Thomas Barrow, Iconic Chaotic Gay, Gets Bland but Happy Ending in ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’—Happy Pride Month
Downton Abbey: A New Era finally gave gay butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) a happy ending, and it wasn’t even Pride month. Since his introduction in 2010, Thomas Barrow has been a chaotic presence within the downstairs cast of Downton Abbey. A schemer who longed for respect amongst his peers, he was quick with a cutting remark and never turned down an opportunity to make Bates miserable, the latter of which I appreciate, as a Bates hater.
It became clear that part of why Thomas was so angry was having to stay in the closet. At the time of the series’ setting, homosexuality was illegal, which meant just the act of having sex was something that could have Thomas put in jail. Barrow probably would have always been a bitter person, but the forced isolation and loneliness of being a gay man adds to that.
Slowly, the series has tried to give Thomas opportunities for love and character growth, especially after Lady Sybil’s death. In the franchise’s first movie, Thomas ended up getting into a romantic relationship with Richard Ellis, the King’s Royal Dresser. Cute. Except, in the newest movie, it is shared that Ellis is getting married to a woman. This leaves Thomas adrift, but primed for the affection of screen idol Guy Dexter (Dominic West) in Downton Abbey: A New Era.
Guy Dexter has the look of a Clarke Gable, but the closeted gay energy of a Rock Hudson. From the moment that Dexter and Thomas Barrow first cross paths, they develop something of a connection. “I loved the story between Thomas and Guy. It’s all implied. There’s never a moment when they fall into each other’s arms, and yet what there is between them is perfectly clear,” creator Julian Fellowes says in the book companion to the film.
Conservative Julian Fellowes has included gay characters in his series, but they are overwhelmingly tinted with tragedy and the tension of being kept in the closet. I get that he likes to be “realistic,” but considering that Barrow’s entire evil gay personality is rooted in his loneliness, it sucks that him finding a connection can’t even merit a single kiss.
Barrow leaves Downton Abbey to travel with Guy Dexter as his “dresser,” a.k.a. his boyfriend/lover. It is Barrow’s real chance for happiness, and he takes it. Which is great. Still, it is an underwhelming end to the series’ only LGBTQ character. He deserved better than this.
(featured image: Focus Features)
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