Warning: If you have yet to view last night's Downton Abbey, stop reading now, as this story discusses a major plot point.
American viewers who tuned in to Downton Abbey on PBS last night got to see what outraged British audiences months earlier when the controversial episode first aired in the UK. Having previously survived the false imprisonment of her now-husband Mr. Bates, long-suffering head housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) was violently attacked and raped by a visiting valet named Mr. Green.
Gareth Neame, the series' executive producer, was prepared for backlash after the shocking twist sparked rage from horrified English viewers. "It had a big reaction and a lot of people were upset by it," Neame acknowledges. "Like the death of the Matthew Crawley character, audiences are very protective of these characters and view them as an extension of their own families. The big thing about our show is there being big twists and surprises, and this (incident) is perpetrated on possibly the most beloved character of all: the one with the warmest heart."
But Neame defends the incident as being representative of the horror and deep shame experienced by real lower class working women of the 1920's. "It is not us just being flashy and trying to get attention," insists Neame, praising the sensitive performance of Froggatt, who spoke with rape survivors in preparation for the story. "It is definitely something that was an issue at the time and women did not have any of the recourse that they would have now. Anna is in a terrible predicament that gives us a great undercurrent that runs through our fourth season."
Neame is hopeful that the story will spark discussion and shed light on the injustices experienced by rape survivors who have long since passed on. "After the episode aired in England, people came out saying they knew this happened to sexually vulnerable servants below stairs," says Neame, who starts shooting Downton's fifth season next month (with the entire cast intact) and anticipates a Season 6. "I believe it's good for us to have done this story."