It’s almost time to say goodbye to season 5 of Downton Abbey in the U.S. For me, the anticipation of the grand finale is somewhat marred by a creative opportunity that Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer, seems to have missed.
Season 5 introduced hunky Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber) as Lady Rose MacClare’s (Lily James) new love interest. He goes by his middle name, Atticus, although his first name is Ephraim. His arrival created a buzz in the Jewish community, given that he is one of ours – a member of the tribe.
Unlike other story lines, which have been drawn out beyond their natural course and my patience (can’t Anna Bates catch a break? Isn’t it enough already?) I wanted more out of Rose and Atticus.
Rose’s mother, who has been negligently absent from her life, returned with a vengeance and a plan to derail her daughter’s happiness. She went as far as setting up Atticus to make it appear as though he had cheated on Lady Rose. While she cared very little about Rose’s emotional well being, she certainly went to great lengths to prevent her from marrying a Jew.
Atticus’s father, Lord Sinderby, also does not approve of the marriage and doesn’t bother feigning his acceptance of the situation. He reminds Atticus in a heated argument that Rose is a “shiksa,” and their children will grow up Anglican. Atticus responds that his children may choose to convert in the future, which begs the question, why didn’t Lord Sinderby suggest that option for Rose?
Given Lord Sinderby’s vehement opposition to the union as expressed publicly around the Crawley circles as well as in private to his son, why didn’t he broach the topic of conversion?
I would have appreciated scenes of meetings between the young couple and rabbis. Perhaps a contemplation of kashrut laws, although obviously not observed by the Sinderby family, would have also been appropriate and provocative? And what about the mikveh? Has anyone considered the mikveh? And a bris? Will Lord Sinderby be willing to forego a bris if his son’s union bears male grandchildren?
Please do not misunderstand: I wasn’t rooting for Rose’s conversion – I was rooting for a better developed plot. I wanted Fellowes to explore years of Jewish persecution in Europe and the real reason for Lord Sinderby’s objection to his son’s marrying outside the faith. There was an opportunity to address the prejudice and bias that exist to this day. The entertaining buttoned-up jabs made by the aristocracy (on both sides) don’t do justice to the real issues that faced (and still face) our society. There was a chance to delve deeply into the mindsets on both sides, which is my real complaint: The show tends to gloss over some issues while belaboring others. It left me wanting more.
Many speculated that Julian Fellowes, created the storyline in response to growing anti-Semitism in Europe. In an interview with TIME, Fellowes dispels this rumor, explaining that it stems from his own youth, when he dated a young woman from a prominent Jewish family and was considered “unsuitable” by them.
Disappointment aside, I am looking forward to the finale and to next season. I hope the plot will expand upon pre-World War II Europe in general, as well as the difficulties that lie ahead for Rose and Atticus.