Here’s a BBC production that’s a lot more brisk and clever than most of the Masterpiece Theatre entries we’ve been shown recently — and The House of Eliott was cocreated by one of Masterpiece’s stalwarts: Jean Marsh, the long-suffering maid Rose on Upstairs, Downstairs.
Marsh doesn’t act in Eliott; its stars, unknowns to American viewers, are Stella Gonet and Louise Lombard, who play Beatrice and Evangeline Eliott, sisters living in London during the 1920s. In this two-hour premiere, the Eliott sisters’ father dies in the opening seconds. Beatrice and Evangeline have led sheltered, wealthy lives, but they soon learn that their father had enormous debts and left them virtually penniless.
The House of Eliott is a British, feminist version of a Horatio Alger story. These innocent young women call upon all their plucky inner resources to start their own line of clothing, and in following their rapid rise to success, Eliott offers a vivid glimpse into the British fashion trade of that era. It also, like any good soap opera, presents a series of romantic entanglements with a succession of noble men and rakes.
The acting by Gonet and Lombard is beautifully calibrated — these sensitive sisters are never too weak yet never too shrewd to be less than believable, and Lombard, as the younger, more impetuous and passionate Eliott (that’s British-TV code for ”hubba-hubba!”), could easily attract a sizable American following. B+