Thomas Barrow, the footman-turned-valet-turned-underbutler of Downton Abbey, has been the sole gay character for the first two seasons of the series. Thomas pursued makeout seshs with several closeted visiting dignitaries in season one, but has otherwise been relegated to scheming with O’Brien and, oh, World War One. In season three, actor Robert James-Collier tells OUT magazine, he finally lets his gay flag fly.
Author Aaron Hicklin writes:
I have it on great authority that this is the season in which that villainous gay footman-turned-valet, Thomas Barrow, experiences the tender love that his poor, neglected heart so craves and needs. It’s about time. … In season 3, we get to see Thomas outed in a powerful sequence of episodes that James-Collier considers the best acting of his career.
Thomas is outed, according to Hicklin’s piece, during a confrontation with the head butler Mr. Carson, with whom Thomas has always sought to undermine. But Downton creator Julian Fellowes infuses the moment with "dignity," supposedly, which I think means that Thomas doesn’t get the shit beaten out of him, nor is he tossed out into the Yorkshire countryside on his ass. James-Collier himself explained to the magazine:
It’s the series where we really comes to grips with Thomas’s sexuality and the impact being gay must have had on him, in Edwardian times. If you’re including a gay character, there’s an onus and responsibility to at least show what the impact of the time will be on him, and of him on that time. Thankfully we’ve done that, and I’m so proud that I’ve been used to tell that tale … If you were gay in those times, the fact that you’re even functioning, how you’re not completely fucked up by that, is beyond me.
Does this mean some hot, gay onscreen sex scenes will be in store? (FYI, James-Collier is even more easy on the eyes in real life photo shoots than he is on Downton.) One can only hope …
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