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Downton Abbey producers defend controversial storyline on period drama

Downton Abbey: Shown from left to right: Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Joanna David as Duchess of Yeovil and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary.
Downton Abbey: Shown from left to right: Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Joanna David as Duchess of Yeovil and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary.©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes and show producers felt called upon to make statements about the controversial new storyline that debuted in the U.S. on Jan. 12, 2014. "Downton Abbey" is a production of Masterpiece Theatre that premieres on PBS on Sun. nights.

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"Downton Abbey" airs in the U.K. months before the shows air in the U.S., so the plot spoilers have been available on the internet since fall of 2013. American viewers who had not viewed the spoilers were shocked at the assault, battery and rape of gentle housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) by Mr. Green, a visiting valet.

The attack took place when Mr. Green caught Anna alone downstairs, while the rest of the staff attended a concert during an elegant houseparty at the manor. It was a shocking conclusion to an episode that was largely concentrated upon the social interplay between the upper classes upstairs.

Julian Fellowes told BBC, in an Oct. article," The whole point of the way we do things on Downton is we don't do them gratuitously. We are interested in exploring the resultant emotions and the effect these things have on people."

PBS posted a statement made by Downton Abbey UK producers in Oct., following reaction to the episode's premiere in the U.K.. A spokesperson for Carnival Films stated: "The complex and loving journey of Anna and Bates has been central to the narrative of the show. The events in episode two were we believe acted and directed with great sensitivity. Viewers will see in the forthcoming episodes how Anna and Bates struggle to come to terms with what has happened."

Gareth Neame, the series' executive producer, made a statement to TV Guide for the American audience. He was prepared for the backlash after the reaction from the British audience. "It had a big reaction and a lot of people were upset by it," according to Neame. "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."

"Downton Abbey" is more than a costume drama, the story does deal with the complex social issues during a period of great change. Rape is a seriously traumatic event that has been relevant in the past and continues to be relevant.

Anna reacted as many women do following a rape, she was ashamed and wanted to keep it secret. She told only head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes because she needed her help in getting a dress to replace her own torn garments. Her intentions were also noble, as she knew that her beloved husband, Mr. Bates, would kill Mr. Green if he found out and then he would surely be hanged and forever lost to her. It is doubtful that she can keep the secret for long, since Mr. Bates is already suspicious of his wife's unusual behavior.

Of course, this was only one of the storylines. Lord Robert (Hugh Bonneville) displayed his usual snobbery in his attitude toward famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba Dame (Kiri Te Kanaw), in an era before entertainers were the objects of worship they are today. Robert also lost a fortune to a card sharp, but was saved by Lady Edith's (Laura Carmichael) lover Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) who tricked the card sharp and recovered the lost money, ingratiating himself with the Lord of the Manor. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) came out of her depression long enough to socialize with an old friend, Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) who happened to bring his valet, rapist Mr. Green. Tom Branson (Allen Leech) was miserable, feeling out of place at the party, and very vulnerable to the overtures of plotting housemaid Edna (Myanna Buring).

The ensemble cast of "Downton Abbey" includes: Hugh Bonneville as Lord Robert, Earl of Grantham; Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley; Myanna Buring as Edna; Jim Carter as Mr. Carson; Brendan Coyle as John Bates; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley; Kevin Doyle as Molesley; Charles Edwards as Michael Gregson; Joanne Froggatt as Anna; Lily James as Lady Rose McClare; Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow; Allen Leech as Tom Branson; Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes; Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Countess of Grantham; Sophie McShera as Daisy; Matt Milne as Alfred Nugent; Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore; David Robb as Dr. Clarkson; Maggie Smith as Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham; Ed Speleers as Jimmy Kent; Cara Theobald as Ivy Stuart; and Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley.

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