La BBC vient en effet d'arrêter la série après deux saisons. La télévision est décidément un monde impitoyable et ce n'est pas Upstairs Downstairs qui dira le contraire. La série vient en effet de connaître un destin funeste après deux années d'existence, puisque la BBC, qui la diffuse, a décidé de ne pas la renouveler pour une troisième saison. Upstairs Downstairs était un remake de la série du même nom produite et diffusée entre et sur ITV. Les téléspectateurs avaient pu s'y délecter de la vie des Bellamy, une famille d'aristrocrates anglais, ainsi que de celle de ses domestiques, entre et Des vies s'entrecroisant chaque jour dans la demeure des Bellamy située au Eaton Place, avec cependant une séparation nette enre une famille fortunée vivant en haut et les domestiques, en bas, séparation matérialisée par un simple escalier.
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His wife Lady Agnes is soon shown as going to a domestic employment agency to recruit a set of six servants as the couple needs to entertain diplomats and other prominent people.
Now a widow, Lady Maud returns to England to live with her son, Sir Hallam, and she arrives in the first episode with an urn, a monkey and a Sikh Indian personal secretary, Mr Amanjit, who is there to help her write her memoirs after being at her service in India for some years already.
In his case, the server-served relationship is therefore reduplicated by the colonizer-colonized relationship at a time when India still belonged to the British Empire and I shall bear in mind here how this specific status of Mr Amanjit influences the kind of relationship he may have with the Holland family. Yet, what may be regarded as a form of physical distance on the parts of both masters and personal secretary is actually countered by a strong form of reciprocal loyalty, leading the two parties to engage with matters that entail an individual and collective dimension, or, to put it differently, an intimate and a national dimension, which is made visually perceptible on the screen as well.
One may note that memoirs point to the fairly public dimension of her narrative, which is not an autobiography, so that Mr Amanjit is never allowed into more than an account of a personal viewpoint on experiences that are never intimate. Ironically though, and proleptically, Mr Amanjit is later shown tuning in the wireless for the Hollands in the drawing room and playing the piano at one of their parties S01E01 , so that the series stages him as a discreet presence, whose own personal voice is not heard yet in discussions, but who is constantly heard as the physical provider of news information or as the final musical touch to a social gathering of political acquaintances.
It may be tempting to describe such a mute role as that of the jewel in the crown of the Holland family, which it is undeniably — but only up to a certain point. We may assume that he is employed as a bonded servant to Lady Maud, but we are never explained how he is entitled to remain at the service of the young Holland couple when Lady Maud dies between season 1 and season 2. The fact that her death takes place in a narrative ellipsis may account for the reinforced vagueness of his subsequent official status.
His in-between status in the house, as belonging neither completely to upstairs nor to downstairs, implicitly points to his ethnic specificity, even though once again this is never given as a reason for the physical distance that he feels he must maintain with his masters, but also with the servants.
Interestingly, the fact that his Indian origin is an accepted fact that keeps him apart from the other servants is unveiled thanks to a conversation he has in the middle of season 1 with a new maid, Rachel, who reveals to him that, as a Jew, she had to resign from her position as a university professor in Frankfort so as to flee Germany with her daughter. Her explicit speech about the racism she suffered from may be read as an indirect comment on his own situation as a character who is relatively marginalised on account of his ethnic background.
As he turns round to look at the newly-arrived Rachel, the focus on his face sharpens and attracts our attention to his growing relevance for the plot, considering that Lady Maud remains at the centre of the shot, even though blurred in the background and slightly pushed to the right of the shot.
This moment also mirrors the situation of Lady Maud at the beginning of season 1, when she puts the urn of her late husband on the mantelpiece of her study room while referring to the Sikhs' conception of death as a passing though fire. Actually, far from reducing him to the animal level, these two scenes also point to the range of his abilities, which are not limited to typing and proof-reading skills, and to some of his moral qualities such as self-control when confronted with panic and sympathy when facing the destitution of a weaker being.
This moral dimension of his character is definitely the one that is most invested by the TV series, and the domain where his interactions with master characters are made most manifest through a combination of more frequent physical presence in the shots and gradual integration in the dialogues between himself and the master characters.
