Skip to Content
Upstairs and downstairs: British costume drama television from The Forsyte saga to Downton Abbey

Upstairs and downstairs: British costume drama television from The Forsyte saga to Downton Abbey

Taddeo, Julie Anne, editor; Leggott, James, editor

This collection addresses the social and political contexts that have shaped the British TV costume drama as well as the changing historical contexts in which such programs are viewed again and again (in syndication, on DVD, youtube, etc.) and are reinterpreted by a thriving twenty-first-century global fan culture. The international success of Downton Abbey has led to a revived interest in period dramas, with older programs like The Forsyte Saga being rediscovered by a new generation of fans whose tastes also include grittier fare like Ripper Street. Though often criticized as a form of escapist, conservative nostalgia, these shows can also provide a lens to examine the class and gender politics of both the past and present. In Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey, James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo provide a collection of essays that analyze key developments in the history of period dramas from the late 1960s to the present day. Contributors explore such issues as how the genre fulfills and disrupts notions of "quality television," the process of adaptation, the relationship between UK and U.S. television, and the connection between the period drama and wider developments in TV and popular culture. Additional essays examine how fans shape the content and reception of these dramas and how the genre has articulated or generated debates about gender, sexuality, and class. In addition to Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, other programs discussed in this collection include Call the Midwife, Danger UXB, Mr. Selfridge, Parade's End, Piece of Cake, and Poldark. Tracing the lineage of costume drama from landmark productions of the late 1960s and 1970s to some of the most talked-about productions of recent years, Upstairs and Downstairs will be of value to students, teachers, and researchers in the areas of film, television, Victorian studies, literature, gender studies, and British history and culture

eBook, Electronic resource, Book. English. Electronic books.
Published Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, [2015]
Rate this

Available: Online

This item is not reservable because:

  • You can only request items from our lending collections. You cannot reserve journals.
  • Online – One available in E-book

    Barcode Shelfmark Loan type Status
    E-book Online Available


Statement of responsibility: edited by James Leggott, Julie Anne Taddeo
ISBN: 1442244836, 9781442244832
Note: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Physical Description: xxx, 291 pages : illustrations (black and white)
Subject: Reference works; Electronic, holographic & video art; United Kingdom, Great Britain; Television series Great Britain.; Popular culture; Performing Arts.; Films, cinema; Clothing and dress on television.; Historical television programs Great Britain History and criticism.; Film history, theory & criticism; Television; Cultural studies
Reproduction: Electronic reproduction. Askews and Holts. Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Other formats: Also available in printed form ISBN 9781442244825


  1. Foreword
  2. Jerome de Groot
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. Introduction
  5. James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo
  7. Pageantry and Populism, Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 1970s
  8. Claire Monk
  9. History’s Drama: Narrative Space in “Golden Age” British Television Drama
  10. Tom Bragg
  11. “It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!”: Costume Comedy and British Television
  12. James Leggott
  13. “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion”: British Costume Drama, Dickens, and Serialization
  14. Marc Napolitano
  15. Neverending Stories?
  16. The Paradise
  17. and the Period Drama Series
  18. Benjamin Poore
  19. Epistolarity and Masculinity in Andrew Davies's Trollope Adaptations
  20. Ellen Moody
  21. “What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?”: Music in the British Serialized Period Drama
  22. Scott Strovas and Karen Beth Strovas
  24. British Historical Drama and the Middle Ages
  25. Andrew B.R. Elliott
  26. Desacralizing the Icon: Elizabeth I and Television
  27. Sabrina Alcorn Baron
  28. “It’s not the navy—we don’t stand back to stand upwards&#148
  29. The Onedin Line
  30. and the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity
  31. Mark Fryers
  32. Good-Bye to All That
  33. Piece of Cake
  34. Danger UXB
  35. and the Second World War
  36. A. Bowdoin Van Riper
  37. Chapter 12
  38. Upstairs, Downstairs
  39. (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement
  40. Giselle Bastin
  41. Downton Abbey
  42. and Heritage
  43. Katherine Byrne
  44. Experimentation and Post-Heritage in Contemporary TV Drama
  45. Parade’s End
  46. Stella Hockenhull
  48. “Why don’t you take her?”: Rape in the
  49. Poldark
  50. Narrative
  51. Julie Anne Taddeo
  52. The Imaginative Power of
  53. Downton Abbey
  54. Fanfiction
  55. Andrea Schmidt
  56. This Wonderful Commercial Machine: Gender, Class, and the Pleasures and Spectacle of Shopping in
  57. The Paradise
  58. and
  59. Mr. Selfridge
  60. Andrea Wright
  61. Taking a Pregnant Pause: Interrogating the Feminist Potential of
  62. Call the Midwife
  63. Louise FitzGerald
  64. Queer Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in
  65. Upstairs, Downstairs
  66. and
  67. Downton Abbey
  68. Lucy Brown
  69. Troubled by Violence: Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in
  70. Ripper Street
  71. Elke Weissmann
  72. Index
  73. About the Editors and Contributors

Author note

James Leggott

teaches film and television at Northumbria University, UK. He has published on various aspects of British film and television culture and is the principal editor of the

Journal of Popular Television


Julie Anne Taddeo

teaches history at the University of Maryland. She is an associate editor of the

Journal of Popular Television

and author of

Lytton Strachey and the Search

for Modern Sexual Identity


She is the editor of

Catherine Cookson:

On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction, and History

(2012) and co-editor of

Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology

(Scarecrow Press, 2012).


A central aim of this book is to follow the evolution of British costume dramas, from the varying approaches to the history and heritage they represent to the sexual politics of feminism, homosexuality, and fandom. Part 1 introduces a range of possible conceptual approaches in highlighting the changing British social and cultural contexts of both production and audience preferences. Part 2 examines the historical accuracy of


productions, including their gender and class roles, and challenges the models of the past as they reveal anxieties about national identity, multiculturalism, and masculinity. Part 3 moves the narrative from the domestic customs and morality of past decades into viewers' contemporary concerns and issues. Some of the BBC and ITV series under discussion may not be familiar to readers in the US, even those who are viewers of PBS fare or video-on-demand offerings, but even so there is much to be gained in traversing the critiques of music, fashions, costumes, and historicity in unwatched series and issues embedded in their texts. Given the present staggering popularity of

Downton Abbey

, both in the UK and globally, the present study is timely and provides a valuable grounding for a genre that is applauded around the world as one of Britain's masterful contributions to quality television. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.