Sunday, September 29, 2013

My All-Time Favorite Series – The British Invasion

One of my readers, (thank you Marge) asked if I'd recommend my top ten series and once I got started, well, try as I might to winnow down the list, my top ten grew, I ended up with sixteen — and even that was a sacrifice!  So to spare you all, I'm breaking up my favorites into segments and I hope you'll agree with, watch and enjoy my choices and/or post your favorites in the Comments section and set me straight!
The Brits certainly know how to do series and though there are many (Lillie, Foyle's War, Prime Suspect, Downton Abbey and more)these four five, in chronological order of production,  I love and could watch again and again.  

The mother of all-series-Masterpiece-Theatre — Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75) tells the story of the aristocratic Bellamy family living at 165 Eaton Place with their butler, housekeeper, parlor maids, footmen, cooks and nannies who live downstairs and serve selflessly day and night.  As such, those “Downstairs” are privy to the emotional highs and lows of the Bellamys living their lives under the scrutiny of society and their own lives rise and fall on that of their masters and mistresses.  Swindles, scandals, the sinking of the Titanic, and horrors of trench warfare in World War I, are just some among the many trials and tribulations that beset the Bellamys.  Lady Marjorie (the real blue blood in the family), Lord Bellamy, son James and daughter Elizabeth, Hudson the butler, Mrs. Bridges the cook, Rose, Sarah, Edward and so many more — it's a cast of characters — above and below stairs — you'll find yourself loving.

Based on the real-life story of Rosa Ovenden Lewis who became known as the "Queen of Cooks" and successfully ran London’s Cavendish Hotel, The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77) follows little Louisa Layton as she works her Cockney self up from a scullery maid to a hired cook to a renowned chef and hotelier to royalty.

The hard-working, hard-scrubbing Louisa suffers a terrible forced-on-her marriage and prejudices against women in the kitchen and in business.  But she and her magnificent culinary talents catch the stomach and the eye of Edward the VII, Prince of Wales. Edward — who later becomes King — helps pave the way for the upper-crust society that comes to patronage Louisa's food and her Bentinck Hotel.  Louisa Trotter’s a tough cookie with a keen sense of business and the perseverance to pursue her dreams against tough odds.  Wait’ll you see the lavish ten-course meals that were de rigueur in her day!

Tenko (1981-84) opens in 1942 Singapore  as the well-dressed wives and girlfriends of British officials and military officers spend their days lunching and shopping, and nights drinking cocktails at Raffles Hotel and dining at the club — all while being waited on hand and foot by South Asian servants who tend to their every whim.  But when the Japanese invade Singapore and take control, the world these British (Australian and Dutch) women have known and enjoyed, crumbles week by week.

On the right, Marion Jefferson becomes de facto leader
and at left, you may recognize actress Stephanie Beacham
who later became a character on the TV series Dallas.
Trapped and beaten down by primitive living quarters, lack of food and medicine, and the constant stand-til-you-drop call to “Tenko” (roll-call in Japanese) episode after episode we see how some women adapt, others rise to become leaders, and still others refuse to accept their harsh new reality and die off one by one.  It’s a startling look at the rise and fall of a class of women we don’t usually see experience degradation and deprivation.  Based on the internment of British military nurse and WWII POW Margot Turner, Tenko takes us into the depths of despair as women who never had to think about much in their lives, have to think, work, and fight to get along and survive their cruel existence as prisoners — and after the Japanese surrender — the emotional challenges as they return to what will never again be "life-as-normal" for any one of them.
Next in the line-up comes The Jewel in the Crown (1984) the spectacular story written by Paul Scott in The Raj Quartet (book covers above) that chronicles the dissolving reign of the British in India — those who are willing to move forward with India’s emergence to self-rule and those stubbornly unwilling to relinquish their rule.  Particularly standout in the series is the battle of wills between English-educated Hari Kumar (left) and lower “caste” Colonel Merrick (right) who can’t forgive the loss of power that is slipping through his fingers.  Covering the end of WWII, the decline of the British Empire and the rise of India's independence Jewel in the Crown is a fascinating history lesson and the succession of female leads — from the hesitant, mild-mannered Daphne Manners to the budding feminist Sarah Layton — provides an amazing contrast of women in the 40s.  And — Ronald Merrick is someone you'll love to hate.

The Forsyte Saga I & II (2002 - 2003)  Well, I just couldn't leave this one out.  As one viewer said, this series is "a sumptuous delight" — from the brilliant acting to the fabulous costumes to the intricate plot lines that pit two diametrically opposed cousins of wealth  — the uptight controlling Soames (played by Homeland's Damian Lewis) and the compassionate independent-minded Jolyon Forsyte in a clash over personal values and the enigmatic Irene (pronounced I-ree-NEE and played by Gina McKee) that spans the 1870s to the 1920s and three generations of Forsyte-family perils and pleasures.  [Don't confuse this with the earlier BBC black & white version of The Forsyte Saga produced in 1967.] This series transits the sins of the fathers on their sons, daughters, and next generation of daughters and sons as they endure, live with, and rebel against the Forsyte family traditions and long-hidden secrets that eventually come to light.  There is something splendid about the people, the period and the show's focus on art and architecture through the decades.

Next up: My All-Time Favorite Series – Workplace Drama


  1. Excellent series! Looking forward to the next installment. I loved The Jewel in the Crown (and the books), but I'm not familiar with Tenko. Thanks for the reviews.

  2. The other British Invasion, "Absolutely Fabulous!"

    1. Well Hylla, I'm sorry to say that I'm not into humor and definitely not the British version!! I fear I'm lacking the gene ...