“Downton Abbey” will finally say farewell to the brooding Miss O’Brien in season 4. A March 4 Fox News report indicates there will be other "Downton Abbey" cast changes besides the obvious departure of Daniel Stevens who played the part of Mary Crawley’s husband, Mathew Crawley. The producers have confirmed that Lady Crawley’s trouble-making housemaid Sarah O'Brien, played by Siobhan Finneran, is leaving the popular British period drama shown in the U.S. on PBS.
“Downton Abbey” is set in 1920s England in the household of Lord and Lady Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley. The fictional Downton estate operates in the "upstairs-downstairs” lifestyle that was beginning to experience its decline after World War I. The show is filmed on location at Highclere Castle, except for the scenes shot in the servant’s area downstairs.
Miss Sarah O’Brien was an instigator of evil on the show, having purposely caused Cora Crawley to slip on a bar of soap and have a miscarriage in an earlier season. In season 3, Miss O’Brien was involved in a plot line that was one of the saddest and lowest points in the season.
Miss O'Brien spitefully led a homosexual servant, Thomas, to think that a handsome new footman was in love with him. She perpetuated the lie until Thomas entered the footman’s bedroom without permission (trespassing during the night) and made an overt sexual advance. This incident appeared to look much like an attempted rape on film.
Later, through a bizarre string of events involving a cricket match, the offending servant is not only restored to employment at Downton but promoted. Then a village fair creates a situation where he is able to save the footman from an angry mob, taking the beating himself to save the object of his affection. This results in the restoration of the friendship between the two men, and at the end of the season, they are seen chatting together amicably.
Of course, this plot line had nothing to do with Siobhan Finneran who played Sarah O'Brien. And, the "Downton Abbey" cast change had nothing to do with this gay rights plot line. The problem with this storyline, which heavily involved the character, Miss O'Brien, is that it is historically inaccurate!
This would have never happened in 1920s British royal society, and the show has misled its viewers. Regardless of your views on the presentation of gay rights in the media, the fact is that this is a historical drama, and it should be as historically accurate as possible.
In the 1920s, an overt and unwanted sexual advance of this type by an older non-royal citizen on a young man, possibly still in his teens, would be prosecuted. There would be no sympathy from the head servants, particularly the males, nor from the royalty which he served. There would not have been a warm and fuzzy feeling all through the house for this man. Right or wrong, that’s the way it was.
To use “Downton Abbey” to promote a social or political cause such as gay rights, non-existent in 1920 England, is akin to re-filming “Roots” to project racial equality. It would have been more powerful to show the reality of the inhumane treatment endured by this segment of the population, such as was done in “Roots.”
Leave a comment about how you feel about stretching the facts in a historical drama to include a social cause. What do you think?