Top 5 Downton Abbey-Ish Movies & TV Series

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Are you missing Downton Abbey? The final series starts Sunday, January 4, 2015, in the US, but if that’s too long for you to wait, here are five other movies or TV series that will help you scratch that itch for historical costumes, big casts of aristocrats and servants dealing with repressed emotions, and grand British houses:

 

5. Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75 & 2010-12)

The House: 165 Eaton Place, London. Not a sprawling country mansion — instead the opposite, you get to see The Families’ lives when they’re In Town.

165 Eaton Place - Upstairs Downstairs

165 Eaton Place – the location of both series of Upstairs Downstairs.

Upstairs: The Bellamy family, including Lady Marjorie (daughter of an earl) and Richard (MP and son of a nobody). The original series (1971-75) starts in 1903 and ends in 1930. I can’t tell you much more, because I’ve never been able to get past the old skool videography to watch it!

Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75)

Rich people in fancy outfits!

Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75)

Men being poncy!

Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75)

Look, the 1920s happened!

But I can recommend the 2010-12 sequel! It’s 1936 and a new family has moved into 165 Eaton Place — Sir Hallam Holland (a diplomat), his glamorous wife Lady Agnes (played by Keeley Hawes), and her sister Lady Persephone (played by Claire Foy). There is DRAMA and lots of interwoven stories, many of which focus on fascism in Britain as World War II looms.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12)

Lady Persephone (Claire Foy) is allll about starting trouble.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12)

Lady Sylvia is glam, and Sir Hallam is dapper.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12)

Alex Kingston plays an independent writer.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12)

Eileen Atkins (right) is the grand dame.

Downstairs: Equal time was given to the staff in the original 1970s production, hence the title! You’ve got your butler, cook, maids, footmen, and more, all having their own storylines.

021-upstairs-downstairs-theredlist pmrosmbr

In the 2010s sequel, Jean Marsh reprises her role from the 1970s version, and there’s a whole new cast of characters playing servants … although I admit, I don’t remember any of their plot lines!

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12)

Okay, now I do remember that the chauffeur (blonde guy on the right) was kind of hot…

 

4. Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

The House: Alconleigh, the country estate of the cash-poor Radlett family. Modeled on the childhood home of Nancy Mitford, whose semi-autobiographical novel this is based on.

The real Batsford Park, which played the part of Alconleigh in Love in a Cold Climate (2001).

The real Batsford Park, which played the part of Alconleigh in Love in a Cold Climate (2001).

Upstairs: The real Nancy Mitford and her sisters had a very eccentric childhood, and they grew up to be gorgeous, stylish, and sometimes scandalous in the 1930s and beyond: Nancy was a novelist/biographer and socialite; Diana was a socialite and fascist; Unity became a devotee of Hitler; Jessica moved to the US where she became an author and communist; and Deborah became the 10th Duchess of Devonshire. Sorry, got sidetracked!

In the fictionalized version, Fanny (Rosamund Pike) is the relatively stable character through whom we see the life stories of two of her friends from the 1930s to the 1940s. You see their eccentric late childhood as Fanny periodically visits Linda’s home, Alconleigh. Fanny then marries a nice guy, while friends Linda and Polly don’t fare so well, but make for good drama: Linda marries a guy who just isn’t that into her, and Polly falls in love over and over again, and in the process ends up in Spain during its Civil War, then back to England for World War II. It’s not as good as the book, but it’s a great view of the down-at-the-heels but still-holding-on English aristocracy.

The Mitford sisters - Unity, Diana and Nancy

The real-life Mitford sisters: Unity, Diana, and Nancy.

Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

Polly (left) and Fanny

Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

Linda, Fanny, and Polly

Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

Polly

Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

Linda

Downstairs: They’re only extras here.

 

3. The Buccaneers (1995)

The House: There are actually multiple…

  • You get a glimpse of the society houses of Newport, Rhode Island, when our main characters are first starting out.
Marble House, Newport - The Buccaneers (1995)

Marble House, one of many Newport, Rhode Island mansions featured in The Buccaneers (1995).

  • Runnymede, the idyllic riverside country house in England, where our main characters have a whole lot of fun.
Houghton Lodge - The Buccaneers (1995)

Houghton Lodge, aka Runnymede in The Buccaneers (1995).

