Marriage to Matthew would secure Lady Mary’s future – and that of her beloved Downton too. But he’s about to shock her to the core…
23:35 GMT, 7 September 2012
When we met Mary in the first series of Downton Abbey, she appeared to be a cold and ambitious elder daughter of an earl.
Blighted by her gender, she had to prove she could be as successful as any male heir. However, finding herself engulfed in a potentially ruinous scandal when her one-night lover, the Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk, died in her bed, she was forced to see that even upright and good people make mistakes.
Ultimately, the scandal was Mary’s salvation, softening her and opening her up to true, honest love. Of all the characters, she is the one who undergoes the greatest metamorphosis.
When we met Mary in the first series of Downton Abbey, she appeared to be a cold and ambitious elder daughter of an earl
Mary was taken by surprise when she fell for Matthew, who is in line to inherit the family home. She knew it would be convenient for everyone if they married, but she didn’t think she could love a man born outside the aristocracy.
A man who worked for his living was not her type, but Matthew’s kindness of heart, his love for her and his good looks and charm won her over.
Still, it was hard for Mary to relinquish her dream of securing a powerful and rich society figure for a husband. When it looked as if there was a chance Matthew might not be the heir – during Cora’s brief pregnancy – Mary wobbled a little.
She had been schooled in the success of a financially astute match, following her own parents – the future of Downton seemed assured when the Earl married American heiress Cora, who brought a huge personal fortune with her.
Mary was quickly punished for her doubts: Matthew sensed her wavering and called off the engagement, and by the time she saw him next, he was in love with Lavinia Swire.
‘The thought of losing Matthew had a huge effect on her,’ says Michelle Dockery, the actress playing Mary. ‘It made her a nicer person in the end.’
And now she has her own wedding to look forward to. But with Mary’s stubborn temperament and Matthew’s desire to toe the moral line, we should not expect events to be free from drama.
Sybil and Anna help Mary try on her going away outfit
In the rest of her life Mary is unsentimental – she is less concerned with her popularity than she is with getting what she and her family need. ‘Mary is very headstrong and unable to accept that she can’t have her own way,’ says Julian Fellowes. ‘But she can never allow herself to accept pity from anyone.’
Lady Mary has given her parents much reason to worry. Old-fashioned in many respects, she is closest to her traditional-thinking father (‘In some ways she is the son he never had,’ says Michelle) and grandmother. Of all Violet’s granddaughters, Mary is the one to whom she is closest: they are united in their fervent belief that Downton Abbey must remain the Crawley family seat.
Mary is sometimes dismissive of her American mother, Cora; she doesn’t consider herself half-American but wholly English, and she has no compunction in telling Cora this.
Michelle says of their relationship, ‘She acts superior around her mother; a teenager’s toughness that has never worn off.’ If she appreciates her mother for anything, it’s the money she brought to the family, saving the estate.
Mary’s closest relationships are with
men: her father, Matthew and the butler, Carson. And her admirable
qualities would have been considered masculine in 1920: she’s an
adventurer, brave, an excellent horsewoman and a natural leader
Mary’s relationship with her sisters can be fraught. Before the war, she never lost an opportunity to put Edith, her middle sister, down, and when Edith discovered Mary’s sordid secret about her Turkish lover she was delighted – it was the sort of thing that could undermine her elder sister’s position in Society in a way that little else could.
Their relationship is less antagonistic than it was, but they will never be close; they are too much set in their pattern. Of Sybil, her youngest sister, Mary is protective, and tried to stop her running off to marry the chauffeur, Branson.
Now she may not agree with her politics – Sybil’s husband is a Sinn Fein sympathiser – but she sees that they both essentially want the same thing: to be happy.
Mary’s closest relationships are with men: her father, Matthew and the butler, Carson. And her admirable qualities would have been considered masculine in 1920: she’s an adventurer, brave, an excellent horsewoman and a natural leader.
Mary’s archaic views, and her determination to gain power through her role as a chatelaine, give her self-confidence.
A powerful contrast to Matthew, whose modern attitude is likely to save Downton Abbey and keep it a relevant enterprise in the 20s. ‘She began as an arrogant young girl,’ says Michelle.
‘Then she was left vulnerable after the Kemal Pamuk incident, which put her in touch with her emotions. But her practical side returns in this series.’ Mary is a force to be reckoned with and we know she’ll fight for her family’s future, whatever the cost.