We don’t watch Downton Abbey for gritty social realism

The rape of Anna was a miscalculation by Downton writer Julian Fellowes, says Alison Graham


Last night’s Downton Abbey was preceded by a warning of  “violent scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.” Violence? In Downton? So what could it be? There was a bizarre jam-jar smashing incident in the kitchen. Was that it? Sadly it turned out to be nothing so harmless: Anna was raped by a visiting servant.


Oh Downton, not you too. Lovely, plucky Anna (Joanne Froggatt), who fought for the love of her life – Mr Bates – when he was unjustly imprisoned. A warm, kind and spirited woman who beats at the very heart of the Abbey. Raped in scenes that, as the warning described, were upsetting, as she was beaten, overpowered and violated, her screams ringing around the empty servants’ quarters.

Dramas do this too often when they start to run out of ideas. They have a strong female character, but maybe the writer’s not too sure where to take her. Easy! Rape her and get a bit of mileage out of her misery.

It’s rape, the most hideous real-life crime, used as a quick plot development. But it was a real miscalculation by Downton writer Julian Fellowes. Downton Abbey is a fantasy, a little bubble of good manners where people are decent (more or less) and do the right thing. It’s not The Wire, no one watches it for gritty social realism.

I think, after last night, love between Downton Abbey and many of its devotees, will have died.