Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael, has had her ups and downs throughout the three series of Downton Abbey.
We first meet her as the middle Crawley sister at Downton Abbey. Not as confident as younger sister Sybil and with tensions building between herself and Mary, she is unsure of her place at the great house and wishes most intently to find love.
She quickly learns, however, that the course of true love never runs smooth. “In the beginning Edith… didn’t see that she wasn’t going to bag Matthew Crawley, that of course he would have ended up with Mary,” says Laura Carmichael of her character. Edith attempts to win Matthew’s heart, but painfully must recognise that he only has eyes for her sister Mary. But her youthful naivety in matters of the heart means she continues to vie for Matthew’s attention, especially since Mary seems to have no interest in him.
Bickering then ensues between the sisters, as Mary becomes aware of Edith’s fondness for Matthew; and choosing to embarrass her younger sister in front of a potential suitor, Sir Anthony Strallan, Lady Mary escalates the tension to breaking point.
We now see a darker side to Edith’s character, as hurt and embarrassment fuel her revenge. She decides to write to the Turkish Ambassador, disclosing that Mr Pamuk – a wealthy Turkish diplomat – has died in Mary’s bed. Prompting an abundance of rumours that spread like wildfire through the upper echelons of English society, it is a scandalous act indeed; and one that causes Lady Mary to take revenge in the most hurtful of ways.
On finding out that the rumours of herself and Mr Pamuk were instigated by Edith’s letter, Mary destroys Edith’s chances of an engagement with Sir Anthony Strallan. Confused and upset by Sir Anthony’s sudden change of heart, Edith sees the error of her ways most poignantly, and her fragile, vulnerable side re-emerges.
It is during Series 2, however, that Edith truly grows and evolves, as the war puts their sisterly arguments into perspective. Carmichael says, “In the war she evolved and realised that she could go out and make something for herself.” Indeed she does. Edith learns to drive a tractor, almost succumbs to a kiss from the married farmer Mr Drake, and begins to enjoy her newfound independence.
Lady Edith truly develops into a confident, compassionate young woman while working as a volunteer at Downton Abbey, when it is a convalescence home during the war. Her trusting nature is shown most poignantly when an injured soldier, claiming to be her deceased cousin Patrick Crawley, arrives to be treated at the house. Most of the other members of the family are critical and cynical of him, but Edith listens and empathises with his plight.
Her most dramatic series to date, however, is series three, which brings with it a combination of extreme highs and lows. After their initial setback, Sir Anthony Strallan and Edith’s relationship blossoms, and despite Lord Grantham’s reservations about the age difference, Edith is smitten. Strallan, however, starts pulling away from her, feeling he is too old and that she needs a younger man in her life. She doesn’t accept a word of it, though, and the couple become engaged.
After Mary and Matthew’s marriage, Edith is dreaming of her own special day and it arrives in a flurry of excitement. It swiftly turns sour, though, when Anthony Strallan halts the ceremony to announce that he cannot go through with the marriage. Distraught and highly humiliated, Edith returns to the house and mourns the loss of her relationship. She is vulnerable and alone - we truly feel for her.
While it is undoubtedly a low point for Edith, it also marks a turning point for character. Having written a letter to The Sketch magazine, Edith is offered the job as a columnist. It is a positive endeavour for Edith in more ways than one, as the Editor of the magazine soon expresses his affection for her. At first Edith is shocked, but she soon returns his affection and the couple begin to see more of each other, their fondness growing with every meeting.
As is always the case with Edith’s romances, her relationship with Gregson doesn’t come without complications - he is already married. However, his wife is mentally ill and in an asylum, and he is attempting to divorce her in order to release himself from the shackles of an unhappy marriage.
Carmichael says of Edith’s latest romantic interest: “The relationship with Michael Gregson comes out of a passion for writing and for work and being good at something – really good at something – that is artistic and sexy and glamorous. We’ll see how that still manages to get her into trouble, but at least she’s embraced all of that change and really really grown up.”
At the beginning of the fourth series, Edith has become quite the city girl due to her frequent visits to London. Gregson is certainly quite the bohemian and he opens Edith’s eyes to all that London has to offer.
Carmichael resonates with Edith’s wide-eyed excitement: “I get the same excitement as Edith would have from having the chance to see things a little differently. Even the smallest things, like I didn’t wear gloves in a scene we were editing. It sounds like nothing but that was just really thrilling because we never do that at Highclere. Suddenly you feel slightly more on show.”
This bohemian, fashion-forward Lady Edith is quite a different woman to the youthful, naïve girl we met in Series one; and with the whole of London ready and waiting for her to explore, Series four looks set to be her most transformative yet.