Risk of new romance
Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith in Downton Abbey. Picture: Supplied

If there's one thing most fans agree on about British period drama Downton Abbey it's that middle sister Edith Crawley, played by Laura Carmichael, is hard done by.

Unlucky in love, left at the altar, despised by imperious older sister Mary and often overlooked by her parents, Edith has, over the past season and a half, quietly broken with Crawley tradition and carved out a niche as a newspaper columnist, having previously, shock horror, learnt to drive.

"It has been a really lovely transition for her the last few seasons," Carmichael said down the line from London during a recent break in filming season five.

It was Edith's newspaper writing that led her to strike up a friendship, then relationship, with her editor and publisher, Michael Gregson, played by Charles Edwards.

In last Sunday's episode, the fourth of season four, Edith snuck back into her Aunt Rosamund's (Samantha Bond) house after spending the night with Gregson, whose wife has been in an asylum for many years.

So desperate is Gregson to be with Edith, he has been making plans for them to move to Germany to be together.

"Things start off so well but it doesn't quite all go smooth sailing," Carmichael revealed.

"I liked having time at the beginning of the series to show her slightly more rebellious side and really living and grabbing life with both hands.

"She takes some risks with Gregson; she's out with this married man and that causes a lot of drama to come, therefore she doesn't quite get away with it all.

"I think it is great, she has really sort of matured and is doing the things she wants to rather than the things she has to, which is really fun to play."

Carmichael said Edith was a bit of a black sheep and it was interesting to see how Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, who play her parents Robert and Cora, behaved differently towards her.

"It's heartbreaking, isn't it," she exclaimed. "I love playing this sort of underdog character."

Away from screen, however, Carmichael has formed solid bonds with her on-screen family, particularly Michelle Dockery, who plays Mary, and Jessica Brown Finlay, who played Sybil until the character's tragic death last season.

"We have all been through this mad journey together doing this full-on TV show for ITV that has gone kind of global," she said.

"Michelle and I are similar ages, have similar interests and have become really close."

Although Downton is one of the most-watched dramas in the world, Carmichael still manages to get about mostly unrecognised because she wears a wig to play Edith.

"I was recently out and about with Jim Carter (who plays the butler, Carson) and I couldn't get over how much he gets recognised, which is completely different to my experience," she said.

Like her character, Carmichael is one of three sisters but that's where the similarities end.

"I am the middle of three girls . . . although I hope we are not quite the same as the Crawley girls," she laughed.

"We love each other madly and are the best of friends so that is different.

"I think it really helps with the chemistry in a weird way. Michelle is also one of three sisters and Jess is one of two; there's something you gain by growing up in an all-sister family or something you have that is quite unique."

Carmichael will later this year be

seen on the big screen with

Australia's Mia Wasikowska in Madame Bovary.

"It was really wonderful to work with her; I played her lady's maid. It was a change for me, showing my versatility; I was a servant," she laughed.

Carmichael hopes the role will help dispel the notion that she is posh; an idea that was perpetuated in 2011 when a newspaper article investigating the cast's family histories for similarities to their characters discovered her ancestors had owned a Yorkshire castle.

"It's one of these odd things that happens; the show brings around things from your own family history you didn't really know about," she said.

"It only adds to this odd thing, people really assume I'm very posh.

"People ask me to go horseriding and I say 'I'm afraid I don't know how, I'm not actually a lady'.

"So this added to that view of me I'm sure. I wish I knew more about it but it was out of my family before I came along."

Downton Abbey airs on Sunday at 9pm on Seven/GWN7

The West Australian

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