Review: Upstairs, Downstairs Complete Series 40th Anniversary DVD

STUDIO: Acorn Media | DIRECTORS: various | CAST: David Langton, Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Simon Williams, Lesley-Anne Down, Angela Baddely, Pauline Collins
RELEASE DATE: 3/29/11 | PRICE: DVD $199.99
BONUSES: commentaries, 5-part documentary, interviews, alternate pilot episode, more
SPECS: NR | 57 hrs. | Television drama | 1.33:1 fullscreen | Dolby Digital mono | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

With the release of Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Series: 40th Anniversary Collection DVD, I’m immediately reminded of a general rule my mother enforced on me when I was growing up in the mid-1970s: “Don’t call your grandmother on Sunday nights — she’s watching Upstairs, Downstairs and you don’t want to bother her.”

Upstairs, Downstairs TV show scene

Let's here it for the ladies of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Ahhh, those far-flung days before DVR, TiVO, DVDs, videocassettes or unending reruns — miss it the first time and pay the price!

I didn’t catch up with the acclaimed and frequently award-winning British historical drama — the one that introduced much the U.S. to the joys of British television (along with Monty Python) — until many years later when it was issued on VHS in the 1990s. And it wasn’t until last week that I checked back into Upstairs, Downstairs’ turn-of-the-century London townhouse where 30 years in the lives of the aristocratic Bellamy family and their servants were played out over five glorious seasons that were originally embraced by my grandmother and others in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theater.

Acorn Media’s outstanding new 40th Anniversary Collection contains all 68 episodes from the show’s five seasons and they look warm and sound fine (six of the earlier installments are in black-and-white) or, rather, as I remember respectable studio television of that era looking and sounding!

As for bonus features, well, there are more in this package than we’ve ever seen on any other complete TV series compendium since Fox’s The X-Files Complete Collector’s Edition DVD from 2007.

Serious fans will be most taken with the commentary tracks that appear on a hefty 24 episodes , featuring such stars as Jean Marsh (Willow), Simon Williams (TV’s Merlin) and Jacqueline Tong (How To Get Ahead in Advertising) as well as handful of the series’ writers. The pair that I listened to were quite lively, with the participants speaking lucidly about their show, swapping memories and occasionally making good-hearted fun of each other.

Also quite impressive is the four-hour-long 2006 documentary The Making of Upstairs, Downstairs, which covers just about everything anyone would want to know about the show’s genesis, production and international success. Like the subject it cover, the documentary is serialized and presented in five parts, one on each of the five volumes that house the collection’s 21 discs.

There’s much, much more, lots of it vintage but rarely if ever seen on this side of the pond. Most notable in the archival material is a collection of clips from the England’s Russell Harty talk shows of the 1970s, featuring various appearances by the cast of Upstairs, Downstairs. Harty also shows up in Russell Harty Goes Upstairs, Downstairs, a half-hour show that finds the host visiting the set of the series after shooting its final episode in 1975 and having a good time with the cast and crew.

Acorn will concurrently release the Upstairs, Downstairs Series 1 DVD and Upstairs, Downstairs Series 2 DVD in individual four-disc sets, priced at $49.99 each. Individual sets of the last three series will be released later this year.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.