The women of the British historical drama Downton Abbey may be gracing glamour magazine covers this week, but some fans are wondering if the show's next season might include a more diverse cast of characters.
The show’s producers released an intriguing 20-second teaser last month introducing the upcoming fifth season. According to the solemn voice-over by "Carson," the butler, “changes are coming” to the Abbey.
While some of the changes implied in the spot will come in the form of new cast members -- PBS has already released the names of three new actors who will join the upcoming season -- some are wondering whether future changes might also include an Indian character for the first time on the show.
Series creator Julian Fellowes created a lot of buzz two years ago when he raised the possibility of introducing an Indian or Black character. (The Black character did come to pass last season with the introduction of the American jazz singer Jack Ross.)
“You have to work it in in a way that is historically believable, but I am sure we could do that,” said Fellowes at the time. “The show certainly ought to have an Indian character from that period.”
Fellowes would not need to venture far from his narrative to find a "historically believable" Indian character. Because of British colonialism and the long relationship between India and England, Indians were very much a part of English life in the early 20th century, with an estimated 70,000 Indians living in the country.
Some of those Indians were even "higher born" than the fictional residents of Downton Abbey. Prince Victor Duleep Singh was the son of the ex-maharajah of Punjab and his family were the former owners of the Koh-i-Noor diamond (which was later taken and included in the Crown Jewels). In addition to being Indian royalty, Singh was also the best friend of George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and was a frequent guest at Highclere Castle, the stately English country home that’s now best known for being the house in which most Downton Abbey scenes are filmed.
In 1898, Singh created a sensation when he married Lady Anne Blanche Alice Coventry, marking one of the first time an Indian royal married a member of the English nobility.
Singh's own life held enough adventure, romance, and drama for its own show. Whether or not a character like him will find its way onto Downtown Abbey, remains to be seen.
The fifth season of Downton Abbey is expected to air on PBS in January 2015.