From the mind of John Hawkesworth, the man behind the original, highly acclaimed "Upstairs, Downstairs". Based on a true story. I remember watching this the first time on VHS. Have been through it 3 times now, and often brought others along for the ride. You'll never want to stop hanging around this bunch of characters, they are so golden. And you'll miss them when they're gone. Louisa is played by Gemma Jones, who was the perfect pick for the central role. This is a woman who stays true to herself and kicks the work out the door every single day. Really impressive what she gets done in the kitchen, and with such archaic methods. She falls in love later on in life and what transpires during this period will stick in your mind forever.
Excellent series...but not a very good quality transfer
B. Margolis | Minneapolis, MN United States | 03/10/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Shame that my favorite all-time BBC dramatic series wasn't (apparently) worthy of BBC video doing it up proper.
Although I'm really pleased to finally get this wonderful series on DVD (so far...only Series 1), Acorn Video's transfer quality is patchy to be sure. Episode 6 "For Love Or Money" is very burry.
When you put in a disc, you do not have the "play all" option, either.
You have to view each episode one at a time. That's a bad menu choice.
All in all, I'm happy to have the series, but the quality is not much better than the offical BBC VHS tapes.
Great Television Series. One of the Best.
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 02/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Duchess of Duke Street" is the first series I remember watching on Masterpiece Theater, on PBS. Considering I was 8 or 9 at the time it aired, I think that's pretty fantastic. My mom and step-dad regularly watched programs on PBS, but nothing up to that point interested me. Perhaps it was the budding Anglophile which drew me to the series. I think a large part of what kept me interested was the strong performance by Gemma Jones as Louisa Trotter, a woman in Victorian England, who works very hard to make a living, dealing with many difficulties as she builds an exclusive hotel from the ground up.
The series, originally shown in 1976, was recently released on DVD and it is a welcome addition. Involving stories, great acting, attention to period detail and a story spanning decades helped to create one of the most memorable British television series ever. Watching it again on DVD, I was struck by a number of things. The first is the series is very long. Long for British Television. When the creator of a British television series goes to work, they generally create 6 or 8, maybe 10, infrequently as many as 12 episodes at a time. Each time they go in front of the cameras, they are creating a new "Series"; British shows are measured in terms of series, some add new series every year, some do a couple of series, take some time off and then return a few years later, presumably after some fresh inspiration. Some shows, like "Fawlty Towers" run for 12 episodes and that's it. So watching "The Duchess of Duke Street" again, I was struck that the series includes 31 episodes, more than a traditional "season" on U. S. television. Also, they only did one series. Perhaps Gemma Jones was exhausted.
The series begins with Louisa interviewing with a famous French chef in a large household. The chef is dubious, but Louisa convinces him to give her a try. Soon, he is happy and her place is secure. She begins to soak up information like a sponge. The Head of the House returns from vacation early, while the Chef is still away, and Louisa has to put together a meal quickly. She comes through with flying colors, attracting the attention of one of the guests, the Prince of Wales. They begin an affair, but the Prince can not be seen consorting with a common chef, so an elaborate ruse is created. Louisa will marry the Head Butler. In exchange, they will receive a nice home and "assistance". The Prince will continue to meet Louisa in secret. Along the way, she meets Charlie Tyrrel (Christopher Cazenove), a member of the royal family, and the definition of `playboy.' Their initial meeting doesn't go well. Soon, the prince becomes King Edward and a new era in England begins. Their relationship ends and Louisa decides to open the Bentink Hotel on Duke Street, catering to a very exclusive clientele. During a difficult period, Charlie convinces her to let him lease a suite of rooms, for his use, and helps her keep the hotel open. She will only take in the most exclusive clients, hire the most discerning staff and build a grand reputation. Over the years, Louisa and Charlie develop a relationship which creates a sort of roller coaster ride of its own.
