Make Canoe my Homepage

The more the Mary-er (or “marry her?”), says Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery

- January 3rd, 2013

Maggie Smith (left) and Michelle Dockery

Michelle Dockery was asked why, seemingly against all odds, Britain’s Downton Abbey has become a pop-culture phenomenon in North America.

“It’s really difficult to pinpoint why,” said Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley. “You tell me.”

Well, I’m not sure I have a better answer than you do, Ms. Dockery. But it’s a good thing for both of us, don’t you think?

Downton Abbey returns to North American TV with its third season, starting Sunday, Jan. 6 on most PBS stations. Set early in the 20th century, the lush period drama follows an aristocratic British family and the servants in their massive house, known as Downton Abbey.

As season three begins, it’s the spring of 1920. What later would become known as World War I finally is over and the long-awaited wedding of Lady Mary and Matthew (Dan Stevens) is nearing.

But as one would expect, all is not tranquil at Downton Abbey, as world-altering social changes, romantic intrigues and personal crises pulsate through the majestic English country estate.

What of poor, wrongly imprisoned Mr. Bates, played by Brendan Coyle? Will the scheming Thomas (Robert James-Collier) be rewarded or punished for his continued malevolence? And how will a visit by Lady Mary’s American grandmother, played by Shirley MacLaine, shake things up?

It certainly isn’t usual for North American audiences to get caught up in a British series such as this. But Downton Abbey somehow has hit upon the right mix of eye candy, class tension, romance and quality story-telling to grab the attention of a continent otherwise obsessed with the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Honey Boo Boo.

“But it feels like kind of a steady process,” said Dockery, who was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2012 and is pictured at right in the above photo, with Maggie Smith at left. “The first (season), people were just kind of catching on. It was the second (season) that seemed to really take off over here.

“So it feels like it has been a steady progression. At home (in Britain) it was quite an explosion right away, millions of people tuned in for the very first episode. And it has just grown from there, it’s wonderful.”

In many ways the fate of Lady Mary has been at the centre of Downton Abbey‘s story. So from the vantage point of the 21st century, does Dockery view Lady Mary as a sympathetic character, or as something of a brat?

“I think Mary started out as a bit of a brat,” Dockery said. “I mean, she was certainly far colder in the beginning.

“Initially I thought she would be the Kristin Scott Thomas type of character in Gosford Park, when I read those first few scripts. And then, you know, I realized she actually becomes far more sympathetic and sensitive, and I’ve really enjoyed that journey, which I wasn’t expecting.”

Not that Lady Mary becomes Mother Teresa or anything. Lady Mary certainly is not interested in anything resembling a diminished lifestyle, even as significant factors threaten the Crawley family’s stature in season three (watch for a Canadian connection in that regard!).

“Every year it gets better, actually,” Dockery said of Downton Abbey. “This year is even better than the last.”

Literally, the world is watching.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv