The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-1977)

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I’ve been working my way through The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-1977) which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video currently. Normally, I am not a big fan of Edwardian costumes, so when I sat down to start the series I wasn’t banking on the costumes drawing me in. Instead, I had heard over the years about how good the series was, mainly in reference to Gemma Jones’ eponymous “duchess,” a self-made woman who rises through the ranks of society to become a world famous chef and hotelier.

Jones’ character, Louisa Trotter, is heavily based on a real woman by the name of Rosa Lewis, who purportedly got her start in her career after becoming one of Edward VII’s numerous mistresses. The series was created by the same team as Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1975) and follows a similar format, but with the focus on Louisa, who moves between both strata of society with relative ease (although not without bumps along the way). And if you’re any kind of foodie, this show delivers a nice snapshot of early 20th-century cuisine to tempt your palate (and no, it’s not all jellied eels).

The costumes were designed by Betty Aldiss, with the usual 1970s BBC attention to period detail that we all expect from this era. I’ll admit, once Louisa moved out of the kitchen as an assistant cook and started ascending the ranks of high society, the costumes became a lot more interesting. I even found myself developing something of an appreciation for the era’s aesthetics, as it moved from the tail end of the Victorian era, into the Edwardian. The full breadth of the series covers the very last year of Victoria’s reign all the way into the 1920s, but I haven’t yet gotten out of the early 1900s (I’m probably around 1905, give or take, 8 episodes into the first season).

Typical working wear for Louisa when she’s on the clock. But don’t be fooled by the prim apron, Louisa is a woman who likes a good time.

 

Lacy and feminine blouses and skirts don’t do much to hide Louisa’s fiery personality.

 

Louisa’s outfit when she does the morning shopping at the local market is a smart and subdued jacket and skirt in brown wool, with a crisp white shirtwaist and stylish hat.

 

Louisa’s right-hand woman is Mary (middle, played by Victoria Plucknett), and her doorman, Starr (played by John Cater). Both characters are developed over the series with interesting side plots and backstories.

 

If Edwardian women’s fashion is your jam, you can’t do much better when it comes to eye candy than this show.

 

One of my favorite costumes for Louisa so far is this white silk dress with black dots and black edging on the collar and sleeves. It was hard to get a good full length shot of it, unfortunately.

 

The back view of the dress, showing the interesting detailing around the yoke, and the fact that the fabric is actually cream with a self-stripe and black woven dots. Really, really classy.

 

Louisa isn’t the only character to get interesting clothing. Many of the guests at the Bentnick Hotel have fabulous wardrobes to suit their poshy position in society.

 

Louisa wears a dark blue silk gown with black lace inserts in this scene. Alas, the film quality is poor, but that’s the trade off with these old BBC films … The costuming and sets are spot-on, but the fact that many of these shows were recorded from the broadcast, not from the original film, means the quality is less than desirable. Can you believe there was a time where we didn’t think there was anything wrong with this?

 

Louisa wears a creamy white satin evening gown in two different episodes. The interesting thing is that she first wears it with her first meeting with then-Prince Edward as his mistress, and then pulls it out a few episodes (years) later to wear for another rendezvous with a different suitor.

 

Another one of Louisa’s daywear looks. The slight pigeon breast to the front of the bodice and the fuller sleeves are spot-on for the early-20th century.

 

I especially liked Louisa’s morning gown in this scene. The show does a very good job of putting Louisa in all the various styles worn throughout the day for an upper-class woman.

 

 

Have you watched The Duchess of Duke Street? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

20 Responses

  1. Fran in NYC

    This is a great series and it’s good to be reminded of how great the costuming is! As Louisa gets older, she becomes a little annoying with her developing snobbery. Gemma Jones is great! I remembered her from “The Spoils of Poynton” which was aired during Masterpiece Theater’s first year!

    Reply
  2. Constance

    I watched this several years ago on Youtube with even less clarity of the film…but at least the BBC finally started saving shows i instead of taping over them or losing them altogether. There are many we will never see. I liked this series for the most part though it could have been more compact probably. I remember endless episodes.

    Reply
  3. Michael McQuown

    Saw it the first time around. Was in SCA at the time, and everybody was watching it. And later, Poldark. At this point in time, it’s historical in more ways than one. When I was in school in England, “Edwardian” was all the rage in the form of the Teddy Boys, Louisa’s lot seem to have been a bit short in the straight-razor department.

    Reply
  4. krismcd59

    Wait till you get to WWI in the second season, with Louisa’s immaculately tailored military-inspired fashions. You’ll swoon! The (sadly late) Christopher Cazenove’s Charlie becomes such an interesting, complex character too. Still one of my favorite BBC series of all time (probably the foodie angle).

    Reply
  5. Tracey

    I love this show. This and Upstairs downstairs really cemented my love of costume drama at a young age. Specifically my love of Edwardian costume.

    Reply
  6. Frances Germeshausen

    We recently watched this as well. What amazed me was she’d go into the kitchen in those gorgeous blouses, slap on an apron and those little sleeve cover thingies at start whipping things. I know what a mess I make – I’d have been terrified! Oils just don’t want to come out, and it’s not like they had Dawn laying around in the era. Really loved. it. 2nd series was behind a paywall, so we switched up to Sharpe after that.

    Reply
    • florenceandtheai

      I’d feel the same way! Give me a tent apron and I might feel a little safer. Lord help me if I was baking.

      Reply
  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    No, I’ve never watched this one, though I think it’s been referenced on this blog a few times. Usually, the fashion of this era doesn’t really get me going, but I must agree that the costumes in these screencaps are eye-catching. Gemma Jones is a terrific actress, so I might add this series to my queue.

    Reply
  8. Kris

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewatched this Brilliant PBS Masterpiece Theatre production 😃
    Might I also suggest a review of “The House of Elliott” as well? Unless you’ve already done one and I’ve missed it.

    Reply
    • Ms. Heather Ripley

      Goodness yes, House of Elliot has the most delicious fashions!!! I love the Duchess of Duke Street. Gemma was marvelous and I adored the story of a strong woman who dresses well while she works her way up the ladder of success.

      Reply
  9. Susan Pola Staples

    Yes. I loved it and have seen it several times and am planning on rewatching it tonight and tomorrow. Loved the dog.

    Reply
  10. Cathleen Myers

    “Good food, simply cooked” – the secret of true Haute Cuisine from Louisa Trotter’s mentor, Monsieur Alex! I’ve never forgotten that!

    Reply
  11. Earlleen

    I never watched Upstairs Downstairs. The duchess was my first foray into British frock flicks.

    Reply
    • Constance

      The original U/D is worth watching…still out there to watch, right now with Britbox I think.

      Reply
  12. Hooley

    Loved it as a teen and on my Amazon watch list to see again (after I finish Hornblower on Youtube).

    Reply
  13. Suzanne

    I loved how as she got older how she got more and more old-fashioned. It was really in keeping with the character.

    Reply

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