Upstairs Downstairs


As fascism spreads within Europe, its threat is felt at 165 Eaton Place, both downstairs and up. A new parlormaid, Rachel Perlmutter, arrives safely from Germany having lost nearly everything, but carrying a secret. And the foreign office calls on Sir Hallam to appease the exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, whose country has been annexed by Benito Mussolini. But Hallam's diplomatic skills are also required at home — Maud continues to find Agnes lacking in her duties, as Agnes's attentions are happily occupied elsewhere. Persie takes a detour from the boring requirements of her social debut, rejecting a performance of La Bohème in favor of a flirtation with a servant and a dangerous ideology — pursuits which imperil her moral and physical standing.

A genuine companionship grows between Rachel and Mr. Amanjit, both outsiders who share knowledge of loss firsthand. Rachel tells Mr. Amanjit, "We are not forced to accept the things that grieve us," but it is Hallam who embodies that sentiment when he draws the line about who will live in his house, and how.

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

Rachel Perlmutter, a German-Jewish refugee from Nazi persecution, arrives at 165 Eaton Place for her new job as a parlor maid. She is a former university lecturer whose asthma makes her unsuited to housework. But it's her only way of supporting herself.

Though no one at 165 yet knows, Rachel's young daughter, Lotte, is living in England with her, while her husband languishes as a political prisoner in Germany. She has hidden these ties so that she can find employment. Her new roommate, Ivy, is resentful of her company at first but soon warms to this thoughtful, quiet co-worker. Mr. Amanjit, too, develops an immediate fondness for Rachel and later for Lotte, recalling his ties to his dead wife and son in India.

Meanwhile, Agnes accompanies Persie to charm school to prepare for an imminent royal ball, but then falls ill and faints. Confined to bed, she misses the ball but discovers to her joy that she is pregnant. She and Hallam are ecstatic, with the baby expected in early December.

After the ball, Persie learns that she and the family's chauffeur, Harry, share a secret admiration for the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. Harry is a member of Mosley's blackshirts, sparking Persie's fascination and romantic interest.

On a diplomatic assignment, Hallam meets with one of the fascist movement's prime victims in 1936, the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Arriving in England in exile after being deposed by Mussolini's armies, Selassie warns ominously, "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow."

The threads of these plot elements come together as Persie and Harry start displaying their fascist sympathies more overtly, frightening Rachel, who discovers that she has escaped Germany only to encounter the same anti-Semitic hatred in England.

By now lovers, Persie and Harry go together to a march of Mosley supporters through a Jewish area of London, which erupts in the notorious Battle of Cable Street. Rachel and Mr. Amanjit join the throng of anti-fascist protestors who force the blackshirts to disperse. In the turmoil, Rachel encounters Persie in her fascist uniform.

Frantic, Persie tries to flee the melee in Hallam's car, while Harry watches helplessly. Concerned for her safety since she can't drive, he reports the car stolen to police, and Persie lands in jail, where Hallam must bail her out. "I couldn't put things right, but I stopped them getting worse," Harry explains to his employer, evading dismissal.

Rachel, too, is severely agitated after the demonstration and is taken home by Mr. Amanjit. She seems to be resting comfortably, but then has a sudden asthma attack and dies before Ivy can return with Mr. Amanjit, who now relives the tragic loss of his beloved in India. The local Jewish elders take care of Rachel's funeral, but they leave Lotte behind. With Agnes's baby due in a matter of weeks, 165 Eaton Place finds that it is no longer childless, and Ivy comforts the young new resident by singing a German lullaby that Rachel taught her.

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