Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who charmed the world with their co-creation “Upstairs, Downstairs,” venture forth with a 12-hour drama that fizzles, at least on basis of first two hours as penned by Jill Hyem. Working hard to build interest in a pair of 1920s impoverished London sisters, “House of Eliott” foxtrots through too many suds.
Orphaned Beatrice Eliott (Stella Gonet), 30, and younger sister Evangeline (Louise Lombard), 18, discover upon their father’s death that they’re broke because of father’s investments and a secret affair. The two young London women, untrained to do anything, take stock: Bea gets a job with society photographer-roue Jack Maddox (Aden Gillett), while Eva tries her hand at designing dresses.
A lawyer-cousin, dour Arthur (Peter Birch), guardian for underage Eva, handles their meager funds, while his starchy mother (Barbara Jefford) stands out as a character worth noting.
A few others draw interest. A mission worker (Francesca Folan) offers energy, and the Eliotts’ maid (Rachel Weaver) is a genuine character. Bea’s blind date, Piggy (Robert Daws), shows possibilities, and Jean Anderson’s wise dowager in need of a companion is credible. A fast young thing, Daphne Haycock (Kelly Hunter), otherwise overdrawn, appears in a dance contest that’s a whiz-bang.
There are a few surprises in the sampled opening seg, and the niceties are observed. But the central figures, unerringly full of gumption, fail to light any fires under Rodney Bennett’s ho-hum direction. Neither Gonet nor Lombard establishes audience rapport.
Joan Wadge’s costumes are good, and art director Adele Marolf and designer Ken Ledsham have contributed admirably to the production.
But Bea and Evangeline don’t hack it in the first two hours of the 10-episode miniseries. By this time, Mrs. Bridges would have harrumphed off to bed and Hudson would have switched off the lights.