We’re nearly two weeks on from the shock of ‘Downton-gate’, and message boards are still angrily buzzing, writes Carl Jones.
Yes, ITV’s broadcast behemoth has built its worldwide acclaim on being a piece of woolly, friendly Sunday night comfort viewing; a period drama which walks the delicate tightrope between pantomime and soap opera.
And I understand completely that people tune in to Downton Abbey, by their millions, because they expect a gently-does-it piece of frothy fiction, replete with the odd class war, a passing reference to the history books, a few sneaky kisses behind the bike sheds, and a killer one-liner or two from waspish Dame Maggie Smith.
But just ask the likes of Woolworth’s about the dangers around a lack of evolution – stagnate, and you die.
And anyway, no-one wants to see a show on TV’s equivalent to the high street which is mushy as a marshmallow week in, week out, with a reputation for serving up absolutely no surprises. Do they?
Ah. Scrub that. Come to think of it, clearly they do. How else could Heartbeat have survived for 18 years, and X Factor be marking a decade in business?
Downton’s detractors have consistently taken delight in mocking the show for its lack of historical accuracy.
But the furore over the rape of poor Anna has proved one thing; the die-hard fans don’t want anything which opens up a window to the real world.
You have to feel for poor Joanne Froggatt, the often underestimated British actress who has found herself a helpless victim at the centre of the storm.
She even ended up having to defend the storyline on the breakfast TV sofa as Ofcom’s phones continued to buzz.
The poor girl has barely been given a decent storyline since day one, and finally, when she has something to get her teeth into, things turn nasty.
She and her attacker (former soap pin-up Nigel Harman) delivered the requisite shock value without having to depict anything remotely graphic, even though, in the post-watershed slot, they would have been completely within their rights to take it further.
Anyone would think that depicting rape on high-profile shows is something new. They clearly forget The Mill, where one of the girls was assaulted by the mill owner’s henchman, or Top of the Lake whose lead character was haunted by a past gang rape.
Soaps haven’t been immune either. Back in the day, Little Mo was assaulted in the pub by a customer, and more recently, Home and Away star Terri Haddy’s character, Rosie, faced a terrifying ordeal when she was raped by a boy from her school during a date.
Yes, folks, Home And Away. That Aussie, family-friendly show screened at the pre-watershed 6pm.
So let’s not get all Mary Whitehouse about this, and put things into perspective. Good on Downton scribe Julian Fellowes and his crew for tackling such a dark storyline and taking a risk.
They’ve re-energised the fourth series after a lumbering start by getting us all talking.
Just, you suspect, as they hoped for all along . . .