Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Same old story for actresses

Upstairs, Downstairs made a return to television screens this week, many years after it was finally put out to grass for being dated and out of step with the times.

Now that recession has us all on our uppers, supposedly there's a feeling that we might all relate again to the travails of a life in service, as depicted in the BBC's three part serialisation.

Downton Abbey (ITV's interpretation of the same formula) was certainly well received.

And Upstairs works to a similar template with a similar household cast. Interestingly, it was originally devised by two young actresses, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who felt there was a dearth of roles for women like themselves.

Ironically, major roles in both Downton and Upstairs now go to older actresses playing the respective dowagers in the two series.

Ironically, because in real life dowagers - feisty oul' girls not afraid to let rip when required - are something of an endangered species. As they grapple for television roles these days, the pressure is on older women in public life to attempt to deny their years.

Those happy to be seen as less than well-preserved, botoxed and glamorous, often opt (like Ann Widdecombe) for the comedy role. One where they're very definitely the joke.

It's hard to think of real-life female rottweilers like those fictional dowagers of Downton and Upstairs still commanding respect despite the very obvious evidence of their advancing years.

Today they wouldn't even make the panel in Strictly Come Dancing.

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