MovieChat Forums > Backstairs at the White House Discussion > Time has not been kind to Backstairs

Time has not been kind to Backstairs


I had fond memories of this miniseries and was eager to see it again when I saw thzt Netflix had it available.

Now that I've seen the first two discs, I'm disappointed at the languid pacing and overacting by the principal characters in this miniseries. Nowhere is it worse than the home scenes between Olivia Cole and Leslie Uggams. There are enough pregnant pauses in those scenes to gestate a million rabbits! Leslie's big grins seem way over-the-top for the small screen. I know they had a whole miniseries to fill, but I wish they'd filled it with more pages of script than all of this soap-opera acting.

The scenes with members of the first families are lots of fun. I had forgotten what a treat Victor Buono's W. H. Taft was.

I think this miniseries could be edited down to about 3 hours and be just as informative.

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I just finished watching it now on DVD after having not seen it since it first aired on tv, and I tend to agree somewhat, at least as to the first two parts. I am surprised at how it seems kind of cheesy now, with the way the Presidents and other characters throw a bunch of historical references into their conversation. I know it was meant to inform, but seems kind of silly now. The actors seem to "over-act" at first.

But then it does seem to start getting better during the Coolidge administration, and by the time it gets to the end I think it is still really touching. I wanted to cry when Lillian and Mercer came to realize that the staff at the White House has changed so much since they first started that they no longer feel welcome.

I actually have fonder memories of reading the book that came out after the movie, the one by [Bagni?]. I've ordered Lillian's original book from Amazon.com and am looking forward to reading it.







"You can't tell me nothin' if you ain't had an 8-track." -Sinbad

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I watch it often and tend to skip the events bringing Maggie to the White House. It doesnt stop me from watching the rest of the mini-series about twice a year though.
I love how the national and world events interfere with their personal lives and how they realize that they are living in history's presence.
It would be SO interesting to see how the events would have unfolded during the succeeding presidencies and is almost painful to historians to realize the occassion for this isn't likely to happen again.
It sure makes it easier to put presidents into human perspective again.

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You know, I think the presidents after Kennedy were so much different anyway.

Some years ago, I read a book by an ex-Secret Service man. I wish I could remember the name of it or remember his name, but I can't. If he was telling the truth, he worked starting with the Johnson or Kennedy administration, can't remember which, and ended with Ronald Reagan, I believe. (sorry, its hard to remember for sure now)

Anyway, he painted a picture of the presidents that was not so pretty. He said of all of them, Ronald Reagan was the only one who was as nice in private as he appeared to be in public. The others were not nice in private and were cold to their wives. Even Kennedy was not portrayed in a very flattering light.







"You can't tell me nothin' if you ain't had an 8-track." -Sinbad

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I'm sorry to read that some people think that Backstairs is slow and the pacing is bad. I enjoy the entire mini-series and I have easily seen it at least 20 times. Luckily before the DVD was released, I had an off-the-air copy on videotape. These days television is very different from 1979. We don't see mini-series of high caliber such as this any more. Today, a program wants to tell you a story and move onto something else in 60 minutes or much often less time than that. I think the pacing is part of the way this series was meant to be viewed. If you want to fast-forward past large sections of this series you are missing the boat. This program is meant to be savored. You get to know the characters, many of them not just in a cursory way, but in depth. And you get to share their experiences as the series unfolds. The comment that this series could have been presented in three hours is just plain ridiculous. I guess this may be telling of how modern day TV has trained everyone to have short spans of attention. You need all of the time this program runs to take in all that is happening in the years that are covered. For my part, I wish it would have been longer in length and more in depth. However, I enjoy this series just as it was done. I always cry when Maggie passes away. It is a very moving scene and you get the sense that history is passing away. I believe that a better cast of actors could not have been had to play the various parts. It is wonderful that it was finally released on DVD and is now widely available. Next time you want to see this, allow yourself enough time to sit back and enjoy the whole thing. Make an evening of it, and see it as it was meant to be seen.

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I think the DVD is in top rate condition. Considering it was made originally in 1979, the DVD set released in 2005 looks great color wise and sounds just as great. The only goof in it, is that (when you turn the captions on your tv) Leslie Uggams' voiceover (when the show is about to shift from Kennedy's inaguration to the night of Taft's when Emmett Sr comes home and Maggie comes home and announces her job at the White House) is credited to "Maggie" when it should be to "Lillian". But all and all, it is the same show I remember from when I was a teenager. The only thing missing was NBC's original announcement, that some characters' names were changed to expand the story, but that is no big deal. I recommend any history buff or at the least any fan of "West Wing" or "American President" to buy it.

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I just watched part 1 on DVD (Taft, Wilson, and the very beginning of the Harding Administration). Overall, I like it. But some of the criticisms here do have some merit.
Some of the dialogue with the presidents and their wives just doesn't ring true. I understand the need for "exposition," to provide audiences with information about what was happening during each president's term of office. But it's not very subtle at times. Mrs. Wilson turned to her husband at one point and said something like, "You want us to join the League of Nations." That's for the audience's benefit, but it's TOO obvious.
Still, I'm enjoying the miniseries.

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I completely disagree with the original poster. This works just fine and anyone who loves Downton Abbey ought to love this as well.

Where's your crew?
On the 3rd planet.
There IS no 3rd planet!
Don't you think I know that?

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I haven't seen this since it was first on TV but I remember it fondly and would love to see it again. On a silly side note I always think of it when I'm making up the bed--remember the scene where the daughter is learning to make the bed and the mother keeps pulling off the sheets until it is PERFECTLY made.

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The scene you speak of merc FYI, is history repeating itself. The same thing happens to Maggie when she makes her first bed in part 1, the first maid of her day, Annie makes her do it again.

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I'm very confused. I'm reading the book right now, and Ms. Parks talks a lot about her polio and crutches. She does not mention (so far) her race, but all the pictures I've seen of her show a tiny white woman. Yet this mini-series (which I've never seen) looks like it focuses on black workers at the White House. Was this a creative decision, or was Ms. Parks an extremely light-skinned black woman?

Jaan Pehechan Ho

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Mrs. Parks was indeed a tiny little thing, but she was not white.

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She was very light skinned compared to the cast of the series.

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