Written by Alison James
As Downton Abbey lady’s maid, Anna Bates, Joanne Froggatt tends to look a trifle, well, plain! In the flesh, however, she has a delicate prettiness and definite sense of style. Downton may be halfway through its sixth and final series but Joanne hung up Anna’s uniform for the last time in August.
Having spent the past six years in a period drama, you’d imagine that perhaps Joanne would now prefer a role in a contemporary production. So it’s rather surprising to learn her working days are being spent in corset and crinoline. She’s playing a real-life British female serial killer from the Victorian era called Mary Ann Cotton in ITV’s brand new series Dark Angel, which goes out next year.
“It’s such a complex, interesting role, I found it difficult to say no,” says Joanne. “I started filming Dark Angel just a few days after finishing Downton and I’m really enjoying it – character-wise, she’s nothing like Anna. I wouldn’t have wanted to play another ‘below stairs’ character. I tend not to look back on what I’ve done before, I prefer concentrating on what I’m doing at the present time.”
It’s inevitable, though, that we associate Joanne with the much-loved Anna Bates – and will do for some time to come, especially if, as is mooted, a Downton Abbey movie is in the pipeline. Would Joanne be up for this?
“It’s a great idea and I would love to do it,” she replies. “The difficulty would be getting everyone together. Although, as I’ve said, I tend not to look back, playing Anna has changed everything for me. I’m sad the sixth series is the last one because I miss everyone.
“It’s a cliché but we did become like a big family because we shared six years of our lives together – both workwise and personally. We always started shooting Downton in February, it will feel very strange not to be doing it. I’ll probably start missing everyone – cast and crew – all over again.”
Who will she miss the most?
“Probably my ‘threebies’,” Joanne smiles. “That’s Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary, Brendan Coyle who plays Mr Bates and Phyllis Logan – Mrs Hughes. It’s these three actors I worked with the most and they’re awesome. They make it look so easy.”
Over the six series of Downton Abbey, Anna is one of the characters who have perhaps evolved the most. “She’s definitely become a grown-up woman,” Joanne explains. “She started out as this lovely, kind-hearted girl next door who fell in love with an older man. Together they’ve been through so many trials and tribulations.
I wouldn't have wanted to play another "below stairs" character
“She’s certainly older and wiser but she still has that essence of having a good heart and being very caring. She is essentially still the same person but she’s definitely matured emotionally. In this series, she’s upset and depressed because she feels she’s not doing her proper duty as a wife because she can’t seem to carry a baby to term. She’s really hard on herself about it and Lady Mary is trying to do all she can to help.”
The aristocrat certainly ‘owes’ her lady’s maid. It was Anna who came to Lady Mary’s rescue when her secret lover, Mr Pamuk, collapsed in her boudoir in the first series – and it was Anna who more recently hid her employer’s contraception device.
“They’re very close and have helped each other out over the years,” agrees Joanne. “They genuinely care about each other and Anna even says to Lady Mary, ‘No one in my life’s been kinder to me than you have, except Mr Bates’.”
Joanne (35), who lives with husband James in Buckinghamshire, says her fondest memories of Downton Abbey come from having ‘some ridiculous laughs with the people on set’ but professionally, she will always be remembered for the graphic scenes in series four when Anna was raped by visiting valet, Mr Green.
Although Joanne won a coveted Golden Globe award for her performance, the scene was controversial and many viewers complained. How does Joanne look back on the storyline?
“Although we knew it would be controversial, my overwhelming responsibility was to make it as convincing as possible,” she says. “I was trying to put myself in the place of this girl at a time when she couldn’t even tell people what had happened for fear of losing her job and perhaps her husband. The feedback I received from women who had found themselves in a similar position to Anna’s was astounding.”
But then the entire Downton phenomenon has truly been astounding – for Joanne and everyone else who has been involved with it.
“I’ve loved every single minute,” she reveals. “Not just the production itself but all the wonderful things that have happened on the back of it – the awards and getting to travel the world… I’m at a time in my life where that’s all very lovely, it’s not a scary thing, because I’ve been working for enough years to be able to enjoy it.
“If you’d said to me during the first series we’d do six and would have won all these awards, I wouldn’t have believed it. I am really proud to have been a part of Downton Abbey and always will be.”
- Pic ©Rex
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