Gay valet Thomas Barrow sharing a kiss with an unidentified man in the Downton Abbey trailer (YouTube)
The Downton Abbey movie may seem family-friendly, but its homophobic language and offensive references initially raised questions about the film’s suitability for children.
The Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) revealed that the film was initially given a 12A rating due to several offensive references to the sexuality of Thomas Barrow, a gay butler played by actor Robert James-Collier.
But the movie’s creators appealed IFCO’s decision in order to receive a PG rating, ensuring younger viewers could see the box office hit.
Ger Connolly, the director of IFCO, told The Times that the 12A classification had been a margin call. “My decision came down to the use of words like ‘pervert’ in the context of a character’s sexuality,” he said. “For me, that moved it into the 12A rating.”
A subplot in which Barrow visits a gay club in York sees the bar raided by police who are verbally abusive towards the gay men, describing them as “perverts” and “queers.”
James-Collier has previously described his character’s storyline as “horrific,” adding that it “hammers home what it was like to be a gay man” in 1920s England.
“It was horrific and it’s brought back and it just shows how different it was,” he told the Press Association. “It must have been so hard for him and that is why the people warm to him and root for Thomas now, and they certainly will in the film if you watch it.”
Filmmakers consulted a historical adviser who said that Barrow’s experiences are an accurate depiction of gay life in interwar Britain. The plot was also praised by LGBT+ activists.
Following an appeal the film’s rating was lowered to PG on the basis that viewers would already be familiar with Barrow’s sexuality.
“The appeals board felt an audience familiar with its characters and setting would have been aware of the storyline about a gay character, so they changed the rating to a PG,” Connolly explained.
The adaptation of the popular ITV show was a huge hit, topping the Box Office with takings of $13.84 million in its opening night.
Downton Abbey was the most popular film last weekend in America, taking €28m and beating Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo: Last Blood.