As with many of the individuals that have called Downton Abbey home, either upstairs or downstairs, there have been earlier acting lives that have gone relatively unnoticed since the acting ‘pot-of-gold’ that is Downton Abbey. In the case of Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), he might have actually called upon one of his earlier career efforts to gain a bit of guidance to help prepare him for the character of Mr. Bates. It was in series one of Downton that he revealed a past prison stint to Mr. Carson and then, fast forward to the end of series two and much of series three when he spent time behind bars for allegedly killing his ex-wife, Vera.
In 2000, the Irish mockumentary comedy, Paths to Freedom premiered on Irish television network RTÉ Two. Starring Brendan Coyle as Dr. Jeremy Fitzgerald and Michael McElhatton as Raymond ‘Rats’ Doyle, Paths to Freedom follows the lives of two recently released inhabitants from Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison as they try to reintegrate back into society. Upon release, they agree to be filmed as part of a documentary following what life is like for former prisoners once they are released.
Jeremy and Rats are from very different backgrounds. While Rats has been in and out of trouble throughout his whole part-time poet and musician life, it’s pretty clear that Jeremy is a few cards short of a full deck after prison. A distinguished consultant gynecologist who has now lost his license after prison, he shows his love of a wealthy style of life by driving a new Mercedes-Benz, playing golf at his local club ‘The Fitzhatton’ and repeatedly describing his admiration of Michael Flatley. When Jeremy is questioned by the camera crew as to what affect prison has had on him, and he responds that it caused him to lose his ‘no-claims bonus’ and raise his golf handicap by six strokes.
Unfortunately, there was only one series of Paths to Freedom. Of note also is that Jeremy’s wife, Helen, in Paths to Freedom is played by Deirdre O’Kane, who can be seen in the Chris O’Dowd’s brilliant Moone Boy as Martin Moone’s Mom, Debra. Give it a look while you pass the time before series 5 of Downton Abbey begins.