As VisionTV continues its back-to-back airings of Downton Abbey’s first three seasons, we’re looking back on the paths that the period drama’s most captivating characters have charted over the years, as well as the recent movements of the actors who bring them to life. This week, we start with one of the Crawley family’s most active and complicated members, Lady Mary, and her off-screen counterpart, Michelle Dockery, whose appearances in L.A. this past week have been making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Like so many of Downton’s residents, Lady Mary’s evolution has been shaped by both domestic turmoil and the societal shifts of the early 20th century. When we first met her, Mary was in the midst of a familial crisis – a position in which, as the years progressed, she would find herself again on numerous occasions. She wasn’t an easy character to love: beautiful yet aloof, clearly intelligent yet often dismissive, Mary was without a doubt a rose whose thorns weren’t exactly well hidden.
However, if Lady Mary seemed like an unsympathetic character at the outset, her attitude may have been one adopted as much for self-preservation as for anything else. The unique pressure associated with her role as the Crawleys’ eldest daughter was pronounced from the beginning, particularly in Season One, when the looming potential for scandal threatened both her reputation and her family’s. Her handling of that unenviable position was the first indication that Lady Mary’s mettle might match her unshakably cool façade.
Moving forward, though, we saw her demeanor soften (if only slightly), revealing her persona to perhaps be more indicative of a level headed outlook than of a hardened heart. She’s proven herself to be a capable advocate for the family’s interests, from her initial (and perhaps misplaced) distrust towards Matthew, to her growing role in the estate’s future. Both astute and protective, Lady Mary has been unafraid to turn her sharp wit and considerable charm towards the task of protecting those she cares for, demonstrating a well of loyalty concealed beneath her sometimes icy exterior.
When the ongoing indecision surrounding her relationship with Matthew was finally resolved, it seemed as though Mary’s carefully constructed defenses might finally be relaxed, as they settled into marriage and looked forward to the birth of their first child. Of course, as with so many of Downton Abbey’s characters, Mary was denied a happy ending as Season Three concluded with Matthew’s unexpected death – an event that could dispel the warmth that their relationship brought to her character.
Unsurprisingly, actress Michelle Dockery’s off-screen life has been no less eventful (although maybe less dramatic). Following appearances to promote Downton this side of the Atlantic, Dockery turned heads at last Sunday’s 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards, earning a spot on several best dressed lists. The weeks leading up to the L.A. event were peppered with talk show appearances (most notably, a comic turn on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), parties, and a spoof trailer featured on FunnyOrDie.com that saw her cast a gruff, modern-day cop who can’t quite seem to shake the airs and graces associated with her breakout role on Downton.
While it was unusual for many to see her running down alleyways rather than gliding down Downton’s stately halls (and exhibiting a healthy sense of humour in the process), the viral video was just a hint of what’s to come for Dockery. We’ll see her in a more action-packed role again in February, when Non-Stop, a thriller set aboard a transatlantic flight, makes its way into theatres. Her role as a flight attendant, played alongside Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, will undoubtedly mark a departure from the posh Lady Mary. And, with both awards season and a new chapter of Downton Abbey in sight, we’re sure to see more of Michelle Dockery both on the red carpet and onscreen in the months to come.
WATCH: DOWNTON ABBEY’S MICHELLE DOCKERY TALKS FASHION AND HAS SOME FUN WITH COSMOPOLITAN.COM
– Kate Shepherd