The Syndicate on Acorn TV: Imagine Downton Abbey If Downstairs Suddenly Got Rich

08/20/2016 09:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Syndicate: All Or Nothing, a 2015 BBC One series that arrives in the U.S. Monday through Acorn TV (www.acorn.tv), has one of the strongest claims yet to kinship with the late lamented Downton Abbey.

At a time when every drama where characters even see a photograph of the British countryside tries to sell a Downton connection, that's a right splendid feat.

The six-part series is set in the present day at a certifiably imposing British estate, Hazelwood Manor.

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It is overseen by a proper but humane and sympathetic patriarch, Lord Hazelwood (Anthony Andrews) (above right), who unfortunately has fallen into the position that Lord Grantham of Downton spent all his time trying to avoid.

The joint has run out of money.

Lord Hazelwood has this huge historic home, a title and a reputation. But he's 6.5 million pounds in debt, which among other things has meant reducing the staff from dozens down to five.

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That includes overworked cook Julie Travers (Melanie Hill), overworked OCD gardener Godfrey Watson (Lenny Henry) (above), overworked manageress Sarah Travers (Cara Theobold, who played the kitchen maid Ivy on Downton) and overworked maid Dawn Stephenson (Elizabeth Berrington) plus her exasperated teenage daughter Amy (Daisy Head).

Lord Hazelwood, who has been slowed by a stroke though his mind remains sharp, is also burdened with a wife (played by Alice Krige) who thinks it's still 1916, and a stepson Spencer (Sam Phillips) who really wants to find a way to cash the place out while there's still any cash to be squeezed.

This isn't just Downton Abbey with cell phones. This is the nightmare of British royalty, faced in real life over the past century by hundreds of the Great Estates.

It's also the setup for the show's real twist, which is that the servants win the lottery.

Yup, that's right. Forty million pounds.

Welcome to the new world order, Hazelwood Manor.

What follows is poignant at times, hilarious at others. The world does not change overnight, exactly, because the lines between upstairs and downstairs have had their blurry points already and the acknowledgement of privilege conveyed by birth is strongly rooted in the whole British national character.

Still, it's the fantasy of every working person from Birmingham to Bangladesh to wake up one morning and discover the economic order has magically been reversed.

But the beneficiaries, in TV dramas as in life, don't always magically agree on what to do next, or always make the best decisions. So while the show has some characters who aren't particularly likeable, including Lady Hazelwood and her son, the story isn't built on good guys vs. bad guys.

Happily, Hazelwood Manor continues to play a central role in The Syndicate, as does the British class system that Downton so endearingly chronicled.

We regularly see lovely countryside vistas and sun-drenched interiors, though Hazelwood is in spots a bit more sparsely furnished than Downton Abbey. Selling off your Old Masters will do that to a place.

For the record, these six episodes are a self-contained story. All or Nothing is the third season in BBC One's Syndicated series, and each is unrelated to the others. The BBC has not yet announced whether there will be a fourth.

Which is no reason not to enjoy the third.