“Downton Abbey” introduced an upsetting storyline for Season 4 Sunday (Jan. 11) when Anna (Joanne Froggatt) was attacked and raped by a visiting Lord’s valet in the servants’ hall during a house party at the estate.
When the episode aired in the United Kingdom, there were a few complaints levied at U.K. network ITV about the storyline, though executive producer Gareth Neame tells Zap2it that it wasn’t as controversial as the press made it out to be.
“It’s a much-loved character and people were shocked that something could be perpetrated on such a beloved character,” says Neame. “But depending on what you were looking at in the U.K. press, you should bear in mind that most of this was whipped up by the media to create a story. There were a very few number of complaints, there were not a large number of complaints. It was whipped up as a newspaper story.”
“Which is fine, it drove viewers to the show and ratings. It all worked fine,” Neame continues. “But it would be wrong to think that there was any actual significant controversy about it.”
Neame adds that while the actual complaints were few, of course fans were upset for the character of Anna and what had happened to her.
“As watching a piece of drama, people were shocked. One has got to remember that these are particularly beloved characters, more than in many other shows. I think it’s because it’s a show about a family, all of these characters are so well-drawn, people really care about these characters and were very upset that this would happen,” says Neame. “But the overwhelming response was that this whole story had been handled very sensitively, that it was very well-acted by Jo Froggatt.”
Neame also says that viewers need to remember that “Downton Abbey,” for all of its fun and humor, is a drama at its core. “You got to remember it was only three episodes earlier that one of the biggest characters in the entire show is dead on the side of the road,” says Neame.
“This is not a light show; it’s not a comedy of manners,” Neame continues. “We’ve had death and we’ve had all sorts of incidents going on. So it’s not out of keeping to the show that suddenly just when you think you’re going in one direction we pull the rug out from under your feet and we go off in a whole other direction.”
Moving forward, we have to wonder what will happen to Anna and her husband Bates (Brendan Coyle) after the attack. We’re fearful that Bates will find out and end up back in prison when (not if) he goes after the attacker. Can’t the writers just let them be happy?
“Maybe one day they will be,” says Neame. “But we’ve set them up as a couple who are very different people. One is eternally optimistic, a good character, and the other one is melancholic. They are very drawn to each other, it’s a very good relationship. But some of the characters in the show seem to have good luck and some seem to have not so good luck. They obviously have a lot of roadblocks and obstaces in their relationship.”
“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.