Alex Kingston and Kenneth Cranham join cast of Upstairs Downstairs

by Lisa McGarry

BBC One’s hugely anticipated revival of legendary drama Upstairs Downstairs, which was a smash hit with viewers old and new, attracting audiences of over 8.4 million, begins filming six episodes with two stellar additions to the star-studded line-up: Alex Kingston and Kenneth Cranham.
Alex Kingston (Moll Flanders, ER, Doctor Who), and Kenneth Cranham (The Night Watch, Made In Dagenham) will join the cast when viewers return to the famous Eaton Square, London address, two years on, in 1938 when Chamberlain is in power.

Alex Kingston says: “I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to get inside the iconic 165 Eaton Place and join a show steeped in such history but that has been revived for a whole new generation. I will be playing the uncompromising, straight speaking spinster, Dr Blanche Mottershead, the younger sister of the late Maud, Lady Holland and Sir Hallam’s Aunt. Heidi [Thomas, writer] really has created a wonderfully, intriguing character in Blanche who will, over time, reveal some secrets of her own.”

Kenneth Cranham joins the cast as Sergeant Ashworth, a police officer who answers an emergency call at 165 Eaton Place. Having fought on the front line in the Great War, he finds Mr Pritchard’s past as a conscientious objector appalling and torments him about it, setting off a chain of events which leads to near collapse downstairs.

Other new characters set to cause drama, intrigue and passion among the household in the new series are Caspar Landry, a charismatic, American, multi-millionaire, introduced to Lady Agnes by Joseph Kennedy who is instantly charmed by her. Lady Agnes is taken with this refreshing, vibrant American, who offers her a wealth of hope and possibility in a dark and fearful pre-war London…

Beryl Ballard is the nursery maid who arrives at 165 Eaton Place, harbouring a tragic secret. She personifies the modern young woman, and proves a vibrant catalyst for change within the house. However, a romance forces her to search her heart, and reconsider her own plans… will the course of true love run smoothly?

The series, which follows the lives and loves of the Holland family and servants will chart a period of social change in Britain in which class structures and relationships between master and servant are tested to their limits.

Writer Heidi Thomas, says: “The really exciting thing for me about Upstairs Downstairs is the way in which public events and private lives intertwine. Outside 165 Eaton Square, London and Europe are poised on the knife-edge of calamity. Inside, there’s a whole world of dark and dangerous emotions to explore.”

Returning as head of the household is Ed Stoppard as diplomat Sir Hallam Holland and his wife and new mother, Lady Agnes played by Keeley Hawes. Jean Marsh is Housekeeper, Mrs Rose Buck; Anne Reid is Mrs Thackeray, the loyal cook; Claire Foy is Lady Persie Towyn, Lady Agnes’s sister and feisty debutante; Art Malik is Mr Amanjit, Lady Holland’s brooding private secretary; Blake Ritson is the Duke of Kent, a close confidant of Sir Hallam Holland; and Nico Mirallegro is Johnny Proude, the charming and hardworking footman. Adrian Scarborough is Mr Pritchard the sleek, discreet butler and Neil Jackson is Harry Spargo the good-looking and cock-sure chauffeur.

Executive producer and Head of Drama BBC Wales, Faith Penhale adds: “Heidi’s scripts are exquisite and I can’t wait to see our wonderful cast and exciting new arrivals Alex Kingston and Kenneth Cranham bring their characters to life. We return to Upstairs Downstairs in September 1938, and our story spans the 12 months leading up to war. The ensuing months will be filled with passion, intrigue, laughter and heartbreak. There is a whole world to play for!”

“Upstairs Downstairs was an unqualified hit when it aired on Masterpiece last year. More than seven million viewers tuned in,” says Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. ” We’ll miss Eileen [Atkins], but our audience will be excited to see Alex and Kenneth in the cast; Alex’s performance as Moll Flanders has made her a Masterpiece favourite. “