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Elizabeth McGovern Down on 'Downton'

Actress blasts her own show for 'glossing over' character detail

By Corey Levitan Apr 26, 2012 9:52AM

When asked by the media about the show that currently pays their bills, most television actors are scared to profess anything other than their deep and undying admiration -- whether true or not.

Elizabeth McGovern, who stars as the countess Cora Crawley in "Downton Abbey," aired some refreshingly honest criticism of the British period drama's second season, which concluded in the U.S. in February, to the L.A. Times yesterday.

"The first season was more to my taste than the show in the second season," McGovern said, blaming her disconnect on the necessity of dealing with World War I.


Bing: More about Elizabeth McGovern | More about 'Downton Abbey'


"What's made the show successful and different is that attention to character detail, and that's what the audience likes," McGovern said. "Writers [in Season 2] had to do a lot of glossing over the domestic life, and some of the small moments between characters that characterized the first season."


Also: What shows will be returning next season?


Many critics and fans agree with McGovern's assessment, and she should be celebrated for daring to express it. But that will probably be a tall order for her colleagues on the set of the show's third season, which is currently filming in Britain.

Season 3 of "Downton Abbey," which is expected to return to its character-driven roots, premieres in England in September, and on PBS in January 2013. 
Apr 27, 2012 7:17AM

This is just some web-writer who doesn't have enough to stay occupied.  There was no "blast" or slight intended. Just another case of "if there is no news to report, we will make some...."


I love this show....


The show has always been about the interaction of the lives of Downton Abbey as effected by the events of the world around them. The first episode started with the report of the sinking of the Titanic (the telegraph and telegraph lines). So I can understand that some felt the second season became a little too much about the war and not enough about the characters. But the truth is that this story can't be told without reference to outside events.


I hate to shock anyone, but the end to this story is that way of living, by and large, has disappeared, and it disappeared as a result of external influences...

Apr 26, 2012 11:47PM
Added thoughts:  If they slow the pace down too much people will lose interest.  People today do not want to wait around to find out what happens.  They do not have the time or patience.  I think the producers are very astute on this.  As much, though, that I love Shirley MacLaine, I am not sure this is the right place for her.  For one thing, she is such a well known Hollywood star that it may spoil the mood of the show.  We will have to see what happens, but I like seeing the lesser known people (at least in the U.S.) that I cannot associate anywhere else...  with the exception, of course, of Maggie Smith.  But MS's acting is more subdued and unobtrusive... and does not detract from concentration on the story line.
Apr 26, 2012 11:42PM

I dare say, the reason World War I was made such a central story in the second season is precisely because World War I nearly killed off most of the heirs to the great aristocratic houses of England - this is important detail, people!  Most educated British and Anglophiles in America (and elsewhere) would appreciate this fact.

"Downton Abbey" is a direct reflection of such an aristocratic house, and for the clearly uneducated here expecting a lot more "character development" (which I believe is sufficient enough) and wanting less of WWI drama are, in fact, missing the point of this epic tale altogether.  People, you seem to have been raised on reality tv shows and "light-weight" soap operas.  Are you afraid of learning about a little history of the aristocracy (their great rise and subsequent fall, the latter largely due to WW!) or do you just want a lot of fluff?  GOOD GRIEF!

Apr 26, 2012 11:14PM
I find this interesting coming from her as I think she is the most uninteresting character on the show.  I absolutely love Downton Abbey and I always liked Elizabeth, but her acting on the show is horrible.  If she feels this way and it is showing in her acting, maybe she should leave.  It is pretty poor taste to come out and criticize your bread and butter...  everyone else seems to be able to work well with it.  The characters are all so interesting and the parts very well acted...  they shouldn't mess with success....
Apr 26, 2012 9:55PM
I was disappointed too. The amazing recovery of Matthew was too unbelievable and they could have stretched his recovery and shown Mary's depth of character in being a loving caregiver. I missed the subtle humor of the first season. Even though life is tough there can be alot of humor in the midst of tragedy. It seems they made the dowager countess tone down alot which made things pretty boring at times. I loved her humor and the rivalry she had with Matthews mum was wonderful in the first season. Hoping for a return to good writing or I may have to forego a fourth season...
Apr 26, 2012 9:55PM
What Ms. McGovern said was hardly "blasting". Why make trouble?
Apr 26, 2012 8:53PM
I started watching Downton Abbey before it ever hit the States and was an early proponent of the show. I agree almost to a tee on what McGovern said. The beauty of Season 1 was the detail that was taken to showing what that quickly disappearing life of the landed class was like. The tension of that transition was wonderful to watch. The second season is worse then McGovern noted, it became a soap opera that happened to take place during WWI.  The absurdity of the plot made it almost unwatchable. I hope that Season 3 does get back to the point of the show which was the attention to detail and the subtleties. We have enough shows banging us over the head, we don't need another one.
Apr 26, 2012 8:38PM
I have only seen the first season.  Elizabeth McGovern is the singular worst thing about the show.  I like everything else about it, and I was thinking it would be just another British costume - o -Rama.  She is a horrible actor.  Horrible.  I was hoping she wasn't in the second season.
Apr 26, 2012 8:38PM
she cant act.  She is the worst actress on the show,  they should have her fall down a staircase next season.  "Down the downton stairs"
Apr 26, 2012 8:34PM
She is absolutely correct, the second season was not as filled with the kind of depth of character and plausible well-timed plotting as the first.
Apr 26, 2012 8:32PM
To the group as a whole:

