Unfortunately, despite the popularity of the original Upstairs Downstairs series, the new residents of Eaton Place never really made it out of the shadow of ITV ratings behemoth Downton Abbey, which more than doubled the BBC drama’s numbers. The shows aired close to one another and their similar settings and lovely Edwardian dress made it nearly impossible for viewers (and critics) to avoid comparing the two. In fact, the British press seemed to have something of a field day comparing the series’ ratings – in the UK, the two air on different networks. Audience numbers for Upstairs Downstairs declined steadily during its six week run, despite the addition of Doctor Who star Alex Kingston to the cast and several attempts to spice up the plot with more “controversial” storylines.
Upstairs Downstairs’ first series – though only three episodes long – was generally deemed a success. But then Dame Eileen Atkins quit the series last summer, citing her dissatisfaction with the scripts, and co-creator Jean Marsh suffered a stroke that forced her to scale back her involvement in the production. It could be argued that the series likely never recovered its footing after these events and may have lost its way a bit.
It’s a shame – while if I had to choose a side in the Period Drama Wars, I would have to say that I generally preferred the Crawleys, but I would also argue that Upstairs Downstairs had quite a lot to recommend it, including more balanced pacing. It’s unfortunate that apparently there can only be one left standing in this costume drama fight to the death, because I would have happily continued to make room for them both on my viewing schedule.
Americans will still get the chance to see Upstairs Downstairs Series 2 for themselves; its final set of six episodes is slated to premiere on Masterpiece this Fall.