Jean Marsh, with her straight-line smile, plays Rose, the parlor maid on Upstairs Downstairs. The house where she works is everyone’s large, impatient family that doesn’t care whether you stay or leave, and the indifference makes you hang at the doors looking for ways to please. It’s like waiting in an alley as the movie star sweeps into a limousine and you tell yourself you have been seen.
Richard and Virginia Bellamy declare the servants are family and will always have a place with them. Rose entrusts her savings to Richard’s son James, and after he gambles it in a rickety scheme, Rose’s nest egg is lost. Ruby, the kitchen maid, works for the Bellamys for 15 years, and when Richard sits down to write her a reference letter, he doesn’t know her last name. It is a matter of honor for him to believe he cares about the servants and a matter of who he is not to know who they are. In the final episode, Rose, alone in 165 Eaton Place, haunts the rooms—no one demanding a tray or ringing a bell. The house has been sold, and the gentry have moved on. She stands by the windows and looks back inside, but the rooms without furniture look like old men in a nursing home without their trousers. The house has lost its power, and Rose will leave—at last through the front door instead of the servants’ entrance—but where will she go, and will it feel like freedom or a different kind of servitude?