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6 Shows like Upstairs Downstairs: Varied Edwardian Ensembles

Kristen O'Neal itcherPerhaps the original workplace drama, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ reveals the effort involved in running a household is as vast as the cast that supports it – old and young, upper class and servants, resulting in plenty of intrigue when you put them all together. For shows set in the early twentieth century that follow a group of diverse people in a household over many years, check out ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Grand Hotel’, or any of the rest of these fascinating shows like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’.
~ Kristen O’Neal

Two Kinds of Family

165 Eaton Place, London, is a home that sees a lot of history, intrigue, and drama.  After more than thirty years off the air, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ returned to the BBC exactly where it left off, with the same house and housekeeper, but an entirely different family and group of household staff.

Both series focus on the relationships forged in the house, the family upstairs that deals with their own drama, the ‘family’ downstairs that learns to work together despite their differences, and the intersection of these two worlds – more prevalent, it would seem, as time marches forward. ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ allows us to watch not only the changes in the cast but also the changes in four decades of English life and history, from 1903 to 1939.

If you were fascinated by the lives of the Bellamy and Holland families, the lives of their staff, and the changes in historical period, you’ll love these other shows like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’.

‘Downton Abbey’ (ITV, 2010-present)

This vast and character-driven drama gained popularity quickly, following the old, well-to-do Crawley family and their staff from 1912 to 1924 through both personal and social changes.  Its cast of characters is enormous but never overwhelming, and the show interweaves the storylines of maids, ladies, footmen, gentlemen, and everyone in between – while also bringing in historical events like World War I, Irish-English relations, and the fall of the aristocracy.

Similarity Match: 95%
‘Downton Abbey’s’ premise is almost identical to ‘Upstairs Downstairs’; although the Crawley’s manor is much grander (and a bit more dramatic), both shows deal with the details of running a household in the early 1900s.

‘Grand Hotel’ (Antena 3, 2011-2013)

Julio Olmedo comes to Spain’s Grand Hotel with one aim: find out what’s happened to his sister, Cristina Olmedo, to resolve her sudden disappearance from her job as a maid. He takes his own job as a waiter at the hotel to investigate, along with the help of fellow waiter Andres and the daughter of the hotel owner, Alicia Alarcon. 

However, there is more brewing at the Grand Hotel than meets the eye, and somebody – especially Alicia’s mother, Doña Teresa, hotel manager Diego, and maid Belen – is always trying to hide something.

Similarity Match: 85%
Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, ‘Grand Hotel’ deals with the lives of both classes of people who run a large residence; however, there is an added intrigue of strange disappearances and investigations, and the Alarcon family is always scheming something new.

‘Mr Selfridge’ (ITV, 2013-present)

The year is 1909, and Mr Harry Selfridge, an American businessman, has just opened a department store the likes of which the world has never seen.  His aim is to make shopping into entertainment, but that won’t happen overnight. ‘Mr Selfridge’ dramatizes the historical founder’s story, delving into the team that runs the store and the less-than-honorable affairs of its owner.

Similarity Match: 75%
‘Mr Selfridge’, like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, is a show about a well-oiled machine – in this case, a department store, and not a rich household – and the staff it takes to keep it running.


If You Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, You Will Like…

If you’re a fan of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and the above household dramas, then maybe you’re ready to branch out into another period or another setting. The following three period drama series still deal with social and technological change and large casts of both upper and lower class individuals.

‘Casualty 1900s’ (BBC One, 2006-2009)

This show is not for the squeamish! In a period-drama-meets-medical-series, ‘Casualty 1900s’, also known in other countries as ‘London Hospital’, deals with the fast-paced workings of a 1900s hospital, in which the doctors and nurses try to treat the poorest people in London.  The cases are based on real, historical medical happenings, so you learn something new every time you watch an episode.

The central setting and large, diverse cast that evolves over the course of many years are similar to ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, but the tone of ‘Casualty 1900s’ is very different.

‘Berkeley Square’ (BBC One, 1998)

Three girls from different walks of life – country girl Lydia, single mother Hannah, and head nanny Matty – all attempt to navigate the ups and downs of nannying for wealthy Berkeley Square families in 1902 London, with all the drama and romances that provides.

‘Berkeley Square’, like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, deals with the role of servants in a wealthy household, but this time it focuses on, primarily, the lower-class nannies.

‘Cranford’ (BBC One, 2007-2009)

Based on an Elizabeth Gaskill novel, ‘Cranford’ and its star-studded cast tell the various stories of each of the inhabitants of the small village of Cranford and the changes it undergoes in the 1840s due to the Industrial Revolution (a railway being built close to the village) and due to the everyday changes that life brings. The story focuses most on the village’s controlling older women.

Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, ‘Cranford’ tells the story of a small English community over the course of many years; however, Cranford is a village in the 1840s, not a fancy home in the 1900s.


Intrigue, Drama, and Fun – Period.

We all enjoy taking a short jaunt to the world of the past – for those who don’t want to leave, there are so many more series to enjoy! If you want more of the grittier side of period, try ‘Peaky Blinders’ or ‘Boardwalk Empire’. ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ is in the same mystery-solving vein as ‘Grand Hotel’, and ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ provides a more comedic take on the service industry.

What’s your favorite blast from the past? 

Tell us in the comments below!

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