Column: Jessica Fellowes on Episode 4
Jessica Fellowes offers behind-the-scenes access to the
world of Downton Abbey, from the cast
to the castle, like no one else. Now, Fellowes shares her insights into the
most explosive and moving moments from Downton
Abbey, Season 3. Find out what Fellowes had to say about the emotionally
riveting Episode 4. (Note: The following contains plot spoilers for Downton
Abbey, Season 3, Episode 4.)
“The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone. I’m weeping
myself.” So spoke Mrs Hughes, but it’s true for must of us at this, the end of
episode four. When even Thomas Barrow has been reduced to heaving sobs, you
know something spectacularly sad has happened. I have to confess that I have
just dried my eyes for the third time.
I first heard the death scene of Lady
Sybil in a draughty town hall in West London, when I was privileged enough to
attend the read-through of season three. The actors were in their own clothes
– no corsets, jeans and pullovers de rigueur – and everyone
was sitting around a table with the producers, director and Julian Fellowes,
drinking coffee out of plastic cups. And yet there wasn’t a dry eye in the
house as Tom begged his wife to wake up.
This episode was chiefly about birth and death and as such,
set up other juxtaposing themes. The battle of the classes was reflected in the
arguments between Sir Philip "physician to the aristocracy" Tapsell,
and Dr. "middle-class" Clarkson. Old vs. new could be seen in the
debate over whether or not to risk performing the tricky caesarean operation –
at a time when most women were only given a rag to bite on during childbirth,
the use of a general anesthetic was still a privileged, if not dangerous,
medicine. And, of course, we saw Lord and Lady Grantham in opposition, as each
chose their front line and fired shots from it. With this tragic conclusion, it
looks unlikely that there will be a truce anytime soon.
What I found particularly moving about this episode was the
way in which we saw how the two great events affected the entire household. One
sees the extent to which everyone – family and servants – are all living under the
same roof and are completely interconnected, even interdependent. Carson, who
has worked at Downton Abbey since he was a young man, knew Sybil for just as
long as her parents did and feels her loss just as deeply.
Sybil’s kind and gentle nature, as well as her force for
change will leave a lasting legacy on the house, not least of all because her
husband, Tom (who has become rather a heartthrob in the public eye during this
season) must remain in the house as one of the Crawleys. How he and they manage
this in the future will be interesting to watch.
Sybil was also concerned that Tom should have his wish that
his baby be christened a Catholic. To Lord Grantham, this is almost on a par
with selling his grandchild into slavery. There was a real social stigma
against Catholics for most of the English aristocracy of that time
– indeed my own grandfather, [writer and creator] Julian [Fellowes]’s
father, converted at the age of 12, in 1925, at the behest of his zealous
stepfather, leaving the rest of the family aghast.
This was not an easy subject for Julian to address, but it
reflects well a situation that was far from uncommon at the time and I think we
have to commend the show for unflinchingly facing the hardships of the era as
much as we enjoy its indulgences in the more glorious aspects.
Editor's Note: Between 5-8% of pregnant women - 300,000
women each year in the U.S. - are
affected by hypertensive disorders of pregnancy such as preeclampsia (formerly
known as toxemia), eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. For more information, please
contact the Preeclampsia Foundation (http://www.preeclampsia.org).
Jessica Fellowes is the bestselling author of The Chronicles of Downton
Abbey, The World of Downton Abbey and Mud and the City: Dos and
Dont’s for Townies in the Country. Buy books by Jessica Fellowes at ShopPBS.org.