I apologize for characterizing you all as insensitive clods. It seems that the positive comments to what I've written have overtaken the silly ones seen earlier tonight. Thanks to all who gave me a "thumbs up!"Hot

Apr 26, 2012 8:28PM
Dear "SensibleWithMyMoney,"
You consider World War I a "minor detail?" People do not exist in a vacuum. If they did, nothing about them would be interesting. I can't help but believe that many of those who are commenting are VERY, VERY, young.
Suggestion: if that's your analysis of the show, why not write to the producers and ask them (or should I say, tell them?) what their show is about? I'm sure you might get a very surprising answer, if they bothered to answer at all.

I'm sorry, but only in 2012 could there be so many people that love this show without having the slightest clue what it's actually about.

Long ago and far away, the king in the castle spent most of his day worrying about and scheming about "minor details" like major wars.

Signing off in utter amazement,

Apr 26, 2012 7:55PM
I don't know anything about the show because I chose not to watch it simply because Elizabeth McGovern is in it.  Honesty, I think she is a terribly boring actress.  I am saving my money to buy Upstairs Downstairs which I saw as a child. 
Apr 26, 2012 7:25PM
I really love the show and could barely wait for the second season, but I think I have to agree.  Not that it was too boring with details, but that they needed to slow down and fill in some of the details.  They seem to have rushed through the stories.  For instance the little, "almost" romance with the maid.  What, did we see almost 15 minutes of her on film.  That story could have been really developed, and been very interesting.  How about the mysterious reappearance of the cousin that went down on the Titanic?  that could have been fascinating, but they just kind of said here he is and now he's gone.  Both of these story lines are things they shouldn't have bothered with if they weren't going to develop it.  I still love the show and think all of the actors and actresses are wonderful.  I was just a little disappointed, but I am looking forward to next season.
Apr 26, 2012 7:09PM

I don't know anyone who loves the show MORE than I do. I have a large collection of period films including, now the first and second seasons of DA through a friend in the UK who got them for me pre-release (even before they were available through PBS). Season III is already paid for and on order.


I totally agree with the actress regarding all the tedious and boring war scenes. The show is about Downton Abbey and it's residents, caretakers and visitors not about every minor detail that goes on in the world around it.


Suffice to say, they could have touched on the war story just enough to show who was the hero and who was the coward.

Apr 26, 2012 6:42PM
I LOVE Downton Abbey through and through, but I don't think she has much room to comment here.  I could tell from the start that she was the weakest actress of the bunch.  Now, considering the caliber of the acting on this show, that's not to say she's bad by any means; she's done a very nice job.  If it were any other show with medium to medium-good acting she'd stand out.  But here, I feel like she has to work to keep up sometimes.  She certainly doesn't hold a candle to Maggie Smith!  She's very lucky to be on this show and should be very grateful to work with such a remarkably talented group of co-stars.  I loved both Season 1 and Season 2 and I thought the differences between them were appropriate, given the historical change in circumstances.  The sides of life on both halves of that decade (1910's) really WERE night and day, and the show does a phenomenal job of portraying that.  I'm very much looking forward to Season 3.  I'm curious to see how Shirley McLaine matches up against Maggie Smith (who, by the way, is NOT leaving - that was a false report!).  Putting those two toe-to-toe could have some *ahem* interesting results.
Apr 26, 2012 6:40PM
Ms. McGovern, perhaps YOU could breath a little life into a moribund character.  Stop complaining and thank God your a working actress albeit in the UK.
Apr 26, 2012 6:29PM
"Downton Abbey" has been done before, but much, much better. The same stories were told wonderfully in "Upstairs Downstairs", a far superior production. "The Pallisers was also much better done, using the same historical time frame. I find "Downton Abbey"  terribly predictable, sappy, and so very, very "pretty", perhaps more style than substance. DVDs for "Upstairs Downstairs" and the "Pallisers" are available. For really great stories,  wonderful characters and writing, check them out.
Apr 26, 2012 6:06PM
Everyone I know loves Downton Abbey and we can hardly wait until the next season.  It's strange what an assortment of people, ages and personalities love this show.
Apr 26, 2012 5:57PM
The writers are going to give her another case of Spanish Influenza.
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