First Night: Upstairs Downstairs, BBC 1, 9.30pm

2.00

BBC's Downton rival shows its class – below stairs

It's hard to say whether the BBC's reincarnation of Upstairs Downstairs' which returned last night for a second series, is dogged by bad luck or bad judgement. To lose Jean Marsh, parlour-maid turned housekeeper Rose Buck, to a stroke is a misfortune, but to have been beaten out of the starting gates by ITV's upstart Downton Abbey in the first place, in 2010, perhaps suggests a degree of complacency. And to lose an unhappy Eileen Atkins doesn't bode well, since Atkins, along with Marsh, helped to create the original Upstairs Downstairs.

Dame Eileen's imperious Agnes, Lady Holland, the equivalent of Maggie Smith's Downton dowager, was represented by a vase of ashes. The vase had more charisma than two main upstairs dwellers – Keeley Hawes's Lady Agnes and Ed Stoppard's Sir Hallam Holland – who are stiff upper-lip and little perceptible emotional hinterland. It was Brief Encounter without the subtext.

It might not have mattered. Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey is also a stuffed shirt, but he has grown-up children. Eaton Place by contrast, with only Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam and their infants (added to last night by a newborn), feels under-populated.

Alex Kingston is the new Atkins. But despite caustic asides, Kingston lacks the theatrical dame's effortless ability to inject something this drama is in dire need of – humour. The story had moved on two years, from the Abdication Crisis to the Munich Crisis. But such grand affairs of state – including an uncanny Neville Chamberlain lookalike – rather misses the point of shows like Upstairs Downstairs, with their escapist wallowing in personalised history stories. The kind of stuff, in fact, that Heidi Thomas is churning out with great success in her other BBC1 costume drama: Call the Midwife.

What comedy there is comes from Pritchard the butler (Adrian Scarborough), now revealed as a First World War conscientious objector, while, on the romantic front (if that is what it was) the priggish Hallam ended up kissing his sister-in-law, Lady Persie, the Unity Mitford of the story.

At last, some sexual tension, you thought, although Hallam looked more like he had been told that Herr Hitler had just goose-stepped into the Sudetenland.

But is it all going to prove to be enough? The show doesn't deserve to suffer a similar fate to that of Lady Agnes's pet monkey, which was dispatched in a supposedly gas-proof pram designed, said Pritchard enigmatically, by "a gentleman living in Maidstone. He's described as a bachelor but interested in babies". After all, seven million viewers are not to be sneezed at. Like the cavalry, Emilia Fox and Sarah Lancashire will soon be galloping over the horizon, while Lady Persie (Claire Foy) can't return from Munich a moment too soon. And anyone who can order a vodka martini in German should be able to bring something to the party.

Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore