Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: The Duchess of Duke Street - Series 1 (1976)

A while ago, my mom and I began to watch The Duchess of Duke Street. The show was made up of two seasons and was from the 70s. Normally, I don't particularly watch period dramas from the 70s since they aren't up to the standards of period dramas of today are (costuming and scenery wise), but I gave this show a try. I was not familiar with the Edwardian era and had never seen a period drama from the early Edwardian era (Downton Abbey was a little bit past the Edwardian era, and though it is referred to as an Edwardian period drama, it technically isn't.). This weekend, my mom and I just finished Series 1 of The Duchess of Duke Street.
Series 1 Box Art

Louisa Leyton (later Louisa Trotter) wants to become the best chef in England. She first gets a job in a fine house and eventually goes on to buy the Bentinck Hotel. The story is loosely based on the life of Rosa Lewis, a real life cook that was the best cook in London during her time.

Characters/Episode Plotlines
Most recognizably, Louisa is played by the well known Gemma Jones, who is also known for her roles in Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre. Robert Hardy (Sense and Sensibility, Middlemarch) makes an appearance in one episode, and so does Joanna David (Pride and Prejudice, He Knew He Was Right). Other than those members of the cast, I didn't recognize anyone else.

Louisa is a very interesting character. She is feisty, sassy, and determined to become the best chef in England. She sometimes gets involved in bad situations, but she keeps going. Small Spoiler Early in the series, she catches the attention of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII): in order to keep the prince looking respectable, Louisa is pressured to marry the butler of the house she is working at, Augustus "Gus" Trotter; she relents and marries Gus (on a side note, Gus became a slimy character after they got married; luckily, he was only in the first couple of episodes). I felt that Louisa giving into the pressure was out of character for her: she didn't seem like a person that would give into peer pressure like that and then she does. But after that incident, Louisa doesn't give into peer pressure like she did during that incident. A slip of her character, perhaps? End of Small Spoiler There were ups and downs to Louisa's character. There were some times where I really liked her as a character: she was determined to protect her hotel and her staff and friends. But other times, it was hard to like her: she would become really bossy in some episodes, or really jealous in others. Well, I suppose all characters have their good points and their bad points.

The staff of the Bentinck Hotel
The staff of the hotel is also involved in the main plot too. As the viewer, you get a good glimpse into the lives of Mary, the hotel's maid and Louisa's friend that she met at her first cooking job, Merriman, the hotel's butler, Mr. Starr, the head porter, and his dog Fred, and the other recurring staff members. In a way, the story has some similarities to Upstairs, Downstairs since both the staff and the higher class people are involved in the plot. What is interesting is that in some episodes, you get to hear what the staff thinks of the situation the hotel is in in a particular episode.

Most of the episodes revolve around Louisa, Charles "Charlie" Haselmere (her friend), and the hotel staff, but there are a couple of episodes that focus more on the guests of the hotel. The episodes that were mostly about the hotel guests seemed as if they could have taken place at any point in the series, while with the episodes about Louisa, Charlie, and the hotel staff, they seem to play in chronological order for the most part. Since this story is based off of the life of a real life cook, there are some references during some of the episodes to events in history. Series 1 takes place between 1900 and 1910. There are references made to the death of Queen Victoria and the rise of the Prince of Wales to power and his death.

Louisa at her first job
Unlike most shows from the 70s and 80s, this one didn't seem like it was on a sound stage all the time. Now, the video cameras that they used look like they came out of the 70s (I've noticed that with any 70s show, if a candle is lit there's this red streak that follows the flame around -- that streak is present in here), but the set doesn't appear to be a sound stage. There are some outdoor scenes, but most of the time, scenes take place within the Bentinck Hotel.

I've never really seen a period drama with fashions from the early Edwardian era (at least before 1910) and I was quite unfamiliar with Edwardian fashions, so the costuming was all new to me. The costuming is very well done. Many of Louisa's outfits are very fancy and pretty, as are some of the guests' outfits. The staff usually has their usual uniforms on (which is to be expected), but sometimes the female staff members go out in nice dresses.

Love the theme song! The theme song has the style of music that music at the turn of the century would have. Other than that, there really weren't any other songs (save for the alternative credits song, which had a similar style as the theme, but was slower). The sound was mostly clear (though I found Louisa hard to understand at times, but that was probably due to her accent).

Overall: 4/5
I would recommend this show. It's very enjoyable and not dull like some of the other period dramas from the 70s and 80s. There are some implications said about some of the characters, but nothing is shown (there was one scene that could have lead to a bad scene, but nothing happened at all). Louisa does sometimes use some bad language, but it's not that frequent. If I were to give The Duchess of Duke Street a TV rating, I would probably rate it TV-PG. If you're not familiar with the Edwardian era, this would be a good place to start with period dramas.

The Duchess of Duke Street: Series 1 is available on DVD either in the complete collection with both of the shows seasons or on it's own. There are 15 episodes in Series 1 that are about 50 minutes long each.


  1. Thank you for such a thorough review. I shall be looking for this one.

  2. Thank you for this review Miss Elizabeth! I've heard this title several times without knowing what it was about. The series sounds interesting!

  3. Thanks for posting this review. I've seen all the movies on your list and it's good to find something new.

  4. Louisa had good reason to agree to have an affair with His Highness.

    She was told by her employer if she did not go along, she would be "dismissed without a reference". At that time, this would mean she could never find employment again, and would be forced out onto the streets. The exchange when this threat is made is brief, and somewhat veiled, so I am not surprised you missed it. It also assumed the audience would be aware of how dire the consequences of not being giving a reference were at this time.

    The costumes are fantastic, and very true to the period. The detail on many of the garments amazes me, and the materials are also period. I have noticed that a lot of so called "period" costume actually has a lot of elements of the era when the work was created. Not so with Duchess of Duke street. Nothing of the 70s in any of the costumes.

  5. Just watched the duchess Duke Street's episode. I stumbled upon the show by mistake and thought it had been filmed in the last five years there was a couple times where I thought the staging seemed stuff but then I just thought that was the British stages and or mannerisms when I looked up the show I can tell you I was shocked that it was done in 1975 the show was ahead of its time -the acting was a bit a bit stiff but the storyline is strong I love the characters and the costumes are nice- very detailed and true to the period of 1910. I get a kick out of hearing the name "Louisa" it must've been a popular name at that time as it was my great grandmothers and my grandmother's name. The Duchess of Duke Street is a wonderful period piece that I have really enjoyed so far I would recommend it to anyone.


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