Fully out of mourning for her late husband, Matthew (who tragically died in a car accident at the end of Season Four), she has found her old confidence and acerbic wit. Ever the pragmatist, the reality of her status as single mother to baby George simply won’t do. And of course, as beautiful and elegant as Lady Mary may be, she’s not getting any younger, particularly by 1920s standards. But to her credit, not just any husband will fit the bill.
In person, Dockery is a little like Lady Mary in that she’s no pushover when it comes to subjects she doesn’t want to address; namely, her recent engagement to PR director, John Dineen, with whom she’s been in a relationship since May 2013.
What’s it like filming at Highclere Castle every day?
You know, we’re in our sixth year now and there are times that I guess I feel I’ve taken it for granted. We film here every day and it’s extraordinary, of course, and I feel that particularly in the last two seasons and this year I’m beginning to appreciate it again. I try and relish as much of the castle as I can. It’s an extraordinary place to work.
Can you talk a bit about your love interest, Matthew Goode?
Yeah, Matthew plays Henry Talbot. He’s introduced in Season Five and I think there was certainly a slight frisson between the two of them. (Laughs.) You’ll just have to see where it takes you in this series [Six] but I won’t give too much away. And, as you know, Mary is never short of suitors. There could be more than one, who knows? (Laughs.)
There’s a lot of change for Lady Mary this season.
Yes, well, for Mary, there is a huge change for her in Season Five. She’s through her grief now, her confidence is back and she’s embracing fashion and the social changes. I had a lot of fun in that series; there wasn’t too much doom and gloom.
Lady Mary is the epitome of a modern woman – for her time. She’s quite rebellious.
Yes. I think Mary has always been very true to herself. She can’t embark on something unless she really feels that it’s right, like it did with Matthew eventually. I think she would rather be alone than with the wrong man.I don’t think she could bear a life of just being married for the sake of being married.It needs to be the right person and I’m excited to see who that will be.
And Lady Edith is going off into the world, even though she’s timid compared to Mary. That’s an interesting dynamic.
Yeah, absolutely, and I think she sometimes struggles with that because she is a traditionalist but at the same time she wants to explore the new changes and what’s happening out there. But still, her roots are very much at Downton. She can’t escape it but I love how in the beginning she was very dismissive of that, of her responsibility. She was this kind of teenager in a way in Season One but now she has matured and is willing to take on so much responsibility for herself and for her son.
In what ways are you a traditionalist?
I mean, I’m open. I’m asked this question often about how I compare to Mary as a person and I feel I’m very different to her. She is from a completely different world and a different time but what I’ve enjoyed about playing her is that she is becoming a modern woman and I’m often very surprised by the story that Julian [Fellowes] has written. The affair that she embarks on, essentially before she’s married, surprised me when I read it, but of course, women were making those choices and why shouldn’t they have made those decisions at the time? But she’s a very different person to who I am and that’s why I love playing her.
And you have big changes in your own life now too?
(Smiles politely.) I hope you’ll respect I won’t discuss my private life today.
You’re known throughout the world. I heard you were recognised in the Middle East not long ago?
(Laughs) Yes. I went to Jordan. I actually visited Zaatari, the refugee camp in Jordan and the day after I got some time to actually be a tourist and see some of Jordan. I naively thought, surely here I won’t be recognised, but I was approached by so many people in Jordan. I found that extraordinary. The Jordanians absolutely love Downton so that was quite an experience for me.
How long does it take to get ready to play Lady Mary?
It takes just over an hour or so.
The downstairs scenes are filmed at Ealing Studios, not Highclere. Do you like the contrast?
Yes, I really enjoy the contrast between Ealing and Highclere. Sometimes it feels like a very different job. It’s nice to have that balance. Sometimes we’re here for a week and then we’ll spend two weeks at Ealing.
How do you feel about this weather? [It’s raining heavily]. I suppose it’s typically English?
Yes, I think we’re used to it in this country. With the rain actually sometimes there’s a decision to make the scene in the rain. We‘ve had that before where there was no sign of umbrellas in the scripts but we bring them in and actually make the scene about getting in from the rain. It reminds me of that beautiful scene at the beginning of Gosford Park with all those beautiful umbrellas as it was raining. Sometimes it can be quite a lovely thing.
Would you have liked to have lived in the 1920s?
I think I prefer to live now. We’ve moved on so much now for the better. Although I love the clothes in Downton, I’d rather live in this day.