Upmarket, Downmarket

Apologies for back-sliding into sin of blog neglect. I'm up to my eyebrows in work on my book, and when I am done for the day, the last thing I want to do is spend more time in front of the computer.

But I do have a tip for voracious fans of British TV who have already gone through the better known classics. The House of Eliott, a series about two sisters who start a fashion business in the years after World War One, was never shown in the US. It was also knocked for being the last production shot on videotape in the BBC Television Centre, and (more serious) for concentrating on two touchy British themes: social class, and the relation between art and commerce.

There are some awkward moments in the series, on both fronts. The ancient tradition of treating the working class in a comic-ignoble way and the upper class in a tragic-noble way, persists to a degree. But this is not a series about the working class and the upper class, it's pre-eminently and definitively a series about the middle class. What's more, it's about three flawed but admirably brave and resourceful entrepreneurs: the Elliot sisters Beatrice (Stella Gonet) and Evangeline (Louise Lombard), and their good friend (and eventually husband to Bea) Jack Maddox (Aden Gillett).

Fashion, even the haute couture undertaken by the House of Eliott, is not considered serious art. On the contrary, it is regarded as a parasitical growth, feeding off genuine creativity not contributing to it. Its elitist clientele only add to the problem. It is extremely hard to deal with these topics in a TV series, not least because TV itself suffers from some of the same disdain. But we are in a golden age of longform TV these days, and programs like The House of Elliot made that possible by exploring their characters and themes at novelistic length. It helps that this show was "devised" (as the Brits put it) by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who also created (the hell with "devised") the unforgettable 1970s series, Upstairs, Downstairs.

Unfortunately, the Beeb canceled The House of Elliot after the final episode of the third season was completed, so many loose ends were never tied up. But if you are willing to tolerate that (and some unattractive opening credits), you will be richly rewarded.

February 8, 2008 11:14 AM |



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This page contains a single entry by Martha Bayles published on February 8, 2008 11:14 AM.

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