Monday, February 18, 2013
***SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVE NOT YET FINISHED SEASON 3 AND DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, READ NO FURTHER***
As those of you who watched Season 3 of Downton Abbey already know, several major characters died unexpectedly this season. Today's New York Times contains an interview with screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who suggests that contracts are to blame for these deaths. Fellowes claims that, while American actors in a television series routinely sign on for five or even seven years, English agents won't agree to more than three.
So, says Fellowes, the actors portraying the late Lady Sybil and the late Matthew Crawley, wanted to go after three seasons, and the screenwriter had no choice but to off them (as melodramatically as possible). Fellowes then explains why death was the only option. If they were merely servants, well, the writers would simply find the characters a new situation in a different household and that would be that. But when you are dealing with members of family, death is the only option if they are unwilling to perform the occasional cameo. Actually, this may show the limits of Mr. Fellowes' imagination. One of my all-time favorite shows, My So-Called Life, had a fairly significant character who never appeared on screen at all, although he was referenced in almost every episode.
In any case, it seems unfair to makes contracts the heavy. In the case of Lady Sybil, clearly English medicine bears part of the blame. And in Matthews case, the whole business could have been avoided with seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and paved roads wide enough to accomodate two motorcars.
Of course, all of this will be different when Netflix brings out the American version of Downton. In that version, viewers will get to vote characters out of the series, and I would off Cora as quickly as possible -- but tastefully, off-stage. We wouldn't want to overtax the actor's abilities. If I were deciding the vote, we'd pretty quickly be left with just the Dowager Countess, Carson and the dog.