Downton Abbey’s Sad Snub of Septimus Spratt

da-s5-characters-spratt-hiresSeries five was a gloomy time for Downton Abbey. Mary and Isobel pursued matches that were not destined to be resolved until the show’s conclusion. Mr. Barrow sought out a horrifying gay-conversion treatment. Bates found himself wrapped up in yet another murder. The new life brought to the big house by the arrivals of Jimmy, Alfred, and Ivy all came to an end. The show’s emphasis on change naturally required Downton as a house to move away from the pre-war glamour that defined the English aristocracy, but it did so about as sullenly as possible.

As change happens gradually, time moves slower in certain areas. One of these was in the Dower House, where a certain butler went about his business as if nothing had changed since the war. Mr. Spratt entered Downton Abbey as an antagonist to the perpetually put-upon Mr. Molesley, though he quickly won over the audience with a series of light-hearted storylines that hearkened back to the show’s early years.

From his quest to out Denker as an inadequate lady’s maid to his masquerading as the advice column guru “Miss Cassandra Jones,” Spratt was always a delight to watch. Full of one-liners and expressive physical comedy, Jeremy Swift played the part with a kind of refined charisma that radiated through the screen, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the bulk of his scenes were opposite the legendary Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess. After a few series of rotating house staff, Spratt gave Dower House a kind of continuity that had been missing from the show.

Dower House often seemed to exist frozen in time in the last two series compared to the drastic changes in the big house. As the servants in Downton began to make preparations for life after service, things went on business as usual under Lady Violet, with Spratt constantly there to remind viewers of the way things were in the early days of the show. I frequently criticized the overly drawn-out hospital plotline in my series six weekly recaps, which ate up much of the Dowager’s screen time in service of a losing cause. Spratt and Denker’s various quarrels gave Lady Violet some much-needed distraction from a plotline that should have been wrapped up in a single episode rather than a full series.

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The news that Spratt won’t be in the Downton Abbey movie came as a sad surprise, especially considering the high point on which Lady Violet’s butler ended the show, doubly employed by the Crawley family as both a butler and a columnist. While I don’t imagine that the constraints of a feature film would have much time for a character rather far down the depth chart of an ensemble cast, it’s certainly disappointing. I guess we’ll never know if Lady Denker finally learned the art of a proper restorative broth.

Spratt may not have been an original character, but he was a big part of what made the show special in its later years when the time came for the big house to start resembling the change we all knew was coming. Dower House never embodied that change, and I can’t imagine any plotline of the film would want to push the timeline substantially more toward the present given the ages of many of the elder characters. It’s hard to envision circumstances for the movie that would not be conducive to a return appearance from Miss Cassandra Jones.

Film adaptations of popular shows are best entered into with low expectations. A feature not only sets out to recreate the magic of earlier years, but tries to do so in a far more condensed timeframe. The movie will have many masters to serve in its leads and its plot, leaving little time for the supporting characters who carried the series for six years.

And yet, it’s still sad that there is no time for Spratt, a character who quietly made his mark on a series whose reputation had long fermented before his arrival. I can only imagine the displeasure on the face of Dower House’s finest butler at the news, grimacing quietly as he resumed work presiding over his stamp collection. He showed his loyalty to the Dowager time and time again, from revealing Lady Mary’s adventures with Lord Gillingham to delivering Lord Grantham’s new puppy. The fans can ponder what advice Miss Cassandra Jones is offering to London’s finest, but it’s a damn shame we won’t see any of it on screen.

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