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6 Degrees Entertainment

'The Duchess of Duke Street - Series 2'
(Gemma Jones, Christopher Cazenove, et al / 5-Disc DVD / NR / (1979) 2006 / Acorn Media)

Overview: Mrs. Trotter, born Louisa Leyton, has already proven that she can take whatever life dishes out and remain in a class all her own. Having made her reputation as the best cook in London and proprietress of the city’s most elegant and discreet hotel, Louisa now faces even bigger challenges. When World War I breaks out, she opens the Bentinck’s doors to soldiers but never cashes their checks. Driven almost to ruin and facing unbearable loss, she survives to usher in the giddy post-war age.

DVD Verdict: Produced and co-written by John Hawkesworth (best known for his role as producer and co-writer of Upstairs Downstairs), the second series of 'The Duchess of Duke Street' (which was produced between 1978 and 1980) carries the story through World War I and into the "roaring" Twenties. It has less weight than the first series because the first-rate and much-sought-after cook Louisa is already established and successful so you don't see how hard she had to struggle. Those of you not in the know about this wonderful storyline, 'The Duchess of Duke Street' tells the story of Louisa Leyton Trotter, a young Cockney woman from a working-class background with aspirations of becoming the finest cook in London. The series open in 1900, with Louisa landing a job as a cooking assistant to one of London's finest chefs. It's the chance of a lifetime for her, but her outspokenness threatens to be her downfall. Nevertheless, she indeed rises to become a first-rate and much-sought-after cook and the proprietor of London's exclusive and very expensive Bentinck Hotel on Duke Street. Louisa owes much to Bertie, the Prince of Wales, with whom she has a brief affair. But she owes the bulk of her success to her own hard work and determination. The series spans some 30 years, throughout which we are privy to everything the hotel has to offer - from encounters involving aristocrats to the personal problems of the servants. Of course, it is Louisa's life that is at the forefront, and she must make some tough choices as she deals with crises of her own at both a professional and a personal level. A feisty and independent young woman, Louisa is more than capable of taking care of herself, and she's played to absolute perfection by Gemma Jones. So convincing is she as Louisa Trotter that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. As a point of interest, the character was based on a real-life individual named Rosa Lewis, a mistress of the Prince of Wales who set up a London hotel called the Cavendish. She died in 1952 and was personally known to John Hawkesworth. The war episodes here are pretty good, especially in demonstrating the very noisy and often offensive super patriotism in which Louisa indulged. The episode involving spies in the Bentinck is probably my favorite for its atmosphere of intrigue. The episodes set in the 1920s are less satisfying, partly because Louisa is so quintessentially Edwardian that she seems out of place among the flappers, also because Lalla Ward, who plays Louisa's daughter, is extremely silly and chinless. But this series, like the first one, is fun - as long as you don't expect too much - and comes complete with some truly wonderful sceanic values. If you're a lover of such series as 'Berkely Square' and 'Upstairs Downstairs,' you'll love this. It has all the elements that were major issues of the time: Class structure, expected female roles, irony, mystery and so much more. You'll watch it a dozen times for it truly is just perfectly suited for a rainy afternoon. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.78:1) and comes with the Special Features of a Biography of Rosa Lewis and Cast Filmographies