  • Allfriars, the huge, cold, imposing, aristocratic house of the Marquess of Brightlingsea and his family, where two of the main characters (Conchita and Jinny) go to live after marrying the sons of the Marquess.
Burghley House - The Buccaneers (1995)

Burghley House, aka Allfriars in The Buccaneers (1995).

  • Longlands, yet another huge, cold, imposing, aristocratic house — of the Duke of Tintagel, where the official main character (Nan) lives after marrying the Duke.
Castle Howard - The Buccaneers (1995)

Castle Howard, aka Longlands in The Buccaneers (1995).

Upstairs: Based on the book by Edith Wharton, which is set in the 1870s but takes inspiration from the real life of Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough — this is the story of four American girls who are new money, so go to England for their debuts … and then get married, and fall in love, and things get complicated. You’ve got lead character Nan (Carla Gugino), who is dreamy and literary and who everyone dismisses as the baby; Jinny (Alison Edwards), her older sister, who is very beautiful and very middle-of-the-road; Lizzy, beautiful but eminently practical; and Conchita (Mira Sorvino), half-Brazilian, half-American, and very wild. Their bustle gowns are To Die For — seriously, if you like this era, you MUST see this — and the Brits are cold and haughty and stiff. Oh, and Greg Wise!

The Buccaneers (1995)

The buccaneers, young and unjaded: Lizzy (left), Nan (front), Jinny (back), and Conchita (right).

The Buccaneers (1995)

But look who awaits them: aloof, jaded, cash-poor aristocratic Englishmen and piles of dead animals.

The Buccaneers (1995)

Conchita figures out how to play the game.

The Buccaneers (1995)

Jinny suffers.

The Buccaneers (1995)

Nan breaks free.

The Buccaneers (1995)

Check out Nan’s evening gown, plus Your Dreamy Boyfriend and Mine Greg Wise!

Downstairs: Nada! Unless you count Nan’s governess, Laura Testvalley, who is in that in-between place. She’s a key character and has her own storyline that’s very sweet and heartbreaking.

The Buccaneers (1995)

Miss Testvalley (left), probably the best governess in the whole world.

 

2. Berkeley Square (1998)

The House: Multiple aristocratic townhouses all located on Berkeley Square, London.

Berkeley Square (1998)

Houses in Berkeley Square (1998).

Upstairs: It’s 1902, and London’s elite families living on Berkeley Square have babies, and so they need nannies. The upstairs families play second fiddle to the downstairs, but they’re definitely around, having complicated affairs and wearing nice Edwardian wear.

Berkeley Square (1998) Berkeley Square (1998) Berkeley Square (1998) Berkeley Square (1998)

Downstairs: Three nannies work in houses next door to each other. Matty is no-nonsense but falls for a hot, troubled footman; Hannah has an out-of-wedlock baby; and Lydia is sensitive and naive. They all wear smashing early Edwardian tailored suits while getting to know each other, dealing with their aristocratic employers, plotting fellow servants, cute footman, illegitimate babies, and more!

Berkeley Square (1998)

Hannah, Lydia, and Matty

Berkeley Square (1998)

Tailored suits for outerwear.

Berkeley Square (1998)

Hangin’ at the park.

Berkeley Square (1998)

Cute (and dangerous) boys.

Berkeley Square (1998)

Nice hats.

 

1. Gosford Park (2001)

The House: Gosford Park, of course. A dead ringer for Downton Abbey, really — another huge, sprawling, cold, aristocratic, country house. Did you know that Downton was originally planned by screenwriter Julian Fellowes as a sequel or spin-off of Gosford Park?

Syon House - Gosford Park (2001)

Syon House, aka Gosford Park (2001).

Upstairs: It’s a house party/shooting weekend at Sir William’s country estate, and someone ends up murdered. There’s various well-to-do folks, each with their own agendas: Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) is bored; the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) is at at her Dowager Countess-y best, full of biting bon-mots; and everyone is unhappy, having an affair, in need of money, or something else that makes things Not All That They Seem. Oh, and the 1930s evening wear is To Die For!

950

All your upper-class twits, all in one place.

