Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael on Lady Edith’s “tragic” situation and her secret child

"There are so many dangers of living in a house like this and having a secret like this"

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Of all the Crawleys, Lady Edith has arguably come on the biggest journey. In series one, she started off as a petulant, stroppy and spiteful middle child, she was jilted at the altar and then transformed into a working woman, writing for a London paper, before finding love, and then falling pregnant with a missing man’s baby.

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Now, at the start of series five, Edith finds herself living mere metres from her child, but having to keep her daughter a secret from her entire family because of the scandal the revelation could cause.  

Before series five kicks off on ITV later this month, RadioTimes.com sat down for a chat with the Laura Carmichael, who plays the middle Crawley sister.  

Edith’s got a tough storyline this season… 

It did feel different this year. It was quite hard going, just because of the nature of it. It’s very secretive and it’s far more serious a story line than I’ve played before but still just having a dreamy time shooting it. [It’s] a great juicy storyline to get into – it’s been a real treat.

She finds herself in a difficult situation at the start of the series, doesn’t she?

[It’s a] kind of tragic scenario of being close and yet far from her daughter and living with that secret. Living with the pain of that whilst not being able to confide in anyone else – and Mr Drew, the unlikely confidant, the farmer down the road, being the only one who really knows how painful it is for her. He could at any point expose them and ruin them and bring shame on them and yet doesn’t because he has this loyalty to this family. It’s an interesting year. 

Will things get any easier for her as the series progresses?

There are ups and there are downs. Let’s be vague because it’s hard not to give it all away! It intensifies… the context of things changes. You’ve got Rosamund and Violet who know about the child but don’t know she’s here, I think you probably will have picked up [by] the end of episode one that the servants aren’t blind. There are so many dangers of living in a house like this and having a secret like this.

And her own family are unlikely to make the situation any better…

Mary has no idea what Edith is going through so from her point of view she is dealing with the fact that she’s a widow, coming to terms with it and moving on – and Edith is still moping about the house because her boyfriend went missing. It leads to some more rows between them, some more bitchy comments. But [Mary] never really realises how insensitive she’s being. 

Down the line, could love ever be on the cards for Edith again? 

Potentially. Who knows? It’s all in Julian [Fellowes’] hands, where he takes you and leaves you… I think what’s interesting with Edith is that she’s changed so much. After she was jilted, I was like, “Well that’s it, she’s done with men. She’s off.” And then she found a new path.

She became a writer and then within that context fell in love in a different way to how she’d ever been in love before – in love with someone because they respected her and thought that she was smart and capable and not just because of her position. I think there’s always that possibility. The thing is that it might be in a different way from before and I think that’s what I found both interesting and truthful about Edith’s storyline: her perimeters change. 

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Downton Abbey returns to ITV on Sunday 21st September at 9:00pm