Lady Luck

A change is com­ing for Down­ton Abbey’s Edith says Laura Carmichael

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In four sea­sons of hit pe­riod drama Down­ton Abbey, Laura Carmichael’s char­ac­ter, Lady Edith Craw­ley, has been var­i­ously termed ugly Edith, ob­nox­ious Edith, un­lucky-inlove Edith and poor Edith.

English ac­tor Carmichael doesn’t have a prob­lem with that. The fact she can trans­form from drab Lady Edith to dropdead gor­geous gla­ma­zon and elicit re­ac­tions rang­ing from dis­be­lief to to­tal non-recog­ni­tion amuses her.

And as the long-de­layed fifth

sea­son of Down­ton ar­rives on Aus­tralian screens, she says Lady Edith may trans­form yet again.

Our in­ter­view takes place in Los An­ge­les, days af­ter the Golden Globes at which Joanne Frog­gatt has won the best sup­port­ing actress gong for her role as lady’s maid Anna Bates on Down­ton.

Down­ton Abbey’s luck was in at the Globes, but as sea­son five be­gins, Lady Edith’s is not. She’s had a tough time since Down­ton be­gan. She’s lost one man to war, been jilted at the al­tar, then fell preg­nant to a mag­a­zine edi­tor who went miss­ing in Ger­many, and hatched a plan to have the baby in se­cret.

Ev­ery time she seems on the verge of hap­pi­ness, it goes pear­shaped. Surely she’s due for some luck?

“You’d think so,” Carmichael laugh­ingly con­cedes, re­veal­ing

Down­ton writer Ju­lian Fel­lowes finds it “hi­lar­i­ous” that he gets let­ters from fans beg­ging him to please let Edith be happy.

But as sea­son five be­gins, it’s still look­ing pretty grim.

Edith has in­stalled her daugh­ter at a neigh­bour­ing farm, fight­ing a battle on two fronts — the ir­re­sistible ma­ter­nal pull clash­ing with the des­per­ate need to keep her a se­cret or bring shame on the whole Craw­ley clan.

It doesn’t help that no­body knows, so you can see the fam­ily silently won­der­ing why the heck she’s not over her dis­ap­pear­ing lover yet.

“It’s been in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for Edith. She is living with a kind of knife above her head … fear­ing dis­cov­ery of what in those times was a dev­as­tat­ing se­cret that could se­verely dam­age her sta­tus and her fam­ily,” Carmichael says.

“I think your heart will re­ally go out to Edith.

“The strug­gle to keep that se­cret clearly takes a heavy toll.”

“Poor Edith” is still om­nipresent, yet Carmichael never tires of her.

“It’s so in­ter­est­ing to have a char­ac­ter that so many things have hap­pened to,” she says.

“She has grown through it, and she picks her­self up and she gets on with things. As an ac­tor it’s a de­light to play.”

The bulk of fans when they first met Edith dis­liked her. Over time, Carmichael has en­joyed see­ing them come over to her side, to the point they wish for her hap­pi­ness.

“It’s been a lovely thing as you start to un­der­stand why she went there, what hap­pened to her to make her like that,” Carmichael says.

And she de­spairs of Edith’s sit­u­a­tion in which so­cial con­ven­tion means she can’t be with her daugh­ter.

“As a mod­ern woman it seems a cruel thing,” she says.

“But it was in­ter­est­ing to think about how it af­fected Edith. In her world there’s no big­ger dis­as­ter in their world than to be caught out in this way and it re­ally would have af­fected ev­ery sin­gle char­ac­ter in the show.

“It would af­fect the hall boys, the foot men … be­cause they would be work­ing at that house, where that lady is.

“And I think that’s the thing it’s so hard to get your head around. There are mo­ments when you see them (Edith and her daugh­ter) to­gether where you re­alise she has been un­de­ni­ably blessed, what­ever the sit­u­a­tion.”

Carmichael gives an ironic laugh. “Of­ten that’s fol­lowed by her be­ing pulled away, but hey …” she says.

There may not be many laughs for Edith but for Carmichael, a scep­ti­cal sense of hu­mour means she can revel in her many masks on and off cam­era.

There is no chance of con­fus­ing Carmichael with her char­ac­ter — they look to­tally dif­fer­ent, and while she loves the pe­riod cos­tumes, off-screen, “if any­thing feels Down­ton I won’t wear it”.

She finds the fact she can go un­recog­nised “in­ter­est­ing”.

“It’s funny when peo­ple re­ally gen­uinely don’t know who you are,” she says.

“I think it’s the hair thing, re­ally. I’m nor­mally just a messy blonde, rather than this per­son with per­fectly coiffed hair,” she says.

She’s also amused by the re­ac­tions fans have to the ac­tors who play the aris­to­crats as op­posed to those who re­side “down­stairs” at Down­ton.

“Jim (Carter, who plays but­ler Mr Car­son) and Michelle (Dock­ery, who plays Lady Mary) are the two most in­stantly recog­nis­able off­set,” she says. “Fans are re­ally chummy with Jim, while with Michelle it’s like a real princess is in the room.

“I get in­vited to things like horse rid­ing and cro­quet. And I don’t know how to ride horses — ex­cept for act­ing.

“It’s quite funny be­cause that’s not my nor­mal mode of trans­port.

“In real life I’d be more com­fort­able down­stairs, I think. Down­stairs they know what’s go­ing on. Up­stairs is un­aware that they are all talk­ing about them down­stairs.”

“In real life I’d be more com­fort­able down­stairs, I think” LAURA CARMICHAEL ON BE­ING UP­STAIRS

Laura Carmichael

has no prob­lem trans­form­ing into Lady Edity Craw­ley in Down­ton Abbey.

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