A lot of the power of "Duchess" comes from Gemma Jones performance. Louisa is very strong, able to deal with any of the many problems and situations dealt her throughout her life. A working class girl who recognizes there is more to life than doing laundry or scrubbing floors, she wants to become a cook, despite the scarcity of female chefs in the country, and gets a job with a renowned chef. Working hard, struggling, she learns as much as possible. Soon, she becomes head of her own kitchen, but then the Prince of Wales enters her life and her career ends. Forced into an arranged marriage, for the sake of propriety, she continues to see the Prince of Wales and her husband becomes more and more irritated by the constraints of their marriage. Louisa puts up with very little, but she endures her husband for longer than she should.
After they decide to open the Bentink, against Louisa's better judgment, she begins to see the benefits and puts her all into this project as well. When her husband almost runs it into the ground, she runs him off and struggles to pay off his debts.
The key to Jones performance is she is a very strong woman. She doesn't take a lot of guff and is unwilling to compromise herself or her life for anyone. She doesn't suffer fools gladly. On the rare occasion she does let down her guard, it almost always causes another problem. You might think that she would become even more stoic, even more guarded, and, to a certain extent, she does, but she also still occasionally makes mistakes, adding more problems and drama to her life. In other words, she is human. And Jones does a remarkable job of creating this character, presenting her as a strong-willed woman, capable of making mistakes, but also capable of fixing them.
The two supporting characters who influence her life the most are Charlie and her husband. Both are played well, but Christopher Cazenove has the more romantic, dashing role of becoming Louisa's love.
Another thing that struck me as I watched the series again was that some situations were resolved very quickly, too quickly in some cases. The series runs for 31 episodes, so there is time for the narrative to take its course. It isn't necessary to rush the story. In one episode, Louisa learns she is pregnant. In the next scene, the Hotel staff is making due with her absence while on `vacation'. We learn that her vacation was a ruse to cover her extended stay at a hospital, where she has had a daughter and given her up for adoption. We never meet the daughter, never even see Louisa pregnant, and after this Louisa only mentions the daughter again, very briefly, in a much later episode. Perhaps unwanted pregnancies were taken care of this way in Edwardian England, but the series was shown in the mid-70s, at the height of the Woman's Power movement. It would seem a little more helpful, empowering and more to actually see Louisa deal with this problem in a little more detail.
When the character played by the star takes a "vacation", or is "on assignment", leaving the action to focus on supporting characters, it means one of two things. The star is either directing the episode and can't be in both places at once, or they needed a break. This happens three times over the course of "Duchess". I think the length of the project, and the fact that Jones is in practically every scene of the series, caused her to need an occasional break. So, at one point Louisa is on `vacation', getting a much needed rest. On another, she is off to France to cook a meal for a client. Unfortunately, Louisa is the force of the series, driving everything else. When she isn't around, the supporting characters do an admirable job, but the show is much less captivating and a lot less interesting. These characters are simply not as engaging as Louisa. An episode concerning an affair between a man and women, whom we have just met, proves particularly annoying. Thankfully, these are few and far between.
The series is only slightly dated. The credits and titles are very rudimentary, screaming their origin during the mid 70s. Also, on the few occasions when the story moves outdoors, the footage seems shot with another system completely. If they shot the interior footage on film (which I don't believe to be the case), it looks like the exterior footage was shot on video. The two don't mesh and haven't held up well, so even the interior footage looks slightly glossy, like it was created on early generation video.
These few complaints aside, "The Duchess of Duke Street" is a great series to watch. Gemma Jones gives a forceful, fascinating performance as one of the strongest-willed women you might ever encounter in a series filled with great attention to detail, presenting a fascinating portrait of life in Edwardian England. "
An Outstanding British Period Drama!
Tiggah | Calgary, Alberta Canada | 08/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Produced and co-written by John Hawkesworth (best known for his role as producer and co-writer of Upstairs Downstairs), The Duchess of Duke Street (which was produced between 1978 and 1980) tells the story of Louisa Leyton Trotter, a young Cockney woman from a working-class background with aspirations of becoming the finest cook in London. The series open in 1900, with Louisa landing a job as a cooking assistant to one of London's finest chefs. It's the chance of a lifetime for her, but her outspokenness threatens to be her downfall.
