Deja Vue At Downton Abbey?

Writer accused of plagiarism over scenes featuring Chiswick actress Elizabeth McGovern

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Elizabeth McGovern as the Countess of Grantham


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ITV's costume drama Downton Abbey has proved a huge hit attracting 8.8 million viewers for its second episode but has also given some of those watching a sense of deja vu.

The flower-show scene featuring Chiswick's Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the Countess of Grantham, was called "the finest example of coincidence I have ever heard and seen" by one viewer who joined the chorus accusing the award-winning writer Julian Fellowes of plagiarism.

Readers of The Daily Telegraph newspaper pointed out that scenes in a recent episode bore striking similarities to those in the novel Little Women and the 1942 film Mrs Miniver. The claims have been strongly denied by the Oscar winning Fellowes who complained about a “permanent negative slant” in the media.

However, he conceded that he had read Little Women and seen Mrs Miniver and may have subconsciously repeated certain scenes. "Who can say what is lodged in one's brain?,” he told the Telegraph. “I am not conscious of lifting either, but it doesn't mean (the viewers) are wrong."

Set in an Edwardian country house in 1912, Downton Abbey portrays the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them. Starring Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham and Elizabeth McGovern as Robert’s wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham.

The Crawleys have been the Earls of Grantham since 1772. In the drawing rooms and library and beautiful bedrooms, with their tall windows looking across the park, lives the family, but below stairs are other residents, the servants, as fiercely possessive of their ranks as anyone above.
Some of them are loyal to the family and are committed to Downton as a way of life, others are moving through, on the look out for new opportunities or love or just adventure. The difference being that they know so many of the secrets of the family, while the family knows so few of theirs.

Elizabeth McGovern was born in Illinois in 1961 and attended North Hollywood High School, where she performed in school plays. Her performance in The Skin of our Teeth, the Thornton Wilder play, caught the eye of agent Joan Scott, who urged her to join the American Conservatory Theatre. She attended the Juilliard School of Dramatic Art in New York, and while there was cast in her first movie, the Oscar-winning 'Ordinary People' which was also the directing debut of Robert Redford.

She lives in Chiswick with her husband Simon Curtis and her two children, Matilda and Grace.

November 2, 2010