By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—At long last, fans of the immensely popular British TV series “Downton Abbey” have reason to cheer. The fifth season of the early 20th century period drama, written by Julian Fellowes, returns to PBS. The season premiere is Sunday, Jan. 4, 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m.C.
Cast members of the hit British TV drama were on hand here for the Television Critics Association Summer Tour. Among them, Michelle Dockery, 33, who plays the impossibly proper Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Downton Abbey in the 1920s. Season 5 (the Brits call it Series 5) begins with the widowed Lady Mary moving on with her life, raising her toddler son, George, at the family homestead and getting more involved in the family’s landholding business. After a proper period of mourning the loss of her husband, she considers the possibility of remarrying, and is courted by two handsome and eligible suitors, but whom will she choose? Will she choose at all?
The popular series, created by award-winning scribe Julian Fellowes, promises some fun new twists and turns in the lives of the upper class Crawleys and the downstairs staff at the country manor. Guest stars this season include Richard E. Grant and Anna Chancellor.
Dockery explained to TV critics how challenging it is to discuss this season’s developments without giving too much away, but promised that fans will not be disappointed.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about the evolution of Lady Mary? Sometimes she appears a little commitment-phobic, and then there are times she’s just a little picky.
Dockery: Well, that’s true, and she’s very … she’s very complex. I think that she’s impulsive. So she makes these decisions, and then once she goes through with it, she looks back and actually realizes it wasn’t quite the right decision. In this (season), she is quite impulsive, and she’s embracing her new life, really. I think she’s through the grief now. I kind of see Series 5 for Mary as the new Mary, in a way. And so with that, she’s got a bit of her bite back that we had in Series 1, which I’ve enjoyed playing. It was lovely to do Series 4, playing all of that emotion and everything, but this series is a lot more fun. So I’m enjoying it.
Q: Allen Leech’s Tom Branson, who was married to Lady Mary’s sister, Sybil, and Lady Mary are both widowed and living at Downton with their children. What can you tell us about them in Season Five?
Dockery: Their friendship is really growing, and to think that Mary couldn’t bear the idea of Sybil uniting with Branson (who was the family’s chauffeur) in the beginning. It’s amazing how their friendship has evolved. They are both looking for love.
Q: Possibly with each other?
Q: Now that she’s older and wiser, is Lady Mary going to be nicer to her younger sister Edith this season or will she continue to goad and tease her as she has done in previous seasons?
Dockery: I think Mary would like to see Edith happy eventually. I do. I think that their bickering is often to do with who is the sadder or who is … they are competitive. They obviously were as children, and Mary is mean to Edith especially in this series, actually, there’s some really nice moments we get to go at it because me and Laura (Carmichael, who plays Edith) love it when we are mean to each other. As Mary and Edith, it’s more fun to do. But I genuinely think that she would rather see her sister happy. We rejoice whenever Julian writes something in where we are vicious to one another. It’s more fun.
Q: Could you talk about your favorite room on set, any of the sets?
Dockery: The staircase. Whenever we do scenes on the staircase, it always takes me back to one of the first scenes that Laura, Jessica (Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil), and I did when the three sisters were walking down the stairs in that first episode. We got the giggles and could barely do the scene. And we were doing song “Single Ladies” (before shooting).
Q: You have some new characters introduced this season. For example, the Dowager Lady Anstruther played by Anna Chancellor, who was footman Jimmy Kent’s former employer, for example. Could you talk a little bit about how she fits in?
Dockery: Well, she’s a troublemaker. She comes to the house and, yeah, she creates havoc.