Downton Abbey series 5: Will the Grantham's dog last, even if she's called Isis?

But don’t blame her name if Isis goes, say Matthew Bell and Ellen E Jones. At more than 12 years old, the Crawleys’ pet is doing well for a Labrador

Matthew Bell,Ellen E. Jones
Monday 27 October 2014 09:04 GMT
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)

The question of how to deal with an embarrassing Labrador has hounded English families for decades.

But even by the wacky standards of Downton Abbey, killing it off seems a little extreme. Tonight’s episode of ITV’s period soap opera appears to tackle a problem that has been getting harder to ignore. Lord Grantham’s dog is called Isis. This is awkward because it shares a name with the terrorist movement sweeping the Middle East. With the jihadists showing little sign of giving up, one of them had to go, so – spoiler alert – Julian Fellowes and his script-writers have given the dog the heave-ho.

Or so it would seem. About 20 minutes into tonight’s episode, Lord and Lady Grantham interrupt discussions on some building work to observe that Isis is looking “terribly listless”. The golden Labrador does, indeed, look a little peaky, splayed out on the ground like a spatchcock chicken. “I wonder if she’s picked up a germ,” observes Lady Mary, in doubtful 1920s speak. “Maybe she’s eaten a squirrel.” Other Moriarty-style observations include her looking “quite fat”, and “perhaps she’s pregnant?”.

Seasoned viewers of Downton – we are now in series five – will know that even the most trifling of conversations are loaded with meaning. So this dialogue – of a banality that is quite normal for The Archers, less so for Downton – must point to some terrible undoing of the dog later in the series. Which would conveniently tackle the PR problem that has plagued this series. When viewers first noticed the connection last month, they took to Twitter, pointing it out as #awkward.

The dog’s possible demise should not come as a complete surprise. The fact that Isis made her debut in the first Downton episode set in 1912 as an adult, and is still with the family in 1924, puts her at the upper end of Labrador life expectancy, canine experts say.

A spokesman for ITV insists it is pure coincidence, and that they got there first. “Isis has been the Crawleys’ family pet since series two (2011) and was named after the Egyptian goddess,” she says. “At the time the dog was named, and up to and including the majority of filming of series five, no one was using that acronym to describe a terror group. It is an unfortunate coincidence.”

But the spokesman declined to confirm or deny what becomes of the dog later in the series. The timings suggest it is quite possible that the scriptwriters decided to erase Isis from Downton in response to the negative reaction from viewers.

Isis, far left, in the Downton Abbey 2011 Christmas special (ITV)

Filming for series five began in February, by which time Isis had already captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah. But ITV insists that the script was written last year, when the name Isis still wasn’t widely associated with the Islamists terrorising parts of Iraq and Syria.

Before all this, Isis was better known as an Egyptian goddess from about 3,000BC. Residents of Oxford have long known their stretch of the Thames by that name, and customers of the Ann Summers sex shop may have some Isis panties in their drawers. For Julian Fellowes, who has been accused of multiple atrocities in the making of Downton – such as writing dialogue unheard of in the Twenties – killing off a troublesome Labrador may be the least of his worries.

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