Gosford Park (2001)

Jaded Lady Sylvia and daughter Isobel.

Gosford Park (2001)

Lady Stockbridge is ultra-fashionable.

Gosford Park (2001)

The Countess of Trentham — obvious inspiration for Maggie Smith’s later role on Downton Abbey.

Gosford Park (2001)

Commander Meredith, in desperate need of money.

Downstairs: The servants get equal time, and they very much 1) have their own agendas, and 2) are very intertwined in the upstairs people’s lives.

Gosford Park (2001)

Housemaid Elsie, tart and knowledgeable.

Gosford Park (2001)

Arthur serving drinks. Yes, that is Spratt, the Dowager Countess’s butler on Downton Abbey.

Gosford Park (2001)

Naive housemaid Mary (Kelly Macdonald, right) learns a lot in the space of one weekend.

GosfordPark_2001-2

Valet Parks (Clive Owen) smolders.

 

Who doesn’t want to live in a huge, cold, opulent (and possibly crumbling) house??!!

18 Responses

  1. Sarah V

    Gosford Park has the women in svelte, glamorous evening wear, but their tweeds/hunting/lunching seats are really ugly to the contemporary eye.

    It also really makes me really happy to not have been born in such a straitjacketed, class-based society!

    Reply
  2. Trystan L. Bass

    I *love* the original Upstairs Downstairs, & apparently I’m going to have to get the DVDS & strap Kendra in a chair to make her watch them all! The stories & acting are SO good, the costumes are good, & the masters & the servants get equal time. And yes, it was Downton before Downton, just as massively popular in the UK & US, with cliffhangers & melodrama & rabid fans (like me!) going nuts, which was worse back then bec. we didn’t have the interwebs & you had to wait FOREVER for PBS to get the new eps!

    Reply
  3. Donna

    I’m with Trystan on the original Upstairs Downstairs … it was great. Another that kinda fits in this genre is the Duchess of Duke Street … downstairs comes up in the world and lives in the upstairs world.

    Reply
  4. Kate

    I love this! I have to say that Love in a Cold Climate is my absolute favorite movie and Christmas classic in my family. All of Nancy Mitford’s books are worth a read too – snarky, intelligent, and very human, a kind of early 20th century Jane Austen but with more realistic situations. That being said,I think your description switched the roles of Polly (in love with Guy, a man who couldn’t care less) and Linda (with her many tragic love affairs and adventures).

    I would also look into North and South which is an industrial revolution retelling of Pride and Prejudice and absolutely delicious.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Yes, Nancy Mitford’s books are great! Thanks for the catch on the character swap. And yes, North & South (not the Patrick Swazye series) was fabulous. I need to rewatch it!

      Reply
  5. Kelly

    To balance out the upstairs heavy list, there’s also “The Remains of the Day.”

    Also, I recommend Manor House to anyone who wants to see the reality of what downstairs staff had to do back in the day. It’s also a great psychological study. The people playing the upstairs family start thinking of themselves as entitled and that the servants love them, but actually the servants think the Lord’s a twat. And the lady’s maid gets to talk about clothing and hairstyles a lot.

    Reply
  6. Gail

    The original “Upstairs, Downstairs” is worth watching – especially for the WWI episodes and the aftermath of the war. It was Downton before there was Downton, and ironically, shares a lot of plot points.
    By the way, there is no “165 ” Eaton Place – tis just a fictional number, and in the re-boot, I believe Alex Kingston played an archeologist.

    another oldie but goodie is “The Forsythe Saga” – yes, it may seem “oddly filmed” and in black and white, but the drama and the acting still holds true. The one major improvement in the newer, color version is a chilling Damien Lewis as Soames. If I remember correctly, I think they wore actual 19th c. clothing in the black and white series.

    Reply
  7. Ester

    Kelly Mcdonalds character Mary is not a housemaid but a Lady’s maid. Nitpicking, I know, but isn’t that what we are here for. ;)

    Reply
  8. birdreport

    The costumes on the new Upstairs Downstairs might be good, but the story is the most PC, revisionist piece of trash to ever come out of the BBC. The history is SO bad, it’s painful. I literally couldn’t finish it… and I can finish anything.

    Reply

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