Is Downton Abbey getting too sexy?

Pre-marital sex? Condoms? Night-long stamina? It’s enough to make the Dowager Countess – and me – feel faint, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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What’s happened to stiff-upper-lipped, prim and proper, buttoned-up Downton Abbey? All that pomp and ceremony, etiquette and manners, niceties, polite small talk and dinner gongs…

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What does any of it mean when the lady of the house is sending her maid to buy condoms so she can have it away with a man she thinks she might quite like to marry (maybe), using an innocent sketching trip as a euphemism for rampant pre-marital sex, unbridled passion and doing it all night long in hotel rooms. Not even under a false name. 

Heavens above.

I’ve never really felt much of an affinity with Carson, but all this moving forward with the times is getting a bit much.

Sure, this isn’t the first time Lady Mary’s been a little promiscuous, or indulged in a spot of pre-marital sex, come to that. (The episode in which her exotic lover Pamuk croaked in her bed was arguably the best ever.)

And Downton hasn’t exactly skirted the issue of sex altogether. We’ve seen Anna and Bates between the sheets, Edith sneaking back into Aunt Rosamund’s after an illicit night at Gregson’s and Thomas with his Duke. Even Mary and Matthew, flushed and tousled in bed. But this week’s talk of contraception and sexual stamina feels a little different.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fervent advocate of abstinence. I don’t think anyone, fictional or otherwise, should sign their lives away or promise to obey before ever seeing more of their husband than his face, wrists and ankles. And, though shocking, I can just about make my peace with lovely Anna being sent condom shopping. Clearly the right to have sex without producing babies is important. I’m all for the historically accurate progression of women’s rights and liberated sexuality, even if after four series of feeling buttoned up it’s making me feel a tad uncomfortable.

But really Downton is at its best when it’s subtle. When it dabbles in sexual innuendo. When relationships are all stolen glances, expressive eyebrows and desperate longing. Not condoms and mental images of Tony Gillingham sweating and exhausted from his all-night efforts. 

I never want to hear anyone say: “We’ll make love all night. And in fact for as long as either of us has any stamina left.” Let alone in Downton Abbey.

Lady Mary might think you can’t say fairer than that, but I think you can. It would be fairer if it wasn’t said at all.

Downton Abbey isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not the place for revealing the ins and outs of what goes on in the bedroom. It’s not sexy. It’s not titillating. It’s just plain confusing.

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Downton Abbey continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV