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Great Expectations: Laura Carmichael

Hardly had Laura Carmichael's character finally experienced requited love, than her suitor went missing and she was left with a baby on the way. What’s next?

Ann Farmer
  • Laura Carmichael

Even Laura Carmichael was caught off guard by the quandary that her character, Lady Edith Crawley of Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey, found herself in this past season.

Each successive script dropped further hints. Such as Edith’s mysterious trip to a London doctor.

“I finally had to ask: ‘Is she pregnant? Is that what’s happening?’” said Carmichael, speaking in confidence in New York before the American season-four premiere of the wildly popular British series.

“Poor Edith. She was doing so well,” Carmichael mused.

For hardly had her character finally experienced requited love, than her suitor went missing and she was left with a baby on the way. “It wasn’t the happy ending we thought was on the horizon.“

Carmichael appears younger and considerably more sanguine than Lady Edith, her face framed by a curtain of straight blonde hair versus Edith’s short wavy bob.

“I’ve been surprised by how surreal it is,” she said. Not only has the series attracted more viewers than any other PBS drama, it literally launched her career.

After graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she explained, she was working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office when she got a call to audition for a period drama.

She thought the role would require nothing more than “to play a lady’s maid, curtsy and say, ‘Hello, M’lady.’”

Since then, Carmichael has portrayed the stoic middle sister, who is presented as less of a catch than her older sister, Mary (Michelle Dockery).

For the first three seasons, in fact, Edith was often relegated to the background with a book to her nose, a sour expression on her face and verbally sniping with Mary.

Season four released Edith from that guise. Director David Evans approached her before the start of production, saying, ”I’m going to invite you to play Edith completely different.”

“I was excited to see what she was capable of doing,” said Carmichael, who immediately invoked a happier, more confident and glamorous Edith.

Adopting the fun-loving, flapper fashions in place of her former corseted gowns, Edith also displayed a hunger for an independent life outside her family’s fabulous estate.

It didn’t last long. Now that Edith has surreptitiously become an unmarried mother, the question is, what’s next?

“We’re all dying to get the twist from Julian,” said Carmichael, referring to the show’s creator–executive producer, Julian Fellowes. “But we have to wait for it to arrive. Not until the scripts arrive is it set in stone.”