Did Downton Abbey Just Break My Heart?
It began as a silly photo “gaff” (perhaps stunt) in which a “Downton Abbey” season 5 press shot featured The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and an allegedly overlooked modern-day water bottle.
The incident caught traction on social media, especially Facebook, where the cast responded to “Water Bottle-Gate” with tongues firmly in cheek, but for a worthy cause. The cast got together, out of character, and winkingly held up water bottles. This second shot is not only meant to show a sense of humor, but to bring awareness to WaterAid — an international non-profit that provides clean water, hygiene education and safe toilets to poor communities around the world.
This, of course, is a wonderful use of the pop culture spotlight.
It is also potentially an unwelcome clue about events to come this season, not by what’s in it this time, but by who’s not. Quietly not pictured: Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham. The character was ill with the flu last season, and that fear of losing the edgy advice and quotable quips she constantly serves up was palpable for me. With every minute of screen time she spent bedridden, I was wholly invested, nails bitten to the nubs, knuckles white from anxious pillow-gripping, begging nurse/loud-mouthed mensch Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) to fix her up. The old lady was of stronger stuff than letting a bug take her down, however, and she recovered. Whew!
But was the collective sigh of relief I’m sure I shared with other devoted viewers released too soon? Or was Dame Smith just not available for this clever shot? The UK will find out when the season begins for them on BBC in late September. The US has to wait for PBS to begin the season in January 2015. For the first time since this show first aired with this infuriating delay, I am so concerned about spoilers that I’m willing to consider a sacrifice picture quality in order to watch along with our friends across the pond.