Can the women of Downton Abbey have more to do than suffering?
Cora lost her baby. Edith got left at the altar. Sybil died during childbirth. Mary’s husband died in a car crash-only after regaining his sight. Mary herself endured being shunned for a while.
And on the most recent episode, Anna was brutally raped.
It’s not that creator Julian Fellowes delves deeply into storylines. With approximately 20 main characters, there’s not much time in an hour for everyone. Skipping around to each storyline is to be assumed. But for many of the female characters, skimping is the result.
Robert Crawley has seen his position as patriarch usurped by finances, war, Matthew, Tom, and now (Good God), his female offspring. His infant grandson owns as much estate as he does. His struggles have been evident over seasons.
In comparison, Cora suffered a miscarriage. And at the hands of her lady’s maid. But it was the Season 1 finale. There was no grieving period. She did grieve over the death of Sybil and blamed Robert for failing to heed a doctor’s warning. She forgave him in the next episode.
Other than that, Cora has been decorative. There’s little conflict over Robert’s continual gambling via investment or at the card table.
Edith has mainly been at the whims of men. Sure, she was a champion of women suffrage and wrote a newspaper column. But the only time she was much interesting was when she was destroying her sister’s social standing. Now she’s wide-eyed over her editor’s unflappable love for her.
Women, no matter their politics, steadfastly defend the series. While admitting to the frothiness of the portrayals of females, there’s little wavering in the appreciation of it. One even mentioned Shirley Maclaine’s appearances as something of an endorsement of its depictions.
With the rape, the majority of complaints have come from 1) men and 2) those who felt the frothiness was tainted by sensationalist realism. Many outraged tweets were about the depiction of brutal violence, not that yet another woman was victimized.
Women in Peril movies still are pretty commonplace in Hollywood. So is violence. It’s unlikely that Americans will create a furor over the scene’s brutality. As it stands, only 200 out of 9.4 million viewers in the UK have registered complaints.
It appears Fellowes will be extending Anna’s storyline over the season. In the forthcoming episode, Anna has difficulties being with husband Bates as well as in hiding her attack. True to the period, women were cast out for speaking up. Skipping to another storyline off a life-altering event would not be a step in the right direction.
It’s not that I don’t like Downton Abbey. I do.
But pearls and peril don’t always go together.