As Season 3 of PBS’ “Downton Abbey” — set in an English manor house in the wake of World War I — launches Sunday, Jan. 6, on “Masterpiece Classic,” fans will be eager to see what happens to the up-and-down romance of aristocratic Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), her distant cousin and presumptive heir to the family estate.
At the end of Season 2 — after a rocky courtship, another woman and Matthew’s nearly miraculous healing from his war wounds — the often-battling duo became engaged.
“As always,” Dockery tells Zap2it, “with Matthew and Mary, it’s never plain sailing. So, whether they get married or not in the third series — I won’t give that away. It’s inevitable that they run into disagreements. There are issues.
“But it’s great, the third series, because so much is changing. I honestly think that the through-line, the main theme of the third series, is change, and how the war has affected these houses. Financially, it comes into a bit of trouble.”
For one thing, as the 20th Century gets well underway, all those people working downstairs in aristocratic homes have many more options.
“Of course, in the industrial age,” says Dockery, “people, particularly the working class, were able to be employed in various other sorts of work, other than service.Even Highclere [the real historic home that stands in for Downton Abbey] itself has struggled over the years. I’m sure the show has brought prosperity, that tourism has boosted in the last three years. They must be so grateful for it, because it must be fortunes to run that house.
“What I love about the downstairs, what you see below stairs, is all in-studio, because, of course, it’s not there anymore at Highclere. There’s no reason for it to be, because it’s not run by everyone below stairs. It’s crazy. It’s now a museum, that part of the house.”
The daughter of an emigrant to England from Athlone, Ireland, Dockery’s personal history is quite different from the pampered Lady Mary’s.
“My background is very humble,” says Dockery, “very different to her, but I like it. She’s a very different sort of person than I am, as well. I wear my heart on my sleeve. … She never really shows on the surface what’s going on underneath.
“It’s a challenge. It always is, because [series creator] Julian Fellowes continues to write storylines that challenge you a little bit. You never get too comfortable.”
But when Mary does make her feelings known, people can get hurt. In that, she takes after her father’s mother, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), Dowager Countess of Grantham.
“Mary can be just really mean at times,” says Dockery. “She’s a lot like her grandmother. She’s very much her grandmother’s granddaughter. She’ll say things that are quite sharp and offensive, without always thinking about it.
“It’s that kind of bluntness of the aristocracy. You just say it, with conviction and without any doubt that it’s absolutely what you mean. That’s great, to play that, because it’s so different from anything where I come from.”