The only American actor in Downton Abbey’s fine ensemble cast is Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora Crawley, the Duchess of Grantham, with aplomb. However, the first time I saw Ms. McGovern as Cora I felt a sudden, inexplicable pain in my stomach. At first I didn’t understand the nature of the pain, nor the reason I felt it. After a bit of research, it all made sense.
A cursory look at Elizabeth McGovern’s IMDb page reminded me that her second major role was that of Jeannine Pratt, in 1980’s multiple-Oscar winning “Ordinary People”, starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch. Even though Ms. McGovern was 19 years old at the time, she played a highschool student, a year or two younger. And there it was, plain as day, the cause of my pain.
You see, even though I share my birth year (1961) with Elizabeth McGovern, it did not bother me to see her playing her Ladyship the Duchess, clearly a woman of a certain age. What bothered me was that Ms. McGovern managed to go from teenager to grandmother, all during my adulthood! For I was in my sophomore year at Babson College when I saw “Ordinary People”.
Realizing that I have been an adult during Ms. McGovern’s entire transformation from Jeannine Pratt to Cora Crawley viscerally brought home the fact that I have been around for a long time. It was not simply a matter of noting that a woman my age was now playing older roles. It was getting coldcocked by the fact that, as an adult, I have witnessed the nascent stages of an actress’s career, and am now witnessing the same career’s denouement.
Time seems going by at a pace as artificially accelerated as it is in those time-lapse videos of flowers blooming. I could use some slow motion. And now.