The Spanish DVDs
Circulo Digital was the first company worldwide to release Upstairs, Downstairs in a language other than the original English. Many foreign-language versions were made, both dubbed and sub-titled (German and Dutch/Flemish being the most often-seen reruns) but sadly only Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Catalan seem to have made it out onto home video/DVD.
Rather than releasing the whole run in boxed sets broken down by season, Circulo are releasing their DVDs singly, with 2 or 3 episodes per disk. The disks will appear at roughly two-weekly intervals.
The first release contains the first 3 colour episodes (namely On Trial, Magic Casements, and I Dies From Love) - titled in Spanish as A prueba, Cofres mαgicos, and Morir de amor, respectively. The black and white episodes will not be covered by the Circulo releases other than by a brief audio description of each episode (see the extras list, below).
Each episode has three switchable soundtracks - the original English, Castellano (i.e. regular Spanish), and Catalan. Switchable subtitles are available in English or Spanish (note: not Catalan), or can be turned off completely.
The menu design is quite nice, with various "Edwardian" items of furniture appearing and disappearing amongst cutout-like versions of the principal characters, whilst the theme music plays in the background. The menus are easy to navigate even without any understanding of Spanish!
These releases are the first appearance of English subtitles on a DVD of the programme, so may be of interest to the hearing-impaired. The quality of the English on these subtitles is fair-to-good. However, the person doing the transcription seems, at times, to misunderstand certain English idioms. This leads, to quote two of many examples, to Mrs Bridges exclaiming that her milk (heating on the range) has "corked" rather than "caught". Elsewhere Alfred proclaims that "a silent woman is above rubbish" rather than "above rubies". (Note added Jan. 2012 the new US release from Acorn also has English subtitles, and is now probably a better bet).
Whilst obviously being produced on a reasonably tight budget, the extras (all in Spanish only no English or Catalan) show more thought than either the UK release from VCI or US release from A&E:
Feature about the making of the series (3 chapters Production, The Idea, and 165 Eaton Place) 7 minutes Spanish audio over clips/photos of UpDown.
Historical Context 2 minutes of newsreel footage of the time, with Spanish commentary.
"Bio-filmographies" about main members of the cast and their other work 3 minutes of Spanish commentary over UpDown clips, plus brief (2 or 3 page) essays on Atkins, Marsh and Hawkesworth.
The Characters Spanish audio description of the main characters (6 minutes total) over static visual.
Stills gallery 30-odd photos (seem mostly to be scans from magazines) - anachronistic use of Thomas (John Alderton).
Synopses spoken synopses of all Season One episodes (also provided for the otherwise-missing black and white episodes) over static visual 9 minutes total.
Most of the above extras seem designed to span the whole first season, rather than just the episodes featured on this first disk, so will presumably be repeated on the next two disks, which cover the remainder of the (colour) Season One.
Purists will be interested to note that each episode begins with the original LWT "ribbons" ident. Sadly though, in common with most DVDs released elsewhere, interim "End of Part..."/"Part..." captions are missing, as are the original static LWT "endcaps".
What was completely unexpected is to see that the episodes presented here actually have a better picture quality than the "home" UK releases from both VCI and Network! Linked below are two frames, one from Magic Casements and one from I Dies From Love1. Click on one and wait for the picture to fully load (they are big so this might taken some time on a 56k modem). Then roll your mouse over the image to flip from the UK VCI picture to the Spanish2. As you can see the Spanish picture is sharper and the colours more solid and vibrant. There is also evidence of a light application of noise-reduction, to reduce the graininess of the picture. You can also see than the image on the UK VCI releases has been zoomed in slightly, presumably (and needlessly) to try to push the cue-dots off the top of the screen3.
Note, in particular, the detail in Lady Marjorie's blouse in the first grab.
Grab 1 Grab 2
All in all, a great effort from Circulo - and these releases (assuming the quality is continued beyond this first set) out-rank the UK VCI disks (and, if talking in purely picture-quality terms, rather than extras, the Network releases too!) and, less surprisingly, are light-years ahead of the appalling A&E US efforts. The disks are Region 2 PAL and should play anywhere in Europe on even the simplest player. Elsewhere, you'll need to take more care to ensure that your set-up will play them.
Postscript, September 2005 - IMPORTANT FOR WOULD-BE PURCHASERS!
Since writing the above, it's come to my attention that there seems to be material missing from some of the episodes included in Circulo's releases. For instance, On Trial has part of Sarah's interview with Lady Marjorie missing, and the entire ending of the episode has also vanished. I can only guess that either the Spanish or Catalan versions of the episodes were originally edited in this manner, meaning that the same material had to also be cut from the DVD or else there would be a gap in the soundtrack in that language. Of course this factor completely compromises these releases.
1 I have corrected the pictures' brightness/gamma/contrast to display better on a PC screen, but have treated both in the same way. No other changes have been made to these grabs.
2 The mouse-over effects may not
work in all browsers, so here are the direct links to the images:
Grab 1 UK
Grab 1 Spain
Grab 2 UK
Grab 2 Spain
3 Cue-dots are the little squares that appear in one of the top corners of the TV picture just before the end of a programme or a commercial break. They are designed to alert TV technicians to be ready to play in the next piece of tape (e.g. the adverts, or a trailer).