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A&E Home Video presents
Thomas and Sarah (1978)

Sarah: I been thinking. What I been thinking is we've been going about things the wrong way. What we've got to do is change our way of going about things.
Thomas: You couldn't perhaps be a bit more specific...?

- Pauline Collins, John Alderton

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: April 26, 2004

Stars: John Alderton, Pauline Collins
Other Stars: Graham Cull, Maria Charle, Peter Thornton, Norman Bird, Charles West
Director: Christopher Hodson, John Davies, David Askey, Marek Kanievska

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some mature subject matter)
Run Time: 10h:52m:04s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 733961711790
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B+ D+

DVD Review

Four years after the cancellation of the award winning Upstairs, Downstairs, one of the most popular period drama series ever, two of its characters return in the show's only spinoff, Thomas and Sarah. Thomas Watkins (John Alderton), former chauffeur, and Sarah Moffat (Pauline Collins), former parlor maid, began a torrid affair while serving the Bellamy residence in the early 1900s, but left the household to be wed, both with dreams of leaving service behind. This series picks up some years later, where the two, never really married, have been separated, but are brought back together by fate. They are, as the premier episode aptly suggests, birds of a feather—scheming, deceitful, and self-serving—and a perfect compliment to each other, as they weave their way through a series of odd adventures.

The show was short lived, complete in these thirteen episodes, even though a second season was planned and had already begun shooting (before a technician's strike closed production for good). As such, the ending to the show is ambiguous, which some viewers may find frustrating. There is a great mix of comedy and drama throughout, which works perfectly in context with the personalities of the title characters.

Where the expanded regular cast of Upstairs, Downstairs allowed for a complex network of relationships and interpersonal conflicts, the success of Thomas and Sarah rests squarely on the shoulders of Alderton and Collins, who absolutely excel in their roles. This real-life husband and wife team are no strangers to working together. After leaving Upstairs, Downstairs in its second season (with Collins doing cameos later on), the pair teamed up for the hilarious No, Honestly (1974) and twenty-one installments of Wodehouse Playhouse between 1975 and 1978. I can not say enough about the brilliance of this pair.

Collins' Sarah is a diverse creature, eager to shed her lower-class origins and background in service, and bluffs her way into high society using her propensity for deviousness to embroil the two of them into a number of shenanigans. She is no one trick pony, quick to get up to speed in the latest scam, and able to spin yarns of epic proportion in a blink of the eye, her selfish nature uncaring of the consequences of her actions. Thomas, too, aspires to a better life than that as a servant, and his own wheeling and dealing often works to his disadvantage, especially when Sarah is involved. Their relationship is a tumultuous one, and trouble is never far from the doorstep.

Thomas and Sarah shares much of the same creative team as Upstairs, Downstairs, with scripts by Alfred Shaughnessy, Terence Brady, Charlotte Bingham, Jeremy Paul, and Anthony Skene. The writing is paramount, and here the show also gets high merit, with each episode building on the solid character foundation, enabling a very dynamic and entertaining series of stories to unfold, and the many facets of both to come to light.

While the episodes are serial in nature, like Upstairs, Downstairs, they do not exactly immediately follow each other. Overall, the series is quite even in quality, although there are standouts in terms of both story and performance. The season opener, Birds of a Feather, puts us squarley back in line with the traits of the principles: Sarah fabricating tales of a husband lost at sea in order to better her newfound position; Thomas shattering the fable with his return. The Biters Bit demonstrates Sarah's knack for hobnobbing with the aristocracy despite being out of her league, while There Is a Happy Land shows her cruel side, and also showcases Alderton's explosive temper when her untruths are revealed. The class system undergoes a few twists and turns in Alma Matter, in which Sarah unwittingly gets Thomas a position as her superior, and The New Rich, where the pair become the heads of their own household, their behavior and familiarity causing discord among the serving staff. The series finale, Love Into Three Won't Go adds a new challenge for the lovers, as their luck has run out and they take to the service of a despondent employer.

For those who couldn't get enough of them in Upstairs, Downstairs, Thomas and Sarah should be just the ticket.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Like its predecessor, Thomas and Sarah was shot on video, which accounts for the majority of issues with the presentation and flat appearance. Overall quality is quite good, with reasonably strong colors, and decent detail, but things do tend to be somewhat muddy, and black levels are generally weak. Shortcomings include blowing out of whites, rainbowing, compression issues, ghosting, video dropouts, and wavering, and some color instability. None of this is constant, but does appear from time to time.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is completely serviceable, but not outstanding. Tonally, things are well balanced, and dialogue is, for the most part, discernable, without being excessively sibilant. Technical flaws, while not completely absent, are minor and unobtrusive.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 78 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Household hierarchy
Extras Review: Found on Disc 4 is the lone extra, a guide to the household hierarchy. If you can't tell your scullery maid from your footman, this is the resource for you. I would have thought this a more fitting inclusion for Upstairs, Downstairs myself...

Six chapter stops are provided per episode. Packaging leaves a lot to be desired, repetitive and unimaginitive, and uses screen captures that aren't even from the series.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

Although it still reigns as one of the finest television dramas ever produced, Upstairs, Downstairs was never quite the same after characters Thomas and Sarah left, but this collection of further misadventures of the remarkable, if sorry pair, rewards with more of John Alderton and Pauline Collins' rich characterizations. Superb writing and excellent perfomances make this a joy to watch, even if the series comes to an end prematurely. A must for Upstairs, Downstairs fans.

 


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