Downton Abbey Series 3 – Phyllis Logan and Amy Nuttall discuss the future for Mrs Hughes and Ethel

by Anna Howell

With the new series of Downton Abbey hitting our screens next month, one of the main storylines left untied was the situation with Ethel and her illegitimate child.

This series sees the friendship between the former maid and Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper, but Ethel has fallen on very hard times indeed after refusing to let the family of her child’s father bring him up for her.
 Amy Nuttall, who plays Ethel, and Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs Hughes, discuss their characters struggles this series:

“I was always of the understanding that I was only going to be a series two character,” says Nuttall of her character, Ethel.

“It was a lovely surprise to find that I was back for Series three.  At the time of filming last time round I got a call from a producer saying ‘Watch this space,’ as in, ‘don’t go rushing off just yet.’  And when it was confirmed…I was absolutely chuffed to bits.  In fact I was chuffed to bits just to have been in the whole of series two, so it was the icing on the cake to be able to come back and do more.”

Speaking of her character, Ethel’s, current situation, Nuttall explained:

“I think we can say that she’s fallen on hard times.  Other than the workhouse there aren’t too many lower rungs of the ladder to fall down than where she is, in terms of society’s view of her.  No, things aren’t going too well.

“Historically, what happens to Ethel happened to thousands of women.  It’s not like in this day and age when we have the welfare state.  Back then you would have been completely shunned by society and frowned upon.  It’s not unusual today to have babies out of wedlock but it leaves Ethel hugely dependant on the kindness of others.  Fortunately for her there are a couple of people that do step in to help her.  They’re hugely unlikely sources of support, let’s just say that.”

One of the least unlikely sources for Ethel is Mrs Hughes, who viewers saw helping the young single mother throughout the second series, even putting her job on the line at times to do so.

But helping Ethel isn’t all that Mrs Hughes has to contend with in series three, as Phyllis Logan, who plays her, explains:

“She has some issues of her own to be dealing with at the start of the series.  They do get resolved but it is a bit challenging and I think it does give her a different sort of perspective on things – on life”

“As we go through the series, she looks out for someone who you wouldn’t think she would be supportive of in any way – she actually shows some kindness and support for this unlikely person.  There’s a part of her that doesn’t accept fools gladly but I think she realises that we all have our foibles – and perhaps she’s seen more of life than people might think.

The new series on Downton Abbey begins next month on ITV1/ITV1 hd.