‘Downton Abbey’ Didn’t Create the Character of Cora To Attract American Viewers

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, as played by Elizabeth McGovern, brought a different voice to Downton Abbey. Both literally and figuratively. For six seasons from 2010 – 2015, McGovern played Cora, an American who became part of the British society set. 

Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern on the set of 'Downton Abbey'
Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern on the set of Downton Abbey | Vera Anderson/WireImage

An award-winning TV show, some felt Downton Abbey included an American character to appeal to U.S. audiences. But, according to the show’s creator Julian Fellowes, that wasn’t how Cora came about. 

The Earl of Grantham married Cora Crawley for her money

In the early episodes of Downton Abbey fans learn some details behind the marriage of Hugh Bonneville’s character, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora. While happily married, they didn’t marry solely for love. 

In fact, in a number of scenes, Robert made it clear he married Cora for her money. And only after did they fall in love. As the daughter of a multimillionaire, Cora’s wealth went toward keeping Downton Abbey up and running. After all, it’s expensive to maintain a massive home in the English countryside with a large staff and a sizable estate.

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‘Downton Abbey’ creator wanted a character with different views

When Downton Abbey premiered on Sept. 26, 2010, Cora was the only character in the immediate family with a different upbringing. Her daughters — Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael), and Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay) — grew up learning the ways of the English upper-middle class while she’d spent her youth in America. 

Cora had different opinions compared to the rest of the Crawley family and Fellowes wanted it that way. He told Independent in a 2015 interview that he didn’t make Cora American to bolster American viewership but rather to offer a contrast of characters.

“We weren’t thinking in those terms about foreign sales. The advantage for me of having the American wife was it gave me a central character who was not dyed in the wool of the upper middle-class upbringing,” he said.

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“You could have one of the principal characters who didn’t take all that stuff for granted, and questioned it, as Cora did,” he added. 

McGovern played Cora during the critically acclaimed show’s entire run before reprising her role in 2019 for a Downton Abbey movie. There’s also a sequel already in the works so fans can get from the people upstairs and downstairs at Downton. 

Elizabeth McGovern won 3 SAG Awards for ‘Downton Abbey’

Throughout the show’s run, Downton Abbey came up again and again during awards show season. McGovern received an Emmy nod for her performance as Cora in 2011. And the following year in 2012 she got a Golden Globe nomination. 

The actor didn’t win any major awards for her individual performance on Downton Abbey although she did take home some industry awards with the rest of the cast. The show won three Screen Actors Guild Awards for Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2013, 2015, and 2016. 

At the time of publication, Downton Abbey Seasons 1 – 6 are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Peacock.

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