28 October 2013

Downton Abbey - That Controversial Rape Scene

I am a bit late to the party here. I only started watching Downton Abbey about a month ago when I was long in the rut of unemployment and had bored my DVD collection to death. I have just about caught up with the rest of the world, and although it is mildly boring, plain and typically ITV, one episode - one scene, in fact - had such an impact on me (and apparently a lot of other people) that I felt the need to address my view on it here, and question, why did it cause so much outrage?

When my heart starts racing with desperation for one character to be saved and another to be convicted, I know I am watching good drama. Although horrific, Downton certainly delivered in this particular episode, and had people gasping in shock at the heartbreaking ending. I am talking about the scene in which Anna - lovely, sweet, kind and friendly Anna - gets raped by a visiting servant at Downton Abbey, Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr Green.


First of all, I have to say Joanne Froggatt's acting was impeccable. She delivered a believable, frightening performance and I commend her highly for that.

Downton Abbey is an easy viewing, light relief period drama, but, that being said, it should be praised for its attempt at depicting a horrific act that, yes, happened even in the 1920s. I believe popular programmes like Downton have every right to portray such scenes and - even if this is not their aim - raise awareness of the terrible crime that is rape. Even in today's society it is a subject tip-toed around and as we all know, is for some awful reason still often blamed on the victim.

There was nothing sensationalist about the scene. The delivery, admittedly, took me by surprise. It was entirely unexpected, even though my family had been discussing it around the dinner table a few weeks previously. However, I think this only added to the terror of the attack which is what one might expect in a real life account.

The scene was merged with snapshot scenes of what was happening upstairs, and although it was apparent that a sexual attack was taking place, it was implicitly shot and directed quite tastefully compared to some representations of rape I have seen in television and film previously.


Why is a rape scene still 'controversial'? According to the Telegraph, the episode drew in more than 200 official complaints, which seems unjustified when there was a warning before the episode was aired that there were scenes that viewers may find upsetting. It also startles me that it should draw in so many complaints, when other violent scenes in the programme have gone unscathed.

What does controversial mean these days? We seem to be stuck in a terrible rut of over-used story lines and, although disturbing, it is refreshing to see something different - yet real - in an otherwise quite boring and meaningless TV programme. The rape scene was not glamourised at all. It was quick. It made its point and then moved onto the heart of the story; the emotional and physical after effects of the victim.

At least it got people talking. At least it raised awareness, and I don't care if it was a ploy to draw in more viewers. I say, well done if that was the idea. Downton Abbey - so well known for its soft and fluffy Sunday evening viewing - made a strong and powerful portrayal of a crime that has terrible effects on its victims emotions and relationships, and if it raises awareness, we might be one step closer to stopping rapists and helping rape victims in our society.


  1. I think this episode was well written, the scene had me on the edge of my seat. Just because it's not all happy go lucky, everyone's complaining. Obviously some people didn't pay attention to the beginning of the programme to see the warning. Joanne's performance was outstanding. I love Downton Abbey, it's definitely one of my favourite shows. :) xx


    1. I'm glad you think so too. It was definitely one of their better episodes in any of their series' so far and I think they would do well to continue incorporating more dramatic scenes in the programme. xo

    2. Yes! It makes it more interesting. Not everything can be happy go lucky all the time, can it? xx


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