The first Downton Abbey film gave us Thomas Barrow, played by Rob James-Collier, a gay butler whose sexuality was explored throughout the film by way of a short-lived romance with the king’s royal dresser.

The first film and the latest season of the series had served us the bleak realities of being a gay man in the 1920s; We saw Thomas arrested as result a police raid of an underground gay bar at time in which gay sex was punishable by life imprisonment, and gross indecency by at least two years behind bars.

However, in Downton Abbey: A New Era, currently playing in theatres, Thomas Barrow’s story gets more of a spotlight and his experiences as a gay man are presented under a warmer more optimistic light, with bright hope for his future. 

For LGBTQI fans of both the show and western television, the introduction of this storyline back in 2010 was a milestone moment. 

Thomas Barrow is an openly gay character; while in this moment in time this alone may not be much to celebrate, in 2010 this was relatively rare in Hollywood, considering shows like Will & Grace were the height of mainstream gay representation. 

At this time streaming services which have now majorly streamlined production and allowed more marginalised stories to be told, were also not yet around. 

Thomas Barrow. Image: Facebook

It is also important to note that while Thomas is often vilified and ostracised for his sexuality, he is shown as a multi-faceted complex character with a soft side and a range of regular human emotions. Representation, which the LGBTQI community still yearns for in television writing, even to this day. 

It must also be considered that the vilification is a true representation of the time period, considering even speaking about subjects that were perceived to ‘promote homosexuality’ was banned in the British public schooling system until 2003. 

Thomas Barrow of the 1920s, living an openly gay life, played by an openly gay character, was a milestone moment for 2010, and the Thomas Barrow of Downtwn Abbey: A New Era, is almost as equally iconic. 

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