Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey: Battle of the Period Dramas

Upstairs DownstairsThe idea of shows fiercely competing against each other for ratings and prominence is something the press like to play on a lot. But it seems as though in the battle between Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey the battle actually might have some real substance to it as Jean Marsh criticises the hit ITV drama and one of its stars hits back.

 

Downton AbbeyThe idea of shows fiercely competing against each other for ratings and prominence is something the press like to play on a lot. But it seems as though in the battle between Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey the battle actually might have some real substance to it as Jean Marsh criticises the hit ITV drama and one of its stars hits back.

 

Downton Abbey, created and written by Julian Fellowes for ITV, became a surprise hit for ITV earlier this year when it aired on Sunday evenings. The Edwardian drama starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton premiered with over 7 million viewers and its audiences rose and rose until it was nearing 9 million viewers. Downton was undeniably a hit for ITV for waiting in the wings ready to pounce was another period drama, Upstairs Downstairs.

 

Upstairs Downstairs was created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins and ran on LWT, part of the ITV Network, between 1971 and 1975. It charted the years from 1903 through to 1931 through the rich Bellamy family and their servants at 165 Eaton Place. The drama was a huge hit not just here but abroad as well, especially in America, and won many awards. Now after several years of development a revival is being produced by the BBC but Downton Abbey pipped Upstairs Downstairs to the post and broadcast first – sparking concerns that viewers won’t watch Upstairs because it will feel too familiar to Downton.

 

Jean Marsh, creator and co-star, of Upstairs Downstairs has now criticised the ITV drama for being too familiar to her series.

 

“I think we were all surprised. The new Upstairs, Downstairs had been in the works for about three years. We were trying to sort out … 40 years of rights and then it also started – Downton Abbey – in the Edwardian era, which Upstairs, Downstairs did. So it might be a coincidence and I might be the queen of Belgium.” – Jean Marsh on The One Show

 

Hugh Bonneville, one of the stars of Downton Abbey, has responded to Marsh’s comments.

 

“I thought Jean Marsh was bigger than that – running down Downton while bigging up Upstairs? Downton never downed Up when upping Down. The consensus seems to be that Ms Marsh needs a big huggle in the friendly chair. Last thing we need is a face-off at the Albert memorial.” – Hugh Bonneville on Twitter

 

Upstairs Downstairs returns to BBC One this Christmas and its first episode will be up against another period drama, Mrs Marple on ITV. However, given the ratings of recent Marple adaptations which have been around the 4/5 million mark Upstairs shouldn’t have too much trouble beating that. But of course if it doesn’t attract the kind of ratings that Downton did – and let’s be honest its high ratings are pretty rare for a drama these days – then the press will be very quick to write the revival off as a flop even if its ratings are good.

 

It looks as though the real drama for Upstairs Downstairs is just beginning.

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