Critics have denounced Downton Abbey as gaudy, a-historical, and a bit too apologetic about the fusty elitism of Britain’s upper crust. But to fans of the period drama—and I count myself among them—Downton has been four solid years of soapy goodness, topped off with surprisingly incisive writing and some seriously fabulous hats. Those of us who have remained loyal to the Grantham clan are in for a special treat this season: the show’s first Jewish character is about to make an appearance at Downton’s stately halls.
This past Sunday night we were introduced to The Honourable Ephraim Atticus Aldridge (played by the very gentile and very hunky Matt Barber), who strikes up a romance with Lady Rose as she is fetching cake to serve to exiled Russian aristocrats. We learn that Aldridge’s great-grandparents settled in England after fleeing the Odessa pogrom of 1859, and went on to amass a considerable fortune in their new home. Upon learning the year of the Aldridge family’s arrival in England, one of the aristocrats is livid. “He’s not Russian!” he shouts, storming off down the dank church basement, presumably to dust off his copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Downton has skirted around the issue of anti-Semitism in previous seasons, but the prejudice comes out in full force once an overtly Jewish family starts showing up at the Granthams’ dinner parties. I don’t want to spoil any more details, so I’ll just say that plenty of stiff upper lips curl at the prospect of an inter-faith union between Atticus and Rose. And of course, in true Downton fashion, the couple’s love affair is rife with melodrama, gooey sentimentality, and epic one-liners courtesy of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess.
(Image: Lady Rose MacClare meets Atticus Aldridge on Season 5, Episode 5 of ‘Downton Abbey.’ Courtesy of ITV.)