Mere weeks ago, I knew next to nothing about Downton Abbey, other than it was a television show surrounding some English aristocratic family from the early 20th century that ran on PBS from 2010 to 2015. Truthfully, I was never very interested in watching it mostly because I wasn’t too keen on seeing a show about wealthy people of great status I couldn’t relate to who were from a time I didn’t live in and a country I wasn’t from. But, after seeing the trailer for a theatrical movie being released for the same show and after hearing all the buzz surrounding it, including the many friends of mine who said how good the show actually was and how much they were looking forward to the film, I finally decided to start watching it on Amazon Prime with my partner to see what the hype was all about. Halfway into season 1, I was hooked and three weeks later I was all caught up, including with the movie itself, which I must say was thoroughly enjoyable for many reasons, but one most in particular.
Beyond the fact that I liked watching the lives of the servants and could relate more to them versus the aristocrats, I was actually drawn most to the journey of Footman/Under Butler/Butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), a closeted gay man living in a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness and perversion at best. To the casual viewer, especially someone who isn’t gay, it’s quite easy to hate Barrow’s character, as he was always conniving some type of scheme to try to make it ahead in life, stepping over the feet of everyone else, and backstabbing without regard of who might get hurt. While my partner regularly expressed displeasure in Barrow’s character, I always saw Barrow in a much different light. What I saw was a spiritually wounded man who truly struggled to relate to anyone else, who just wanted to be someone that was appreciated in a world that rarely appreciated people like him. While most of Barrow’s selfish attempts to make something of himself usually backfired, he occasionally exhibited true moments of humility and selflessness that showed he did have a loving heart and soul. Sadly, they usually got overshadowed by all his self-serving actions though, which tended to keep most everyone at arm’s length.
Man, I can so relate.
Over the years of me trying to find acceptance, I regularly hid my sexuality, which often led to me doing actions that hurt others as well, leaving me with a lot of self-loathing and very few friends. Thankfully, I’m a lot more accepting of myself these days and have become far more open with my sexuality, yet there are still days I find myself wishing I wasn’t gay and have even joked about being a straight man stuck in a gay man’s body, all because our world keeps on struggling to practice the true teachings of Christ, instead using things like the Bible and other spiritual books to judge others as sinners rather than unconditionally loving them and leaving all judgments in God’s hands.
It was even worse in Barrow’s time, when homosexuality was considered a sickness by medical standards. These days, while that’s no longer the case, being gay is still far from being widely accepted on this planet. And even when it is, I’ve regularly seen many still make plenty of stereotypical judgments around gay people including why they tend to be such perfectionists, act so prim and proper, and often have incredibly ornate homes and yards. Truthfully, I think it’s because so many of us try to over compensate for being in a minority that continues to hold such a negative stigma of sorts. In Barrow’s case over compensating translated into wanting to be in a higher position that held more responsibility and stature, as in his mind, then and only then, might he become more accepted in the world and make up for his reality that the world was never going to fully accept him for who he was.
Nonetheless, while I was thoroughly engrossed in a number of the other Downton Abbey character’s backstories and growth throughout the series and movie, it was Thomas Barrow whom I found myself the most drawn to, not in a sexual way, but in one where I silently cried quite often for the pain he and so many others like myself have endured throughout the ages, all for being born with a sexuality that frequently has led to rejection and religious persecution.
All in all, Downton Abbey is a phenomenally written series that I’m more than confident no matter what walk of life one may come from, rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white, man or woman, etc., that anyone will find at least one character to really relate to like I did with Thomas Barrow. I highly recommend watching this series and film if you haven’t already and sincerely hope that a follow-up sequel may be on the horizon in the near future.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson