“Downton Abbey’s” latest episode that aired in the U.K. on Sunday (Oct. 6) featured a controversial storyline — spoiler warning, we are going to address it and actress Joanne Froggatt‘s comments about it, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to be spoiled.
In Season 4 of the popular British drama, Froggatt’s character Anna, a house maid at Downton, is attacked and raped by the valet of a visiting lord. The attack, which happens almost entirely off-screen, had British viewers up in arms, with ITV (the U.K. station that broadcasts “Downton”) receiving dozens of complaints about the storyline.
But Froggatt says she’s proud of what the show has chosen to do with her character this season.
“Obviously, as an actress, I was really pleased and I was really proud of the show for tackling something like this. It was a really brave thing to do,” Froggatt tells the BBC in an interview. “I really do believe [creator Julian Fellowes] has written that in a way that’s not gratuitous at all. He does very much explore the emotional journey of Anna and Bates after this event as well. I think he’s done a beautiful job of hitting the right note with it. We always felt a big responsibility to get it right.”
Nigel Harman, the man who plays Anna’s attacker, Mr. Green, echoes those
sentiments, telling ITV’s “This Morning” that “for a show like
‘Downton,’ it really leaped out as a bold and risky idea.”
“Julian, again it’s a credit to him, was adamant that we wouldn’t depict that kind of violence against a woman on screen,” adds Froggatt. “The shock value was there, without having to depict anything graphic. The story is shocking enough, as it should be.”
One reason we didn’t feel the storyline was gratuitous or sensational was because rape was (and still is) a worldwide problem. Women are attacked and must actually wrestle with whether or not to report it — a problem that a woman like Anna will struggle with mightily, given her station and the time period, which Froggatt says is something the show will explore.
“Alastair Bruce, our historical advisor, was really great in talking me through the enormity of what’s happened to Anna in that time period,” says Froggatt. “I wanted her to tell someone, of course I did, but I needed to know why she didn’t and Alastair said a woman in that age, all you had was your reputation, a career, if you had a job, and your family. There was still a stigma attached to any kind of attack like this that you were very much in danger of losing all of that.
“If a woman lost a reputation that’d be shame upon the house. She could lose her job, she could lose her husband. Society still saw it as no smoke without fire, he’s only a man, he couldn’t help himself. It’s very interesting to see that’s only 100 years ago.”
“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. local time in the U.K. and returns to U.S. airwaves on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.