Tag Archives: Michelle Dockery

Lady Mary mired in grief as Downton Abbey returns Sunday

Michelle Dockery and Joanne Froggat star in 'Downton Abbey' Sunday on PBS.

Lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt, right) tries in vain to help her mistress, Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), get over her grief in the season premiere of ‘Downton Abbey’ Sunday on PBS.


As Downton Abbey returns for its fourth season on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic Sunday night, a chilly day in February 1922 is dawning. Outside, a dense, clammy mist clings to the estate, while inside her bedroom, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) sits in an emotional fog of her own. It’s been six months since her devoted husband, Matthew, met his death in a ridiculous plot contrivance motoring accident, and Mary is still numb with grief, clinging to her widow’s weeds like armor against further heartache. Worse, she acts completely disconnected from George, her infant son, referring to the boy as a “poor little orphan.”
Understandably, Mary’s refusal to rejoin the living is a matter of concern for both the family and staff of the house, a situation that may have dire repercussions for Downton Abbey. At the time of his death, Matthew had begun to make progress in converting the Crawley estate from a money pit into a self-sustaining business, but without his influence, Mary’s father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), is inclined to return to his previous, regressive business plans.
Elsewhere in Sunday’s two-hour premiere, the usually woebegone Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) appears finally to have found happiness with London publisher Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), who, alas, is trapped in a marriage with a mentally ill wife whom British law will not allow him to divorce. He may, however, have found a loophole, one that demonstrates his deep devotion to Edith.
Also stirring things up for the Crawleys is headstrong young Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), a visiting cousin from Scotland who has taken up temporary residence at Downton Abbey.
The opening episode features encore guest appearances by supporting characters who appeared fleetingly in past seasons. First, Charlie Grigg (Nicky Henson), Mr. Carson’s (Jim Carter) old music hall partner who tried to blackmail the Crawley butler way back in Season 1, returns with a completely different agenda. Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring), the housemaid who last season was sent packing by Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) after she tried to become too familiar with widowed Crawley son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech), also resurfaces, looking to cause more trouble.
PBS made available seven of the eight episodes in this season, enough to demonstrate that Season 4 is far sharper and more focused than last season was. One of the more interesting recurring subplots in these new episodes finds many of the characters “in service” fearing for their jobs as the changing social order motivates homeowners to reduce the size of their household staffs, not to mention new electrical appliances that also reduce the demand for as many servants.
In its fourth year, Downton Abbey is starting to repeat itself in some respects, and the coming and going of household staff – which begins with the departure of mean-spirited Miss O’Brien in the opening minutes of the premiere – hits such a frenetic pace that at one point an exasperated Robert wonders aloud whether he and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) are living under a curse.
For the most part, though, there’s still plenty of life in Downton Abbey, which already has been renewed for a fifth season. The show is more of a dessert than a substantial meal, but as the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) once observed, “It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.”
Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol play members of the 'Downton Abbey' kitchen staff.

Assistant cook Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera, right) turns to Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) for romantic advice in season four of ‘Downton Abbey.’

A ‘Hollow Crown’ brimming with wonders

RICH00690RichardII
Ben Whishaw
One of the big events of the fall TV season arrives tonight with the PBS premiere of The Hollow Crown, a Great Performances four-week miniseries featuring lavish adaptations of a quartet of Shakespeare’s most gripping history plays.
Cast with some of Great Britain’s finest classically trained actors, Crown chronicles the turbulent rise and fall of three English Kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V – and how their reigns helped shape British history.
Tonight’s premiere features Richard II, a lesser-known play here in the States, but absolutely gripping in this film directed by Rupert Goold. Ben Whishaw, who played gadget guru Q in the James Bond blockbuster Skyfall, stars as the vain, capricious and self-centered monarch whose penchant for acting on spiteful whims is revealed almost immediately, as Richard is petitioned by a cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), to settle a dispute with Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy from Fox’s The Following).
Ultimately, Richard renders a judgment that pleases no one, banishing both men from the kingdom, although he rewards Henry’s past loyalty by sending him away for “only” six years. That’s more than enough, however, to break the heart of Henry’s elderly father, John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart), who dies soon after his son departs. Wasting no time, Richard seizes the family’s property and possessions that are Henry’s birthright, then heads to Ireland to put down a rebel uprising.
In the king’s absence, a furious Henry defies his banishment, returning to reclaim his inheritance. With the heartfelt support of allies Northumberland (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead) and the Duke of York (David Suchet, Poirot), Henry readily takes Richard prisoner and lays claim to the throne as King Henry IV.
Whishaw, who won a BAFTA Award (the British Emmy) as best actor for his role, gives a fascinating performance as this rather effete and aloof monarch, a portrayal that is mildly off-putting in his early scenes, but builds in intensity and tragic stature as Richard’s destiny takes a series of appalling turns. At two and a half hours, Richard II is the longest of these films, yet it feels the shortest, because Goold keeps things moving at such a nice clip.
H4_080212_JB0020Prince Hal
Tom Hiddleston
On Sept. 27, Henry IV, Part I finds a much older Henry, now played by Jeremy Irons, beset by myriad troubles as his reign moves into its twilight years. What really has him most worried, however, is that Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers) is sowing his wild oats with a drunken old knight named Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale, who won the BAFTA as best supporting actor) at a tavern run by Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters) instead of dutifully preparing to assume the throne. In fact, Hal’s misbehavior is causing such a scandal that a challenger to the throne, Hotspur (Joe Armstrong), is having no trouble building a coalition of supporters.
With rebels threatening the succession, Hal ultimately returns to his father’s side, but not before one of the most unforgettable comic moments in the miniseries, as Hal makes fun of his father, giving Hiddleston an excuse to show off his absolutely pitch-perfect vocal impression of the great rumbling drawl Jeremy Irons seems to favor in most of his roles these days.
In Henry IV, Part II (Oct. 4), the king’s ministers step up their efforts to drive a wedge between Hal and Falstaff, and they get their wish after Hal overhears Falstaff belittling him and catches the boozy knight in a series of lies. After Henry IV dies, Falstaff is convinced his ship finally has come in, but he is in for a rude awakening as Hal ascends the throne as King Henry V. In both films, director Richard Eyre brings to vivid life the uproarious medieval messiness of Falstaff’s world, although every now and then a scene gets so busy that we lose track of the story.
The miniseries concludes on Oct. 11 with director Thea Sharrock’s moving treatment of Henry V, which previously was adapted into critically acclaimed feature films starring Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh. Hiddleston continues in his regal role, looking every inch a king as Henry faces a series of challenges from the French monarch (Lambert Wilson). The first hour or so feels elegiac, including as it does the deaths of both Falstaff and his ne’er-do-well companion Bardolph (Tom Georgeson), but as events lead us inevitably to the high-stakes battle of Agincourt in France, the mood becomes more stirring. In the climactic moments, when Henry and his small, exhausted and bedraggled army must confront a well-rested French force five times its size, Hiddleston delivers his rallying speech to his troops thrillingly, while Sharrock frames the battle action in such a way as to make us believe there are far more soldiers on the battlefield than was actually the case.
Production values are absolutely top-notch, and the supporting cast also includes Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey), Maxine Peake and Tom Hughes of Silk, Clemence Poesy (Fleur from the Harry Potter films), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks), Lindsay Duncan (Rome) and Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By), among many others. Needless to say, I highly recommend The Hollow Crown. Be careful, though, to check your local listings, because some PBS affiliates carry their own local programming on Friday nights and will schedule Crown in a different time period.
H4_230112_JB_0121Falstaff
Julie Walters and Simon Russell Beale