Downton Abbey returns this Sunday (PBS, 9/8c) with Lady Mary still in mourning for her husband, six months after Matthew’s untimely death.
So how to pull the grieving widow out of the dark after such a loss? Not one, but three potential suitors certainly should help: There’s old family friend Gillingham (played by Tom Cullen), newcomer Blake (Julian Ovenden) and the Turk’s returning pal Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks).
Plus, the upcoming Christmas special promises to be “more optimistic” than last year’s bloody affair, says star Michelle Dockery.
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Here, the actress also previews Mary’s new friendship with her brother-in-law and whether it could evolve into something more.
TVLINE | Is Mary even in a place where she’s interested in other men? Or are they just chasing her down a one-way street?
It does take her time to move on. That’s what the audience will expect as well. You can’t suddenly see Mary with another man immediately after Matthew because the audience invested so much in that character and that storyline between Mary and Matthew. It would just be wrong for her to move on quickly.
TVLINE | I imagine it’s a very different dynamic with Tom’s character, at least, because she and Gillingham knew each other as children.
They just knew each other as children– like, you know, a family friend or a cousin — and they haven’t seen each other since. So that’s all there is, really.
TVLINE | Mary is now a single mother. How is she dealing with raising a child?
She’s an aristocrat. She has a nanny. [Laughs] Traditionally, Mary, Edith and Sybil, they wouldn’t have spent that much time with their parents growing up; they would have seen them maybe twice a day. Everything else is done by the nanny. That’s just the way it was. You don’t see a lot of her with the baby because that’s the way it was then. She’s very practical. I don’t think she was ever going to be a doting, cooing mother. At the beginning, it’s difficult with the baby because she looks at him and she sees Matthew. She’s just adjusting.
TVLINE | Is she hardened again this season?
Yeah. She kind of reverts back, which is wonderful to play again, that colder side of her.
TVLINE | PBS released a picture of Mary with George and Branson.
For Mary and Edith, Branson is a reminder of Sybil every day. They have to work together closely with the running of the estate, so they become good friends. Of course, they share the same loss — Mary with her sister and also Matthew for Branson, because they were good friends. There is this shared past they have. He becomes very much a member of the family. He’s like a brother. It’s strange to think once he used to drive them around, and now he’s very much a part of the above stairs family, as opposed to below stairs.
TVLINE | There was some worry that they were going to pair up Mary and Branson.
[Laughs] No. I don’t think that would be appropriate.
TVLINE | Paul Giamatti (John Adams) is coming on as Mary’s uncle. What’s their dynamic?
He arrives [in the] Christmas special with Martha. He’s this slightly caddish, player type…. He has this sort of reputation, and we just know him as our uncle.
TVLINE | What is the overall tone of this year’s Christmas special?
You won’t see quite as much of a tragic end. There’s a slightly more optimistic ending this year. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Did you feel like Downton went darker last year with the two deaths, and now it’s more about hopefulness and the second generation with all these babies?
You could say that. But there are still ups and downs. That’s the appeal of the show – these unexpected twists and turns for characters. One minute, you’re laughing. The next minute, you’re crying. It’s very rich with story. There is certainly an energy about the fourth [season]. It feels like a burst of energy midway through the fourth [season]. It feels very much like you’re in the heart of the ’20s, the roar of the ’20s. And the costumes are evolved even more. They’re very, very ’20s. The flappers are coming in. The dances have changed. They’re faster dances. It breathes that whole era.