daisy is actually a competant assistant in the kitchen, but her problem is that she doesn't really like to say no to people.  Lately, though, she's been standing up for herself a great deal more.
Winner:  Ruby.  It was hard to decide, but Daisy's starting to get her own story lines now, whereas Ruby was always the punchline.