PUBLISHED: 20:14 17 September 2013 | UPDATED: 20:14 17 September 2013
With the fourth series of the wildly successful costume drama Downton Abbey set to hit our TV screens, the world waits in anticipation. For Romford-raised Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley, the show’s transition from stable British series to international period drama powerhouse has been remarkable.
‘I don’t think any of us expected to see Downton Abbey achieve what it has,’ Michelle begins. ‘I think going into the first series there was even the question of whether we actually needed another period drama. But the way it’s been presented has been very clever.
‘Being on ITV gives it a different edge – it’s broken up by ad breaks and for that reason the delivery needs to be punchier and perhaps slightly more soap-like. And I think that has actually added to its appeal. You know if you watch Downton Abbey you won’t have a solid two hours of exchange. And that’s a benefit.’
As far as events at Highclere Castle go, Lady Crawley is now both a new mum and a widow, with the unfortunate demise of her husband, Matthew, in a car accident at the end of the 2012 Christmas special. Mary was already on an emotional rollercoaster during the series climax and at the end wasn’t even aware her husband had been killed.
‘I know!’ exclaims the Romford-born actress who made her name in dramatic theatre productions such as Hamlet and Pygmalion. ‘At least she does know once we come to series four. She has been through the mill. I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel for her, hopefully in the presence of a new suitor. So we’ll see what happens.’
Series four promises to focus on how Mary overcomes the loss of her husband, raises baby George and starts putting the pieces of her life back together. As an actress, for Michelle it must be nice to see her character centralised in the plot. ‘It’s still very much an ensemble,’ she says, adding that there’s plenty more to keep viewers glued to their screens from the other stars of the show. ‘But yes, I do thrive on good storylines. And there are some fantastic storylines coming up for everyone, particularly Anna [Joanne Froggatt] and Bates [Brendan Coyle]. And Edith [Laura Carmichael] goes through an interesting journey.
‘But yes, the beginning of the fourth series is very much about Mary’s state of mind and her releasing her grief,’ Michelle explains. ‘There might also be a new love interest further down the line. Well, let’s just say that even in the aftermath of Matthew’s death, she is not short of attention. In the world of Downton Abbey, marriage is very much an essential consideration.’
Family friend Lord Gillingham, played by Tom Cullen, and aristocrat Charles Blake, portrayed by Julian Ovenden, are both set to be toying with Lady Mary’s affections.
‘Back then a lady should not be alone. It was almost seen as a duty to offer companionship, even in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy. Times were obviously very different!’
Lady Mary will also have her hands full with a host of new characters joining the show in the fourth run. The highest profile addition is American actor Paul Giamatti, who arrives as Mary’s colourful uncle, Harold Levinson – brother of fellow American Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern). Described as free-spirited and somewhat troublesome, Paul’s character is reportedly going to shake things up in the series finale. Shirley MacLaine is also set to return as their brash and outspoken mother, Martha.
Another new regular will be cousin Rose (she appeared in two episodes of the last series and is played by Lily James), who is sure to add some more spice to what could be a much racier run. The show will also get its first black character, jazz singer Jack Ross, and lending her considerable vocal talents will be New Zealand’s opera singing treasure, Dame Kiri te Kanawa. And she’s not the only dame to join this year as Harriet Walter will appear as Lady Shackleton.
With such an expanding roster of talent and new characters to follow, is there a danger that Lady Mary’s next chapter will be drowned out by all the other goings-on and an invasion of Americans?
‘It’s like it is every year,’ Michelle says with a laugh. ‘It’s about the whole thing. It’s about every character and what they’re going through. And, actually, Matthew’s death has affected every single character in the house.’
So, are there any other teasers we can have? ‘Moseley [a manservant] is now out of a job, so it’s interesting to see what he goes through as a result of that storyline,’ adds Michelle, refusing to go into more detail.