Actress Joanne Frogagatt says she is “proud” to have been part of a “brave” rape storyline in Downton Abbey that has prompted complaints to ITV and Ofcom, and ignited a debate amongst fans.
Froggatt, who’s character Anna Bates was attacked and raped by Mr Green (played by Nigel Harman) in Sunday night’s show, claimed that the subject was handled in a responsible and sensitive manner and was “not gratuitous at all”.
"I was really proud of the show for tackling a subject like this. It's a really brave thing to do and I really do believe that Julian's written that in a way that is not gratuitous at all, he does very much go on to explore the emotional journey of Anna and Bates.
"He's done a beautiful job of hitting the right note with it. I think we all just felt a big responsibility to get it right," she told BBC’s Breakfast.
Despite ITV issuing warnings of upsetting scenes before the programme aired at 9pm on Sunday, Downton has so far received more than 60 complaints and a surge of comment from fans and TV critics complaining that Downton should be a place for lightweight escapism, not gritty social realism or sensationalism.
Creator and writer of the show, Julian Fellowes also defended the storyline, telling BBC News: "We are interested in exploring the resultant emotions and the effect these things have on people,
“The whole point of the way we do things on Downton is we don't do them gratuitously,"
He added: “We're interested in sensationalising but we're interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage,"
Froggatt also said that she, along with the show’s producers, had put a lot of time into ensuring the subject was sensitively portrayed.
"I did a lot of research on the internet reading through people's stories of women who have been through similar situations, and women that hadn't gone to the police in this day and age because they were in a situation that came across as being vague when they were going to explain it - maybe they were at party or it was someone they knew and they were very confused by what had happened to them. Now what I wanted to do - I wanted to get into my head as an actress - was to bring that to this time period."
RadioTimes.com hinted that a big storyline was in the offing last week after it reported that no previews had been made available to journalists, a tactic usually reserved to prevent leaks of shocking storylines. It is understood at present there are also no previews of next week’s episode, so further sensations could be in store.
Now in series 4, Downton Abbey is one of ITV’s biggest shows and has become a global hit after breaking America on PBS. Since returning to ITV this autumn the show has been met with lukewarm reviews from critics, but it still pulls in one of the channel’s biggest audiences of the week.
Downton Abbey continues on Sunday night at 9pm on ITV.