On Sunday night, while millions of people were watching the Golden Globes, plenty others were glued to their television screens watching the second episode of Downton Abbey‘s fourth series on Masterpiece PBS.
Fans watched in horror as one of the show’s most beloved characters, Anna Bates, was brutally raped by a visiting servant. In my opinion, it was portrayed very wisely. The manservant’s advances, Anna’s disinterest, and the resulting initial assault are all shown on camera. It is cut off after Anna is dragged down the hallway from the servants’ hall into another room, and the only thing that the audience hears is Anna’s screams. The part that is very heartbreaking (for me) is that Anna’s husband is right upstairs, oblivious to what is going on in the servants’ hall.
I applaud Downton Abbey for tackling difficult subjects time after time. The drama is known to provoke strong emotions from its audience. It is one of the reasons the show has been so successful. The memorable characters, the time period (the last series have taken us through everything from World War I to the outbreak of Spanish Influenza to women’s rights), and the ability the show has to bring audience members from tears to laughter (thanks to the Duchess’ holier-than-thou humor) in seconds is what keeps us returning to our television screens every Sunday night.
But it is because of the extremely gifted writer, Julian Fellowes, that we realize that even though Downton Abbey is set in upper-class 1920s England, it is relatable to every person who watches. It isn’t just the servants who want a taste of the good life. It’s us. It isn’t just the Crawley family (or, to be more specific, Carson, the butler) who tries their best to hold on to tradition. We do the same.
So whenever the show depicts something so movingly heartbreaking as rape, death, sickness, and war, we relate. We are next to Matthew, Thomas, and William as they fight in the trenches during World War I. We are with Lavinia as she dies, heartbroken because she knows that Matthew is no longer in love with her. We are with Tom, as he mourns the loss of his wife and has to decide how and where to raise his child, and how he will live the life he is in the middle of now. We are with Daisy as she yearns for love and searches for advancement.
Downton Abbey contains a little piece of all of us. We share in the characters’ pain and joy, and their successes and failures.
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