Conversely, another scene underlines the sense of consistency between personal and professional commitment, when Lady Agnes asks Mr Amanjit to replace the butler, Mr Pritchard. An earlier conversation between Mr Amanjit and Sir Hallam, which is one of the rare actual discussions they have together while alone, had enabled Mr Amanjit to disclose that he had been a soldier in the Indian troops that fought alongside the allies in France during World War I.
He then confides to Sir Hallam that he was in the Jallundur 59th Brigade and confirms to him that he was wounded at Ypres, where most of the Indian soldiers involved in this battle died or were injured. So the TV series foregrounds Mr Amanjit as not only replacing key male figures downstairs, but also potentially replacing the master figure as moral and physical defender, both of the written heritage of his mother and of his entire household.
Fanthorne's novel entitled A Tale of the Indian Mutiny of 12Flora Annie Steel A tale of the Mutiny 14 15The Far Pavilions 16 in which young orphaned 17Still, the growing agency of the character of Mr Amanjit remains under control and operates from the heart of a household that has adopted him, from the centre of the British Empire and close to the heart of the British government.
Thus, on several occasions starting at the end of season 1, Mr Amanjit is staged in short moments of political conversations where his ideas are opposed, debated, or willingly accepted by the strong-willed and independent character of Blanche in particular, underlining his decisive participation in the group of master characters. A last example indeed reminds Mr Amanjit that the outside world is not as benevolent as the Holland masters, when he is asked by a waiter in a tea parlour to move from the front room to the back room as there is no place for him in the front room.
He is thus depicted as a servant who generally embraces the cause of Great Britain but remains oblivious to what was going on in India in the s, at a time when frustrated claims of home-rule had given way to demands for total independence and partition, especially after the rejection of the Government of India Act.
Indeed, Mr Amanjit appears to never question the option of Indians supporting the war effort or not. Added to the fact that the TV series represents a Sikh Indian character rather than a Hindu or a Muslim character, this choice may be a way of overlooking the internal divergences that opposed the Indian National Congress with a Hindu majority to the Muslim League as to the renewal of India's participation to a second world war, and to recycle the now well-known presence of a majority of Sikh soldiers in the British army during the two world wars.
This reality contributed to fuelling the stereotypical figure of the fierce Sikh warrior who does not betray, going back to the numerous Sikh soldiers who remained faithful to the British colonizers during the Sepoy Mutiny. By reminding TV viewers that their recent national and European history was the result of numerous collaborations based on trust and common moral and political values between colonizers and colonized, between served and server, the show also provides positive images of an Indian servant as a steadfast supporter and protector of Great Britain, like many others in his time, and many others today.
Indeed, Mr Amanjit is depicted as the embodiment of a successful and fruitful outcome of the colonizer-colonized relationship that evolves into a partnership which remains unequal but which turns out to be beneficial for both parties. But this perspective was already introduced on British big and small screens by such script writers as Hanif Kureishi in My Beautiful Laundrette or The Buddha of Suburbia BBC, — so that Upstairs Downstairs looks a little outdated, or at least progressive in a retrograde and benign way.
The casting of Art Malik in the role of Mr Amanjit as a middle-aged compliant man may also come as a disappointment for spectators who remember his central and sensational role as a young British Asian student in the mini-series The Jewel in the Crown ITV, taking place in India between and In this story, a dashing Hari Kumar discovers India after living most of his life in England, and challenges British propriety abroad by falling in love with a young white British woman, which proves fatal for the two of them.
Even though a Raj revival TV series, The Jewel in the Crown was audacious enough to cast the unknown Art Malik as a rebellious young man who felt more British than Indian and died from challenging the prejudices and violence of some British protagonists. Upstairs, Downstairs ironically gives us to see a more tamed version and interpretation of the young independent and rebellious mind Art Malik used to embody in The Jewel in the Crown, implicitly pointing to the lack of prominent roles that this kind of programmes can offer today to an actor of his age and status.
If the latter plays a lower key than the glamorous Downton Abbey, it is my intention here to point out a particularity not chosen by the rival TV series, which is embodied by the choice to introduce a regular Indian character in the cast.
"Upstairs Downstairs" annulée par la BBC
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