Charles Carson

Written by @EllieDangerous
Just look at him. Played by the benevolent Jim Carter, Charles Carson from 'Downton Abbey' is like a great English Mastiff, standing there all staunch and true with his snout on high alert. Tempted though I am to slide him into the “Hero” category of this blog, he’s a “Benefactor” if ever I saw one. He's benefitted four people in particular and they've benefitted him. Here's what these relationships say about Carson: the man, the mastiff, the Butler.

Spoiler Alert
Firstly, the foremost Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham, Carson’s master and employer. His relationship with Lord Grantham is a bit Frodo and Sam, strictly hierarchical but full of mutual respect. Lord Grantham often asks his opinion and is better off for it. It’s this dignified bond that best symbolises Carson’s patented conservatism. Lord Grantham is everything Carson admires about the traditional aristocratic world: distinguished, civilised and quite uncomplicated. Carson’s faith in his lord is faith in lordliness.

But he and Lord Grantham also share a deep-seated kindness that has nothing to do with class. In each other they see little of the toxic and inhuman self-entitlement seen in others of high rank, like that git Richard Carlisle. Remember him? He barely thought of servants as humans, let alone partners.

Carson’s relationship with Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter Lady Mary is similar to his bond with the father. But he’s a lot more openly affectionate about Mary; ironic, given her reputation as a cold fish. That’s something he likes about her, though: where others see an ice queen, Carson sees ladylike pride and social grace. And don’t forget, he’s known her all her life. He’s proud of her in a manner that seems fatherlike. You could say their particular bond best represents Carson’s loving nature. (Gosh! That’s a little progressive.)

This side of him becomes wonderfully pronounced when he hears Mary’s baby niece crying in her cradle. He picks up the infant and soothes her cheerfully: “let’s have a little chat about it”, he offers her. It’s one of my favourite moments in the series. Yours too, if you like videos of big stern dogs cuddling tiny kittens.

On a less snugglesome subject, there’s the chauffeur. Tom Branson has changed the minds of many illiberal stalwarts, including Lord Grantham, but none more than Carson, who takes the class divide incredibly seriously. When the chauffeur marries a lady of the house, Carson sees this as little more than high treason, and is highly frustrated that others cannot understand the way of things. But Branson haltingly earns Carson’s respect: not by bending to his rules, but by showing his own genuine respect for the household. As Branson’s appreciation for the family grows, so does Carson’s acceptance of him. This relationship shows something we’d never expect from an old dog seemingly set in his ways: willingness to change.

Perhaps that’s something Carson needs to include in the final relationship I’m going to blether about here, which is his personal and professional alliance with Mrs Hughes. The way they have always worked together, conversing, cooperating, caring, shows that Carson’s leadership skills don’t bend at signs of partnership.

Yes he knows he is the happiest and luckiest of men, and that a woman of such grace and charm should entrust her life's happiness to his unworthy charge passeth all understanding, but he relies on Mrs Hughes more than he realises. He’s not as strong alone. I expect this current season (the final season at time of writing) will explore this fact and relationship more, and open Carson’s eyes to what's really ahead.

Maybe he could make his own bed. Just a thought.

Carson is certain he’ll be a Butler forever, but he’s the only one. It’s 1925 now, and Downton is changing. It’s a bit like watching Pompeii; Carson is the one stubborn Roman denying the eruption even as Vesuvius explodes behind him...

If it weren’t for Lord Grantham, Lady Mary, Tom Branson, Mrs Hughes and his other benefactors, our favourite Butler would be in for a melting.
The business of life is the acquisition of memories.
Mr Carson: Human nature is a funny business, isn't? it?
Mrs Hughes: Now why didn't the poets come to you, Mr Carson? They'd have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 29 October 2015
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