Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs...Masterful performances! Superb production! PBS Classic Series touted!


Once I stumbled on the channel, and got a peak at a couple of the delightful opening scenes, I was hooked!

After all, the PBS production - "Upstairs Downstairs" - is an engrossing high-brow potboiler that is difficult to turn away from!

The year is 1936.

Sir Hallam Holland and his fragile elegant wife, Lady Agnes, have trotted into London - lock-stock-and-barrel - to take up residence at their ultra tony digs at 165 Easton Place.

"This house is going to see such life," the mistress exclaims in a dazzling opening scene.

Unfortunately, as the plot unfolds, it is evident that Lady Agnes may have bitten off more than she can chew!

Needless to say, an extravagant restoration is soon underway, as residents of the stately manse slowly make their way in the tony enclave.

Meanwhile, the heady task of hiring competent professional staff to head up the household, proves to be a challenge from the get-go.

Toss in the unexpected arrival of a feisty mother-in-law - and a scheming guest or two at a chi chi  "open house"- and the audience at home is ripe for a rollicking bit of delicious entertainment that will have 'em falling on the floor in stitches.

For example, when it is announced that Mrs. Simpson (the one and only!) is anxious to wangle an invite to their "coming out" soiree, the hostess is beside herself.

Surely it would not be proper to entertain a scarlett woman - whispered to be the Duke's mistress - within the stately walls of her respectable home?

Under the mistaken impression that the social upstart's gentleman "escort" is expected to be "none other" than the future King of England, the hired help is briskly instructed to toss out the welcome mat post-haste as the kitchen staff prepare a mighty feast in honor of the distinguished presence about to descend in their humble midst.

On the big day, however, Mrs. Simpson sashays in with a disreputable German companion on her bejewelled arm, out to drum up supporters for a beleaugered Adolf Hitler just prior to the outbreak of the War.

In a bold-faced effort to oust the reprehensible interloper - and save the family from a pending social gaffe - an awkward young waiter is dispatched to spill a tray of exotic cocktails on the unsuspecting guest in a sinister underhanded attempt to trigger his quick departure.

The sinister maneuver goes off without a hitch.

What a laugh riot!

In addition to the well-written script - which moves along at a fast entertaining clip - a smattering of rich production values manage to thoroughly seduce.

The exquisite period costumes, lush sets - and stunning cinematography - are a virtual feast for the most discerning armchair critic.

4 stars!

Laura Linney hosts PBS Special!