The NYT talks to Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes about Season 3, and part of their conversation discusses Thomas Barrow's storyline, and the attitudes toward gay people then and now.
Another story line from this season dealt with the household learning that the servant Thomas is gay. Had you decided that about him from the time you created the character?
He was always going to be gay. I don’t know about in America, but here, there are so many people under 40 who were hardly aware of the fact that it was actually illegal until the 1960s. Perfectly normal men and women were risking prison by making a pass at someone. Their whole life was lived in fear, and ruin and humiliation and career after career would be smacked down. I think it’s useful to remind people that many things that they take for granted, are, in terms of our history, comparatively new. But I also felt it was believable that someone living under that pressure would be quite snippy and ungenerous and untrusting. But once you understood what he was up against, you’d forgive quite a lot of that. I like to write characters where you change your mind, without them becoming different people.
The reactions from the others in the house, particularly those who disapprove so vehemently, make you see them in a new light, too.
Well, I think it’s a mistake to give people modern attitudes if you want them to remain sympathetic, because I think the audience picks up on that. If Carson had said, “Oh, yes, I think it’s absolutely fine,” that’s a 2013 response. My parents didn’t have any prejudice about this at all, actually. In fact, my brother’s godfather was gay, quite publicly, which in the 50s was pretty wild. This was a good friend of my father’s. He was liberal. It didn’t bother him if people were homosexual. But we can forget how we were ringed in with these prejudices until really quite recently.
Read the full interview HERE.