Julian Fellowes Defends Controversial 'Downton Abbey' Scene

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Julian Fellowes

The series creator tells the BBC and other British media outlets that the storyline is not gratuitous despite more than 200 complaints.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for the episode of Downton Abbey that aired Oct. 6 in the U.K.]

LONDON – Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning creator of hit TV show Downton Abbey, has found himself defending a controversial storyline that aired in the U.K. on Oct. 6, and drew dozens of complaints.

According to British press reports, the show's broadcaster ITV and media regulator Ofcom received more than 200 complaints after character Anna May Bates, played by Joanne Froggatt, was attacked and raped by a guest's valet.

"The whole point of the way we do things on Downton is we don't do them gratuitously," Fellowes told the BBC. "We are interested in exploring the resultant emotions and the effect these things have on people."

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Twitter contributions about the episode referred to fans' "shock" and "distress" with the storyline described as "sensationalist."

But Fellowes told the BBC he rejected the criticism, saying he was "sorry" if fans felt the show couldn't "go there."

But he also apologized for any distress caused.

Fellowes also pointed out the attack took place behind closed doors, noting that if he and show's makers had "wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out."

"The point of our handling is not that we're interested in sensationalizing but we're interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage," he said.

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Froggatt also defended the scenes, appearing on BBC Breakfast Tuesday morning to tell viewers she thought it was "a really brave thing to do … [in the script]. I believe that Julian has written it in a way that is not gratuitous at all."

Fellowes told the BBC the plot development did not signal a new direction for the drama, which is now in its fourth season.

"Downton deals in subjecting a couple of characters per [season] to a very difficult situation, and you get the emotions that come out of these traumas.

"When you handle very difficult and sensitive storylines, the minus is that they do expect more work from the audience, but the plus is they can take you to a helpful place in terms of self-analysis," he said.

An average of 9.2 million viewers watched Sunday night's episode, with a peak audience of 9.9 million.

A warning alerting viewers to the upsetting scenes was broadcast before the episode aired.

Nigel Harman, who played Anna's attacker, previously told ITV's This Morning magazine show he was "amazed" by the storyline, "because for a show like Downton it really leaped out as a bold and risky idea."