As VisionTV continues its back-to-back airings of Downton Abbey’s first three seasons, we’re looking back on the paths that the period drama’s most captivating characters have charted over the years, as well as the recent movements of the actors who bring them to life. From ladies Mary and Sybil, to Matthew and Robert Crawley, we’ve taken a look at some of the series’ most beloved, and some sorely missed, characters. This week, we look from the Earl of Grantham to his wife Cora, an American whose arrival at Downton brought far more than her (vast) inheritance to the table.
Although their marriage was originally proposed as much out of strategy as love, it’s impossible to deny that Cora and Robert’s partnership, while beneficial to the residents of Downton, is based on much more than good business. Even through periods of uncertainty and distraction, their partnership is essentially a strong one, despite Cora’s position as a relative outsider in her adoptive home (a point periodically reinforced, and exaggerated, by the Dowager Countess). Although Robert is undoubtedly the head of the estate, he generally trusts Cora’s judgment in its operation, often for the best, as she offers a forward-thinking sensibility that can both offset and complement his more traditionalist views.
Despite the depth of their commitment to one another, and their family’s legacy, there have been times when we’ve seen Robert and Cora’s relationship threatened. Even though she’s had an occasional tendency to fixate on Mary’s prospects, Cora’s love for all three of her daughters is profound, and she was gravely shaken by the tragic events surrounding Sybil’s death in Season Three. Most of all, she found it difficult to forgive her husband’s decision to keep their daughter at Downton rather than have her transferred to a hospital during childbirth, on the advice of a well-known physician. Now, with another death in the family to cope with – one that could undermine both the estate’s operation and her eldest daughter’s psyche – Cora’s reaction to yet another familial challenge will be both telling and interesting to watch.
Meanwhile, the woman behind Lady Grantham’s cool exterior has focused her attention on a project of a more musical nature – one that’s a far cry from the string quartets and sedate entertainment enjoyed by the character she normally portrays. Since 2008, Elizabeth McGovern has been the most recognizable face of folk and roots outfit Sadie and the Hotheads, whose third album, Still Waiting, was released on Feb. 10. Currently in the midst of a 27-date tour in support of their latest offering, McGovern has said that her goal at the moment is to devote more time and energy to her musical pursuits, especially once the next season of Downton has wrapped filming.
That project isn’t the only one to which she’s lent her voice recently. This month, a select group of viewers were treated to a sneak peak of the new, five-part documentary series, “Civil War: The Untold Story”. The production, which features a compelling blend of sweeping, cinematic photography and fascinating historical insight, is narrated by McGovern in an unusual role for someone more often found in front of the camera or, just as often, onstage.
Although she’s perhaps best known for her appearances in film and television, McGovern’s theatre training at Juilliard prepared her for a career on the stage. In 2013, she was honoured by the Shakespeare Theatre Company with their Will Award, and has performed in nearly two dozen productions both in London and the U.S. Since her first movie role in 1980’s Ordinary People, she’s played everything from Snow White to “Hamlet”‘s Ophelia, on both the small and large screen. Her most recent film appearance, in the 2012 comedy-drama Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, saw her in a somewhat familiar role as the mother of a young woman about to be married.
With more seasons of Downton Abbey to look forward to, we won’t be saying goodbye to the Crawleys, or Lady Grantham, anytime soon. Fortunately for us, Elizabeth McGovern’s latest projects prove that she’ll be turning heads for years to come, with or without her onscreen title.
– Kate Shepherd