Nevertheless, she indeed rises to become a first-rate and much-sought-after cook and the proprietor of London's exclusive and very expensive Bentinck Hotel on Duke Street. Louisa owes much to Bertie, the Prince of Wales, with whom she has a brief affair. But she owes the bulk of her success to her own hard work and determination. The series spans some 30 years, throughout which we are privy to everything the hotel has to offer--from encounters involving aristocrats to the personal problems of the servants. Of course, it is Louisa's life that is at the forefront, and she must make some tough choices as she deals with crises of her own at both a professional and a personal level.
A feisty and independent young woman, Louisa is more than capable of taking care of herself, and she's played to absolute perfection by Gemma Jones. So convincing is she as Louisa Trotter that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. As a point of interest, the character was based on a real-life individual named Rosa Lewis, a mistress of the Prince of Wales who set up a London hotel called the Cavendish. She died in 1952 and was personally known to John Hawkesworth.
Louisa is joined by a motley group at the hotel. The oldest servant, a butler named Mr. Merriman, came with the hotel when she bought it. He's a perennially wingeing old codger who one expects will keel over at any given moment. Then there's the new doorman, the mysterious Mr. Starr, with his trademark squeaky shoes and fox terrier Fred (upon whose supposedly unerring judgement Starr bases his opinion of potential guests!). Another fixture on the show is the Major (Richard Vernon of Sandbaggers), a decent and well-connected but destitute old war horse for whom the Bentinck has become home. Of course, one mustn't forget Louisa's right hand, the devoted Welsh servant, Mary; or Charlie Tyrrell, Lord Haslemere, a man with a permanent residence at the Bentinck and to whom Louisa owes much. In addition to the regulars, fans of British television will enjoy guest appearances by Robert Hardy (All Creatures), Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), and Joanna David, amongst others.
In conclusion, the entire series is available on two dvd boxed sets, and it is one of the best period dramas ever produced. Fans of British period dramas in general--of shows like Upstairs Downstairs, for example--are sure to enjoy it. But I'd go so far as to recommend it to anyone looking for a captivating, well-written, and consummately-acted series. This truly is quality entertainment at its very best! "
Brian S | 09/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This series is of the same story quality as Upstairs Doiwnstairs but of better technical quality. Enyoyed in our household for repeated viewing. Louisa is a gem of a character,fine details of the period are obvious in the sets and costumes."
Wonderful Period Drama/Comedy of 1900-1910's London
--corinne-- | North Georgia | 05/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After I spied this series on my local library's shelves & saw that it was about a female aspiring chef set in 1900-1910 London, I scooped up all the volumes. This series really surprised me: It has strong writing and attention to setting. Louisa Trotter is a outspoken, cockney chef who works her way up in her profession and British society with lots of elbow grease, an understanding of human nature, and some luck. Gemma Jones is great as Louisa Trotter and the supporting cast is very solid as well. I wasn't sure at first if this series was a miniseries or a TV series (It's TV), but it is rather Dickensian in that each episode builds on the previous. And I can pay a series no higher complement than to say that the conflict resolutions are neither trite nor perfunctory. Many allusions to historically accurate events, politicians, and contemporary culture are weaved into the storylines. I feel that I learned more about English classism and social mores from the "Duchess" & the Bentinck Hotel than from my semester abroad in London. If you like period drama (and comedy) & strong, nuanced heroines with many battles to fight, then you will like "The Duchess of Duke Street." This series stands the test of time. My only complaint is that I did not learn much about the culinary arts, but the writing is so above standard that my complaint is rendered inconsequential. Although this series began filming in 1976 the production values make it difficult to place. The Duchess of Duke Street is comparable in quality to BBC's 1979 Pride and Prejudice."