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TV Critics Tour: 'Downton Abbey,' Lady Mary, look ahead to the 5th season

Michelle Dockery portrays Lady Mary in a scene

(Credit: AP)

BEVERLY HILLS -- "Downton Abbey," which returns for a fifth season Jan. 4, promises big changes -- or perhaps, the better phrase in lieu of  "big" here would be "emotionally resonant and complex." So let's go with that insstead: "Downton" promises emotionally resonant and complex changes in the 5th season as one of TV's great hits continues to figure out how to keep that word "hit" firmly affixed to any discussion of "Abbey."  Of course, it's always hard to tell six months in advance just how resonant any "Abbey"  adjustments will be, and the series has rarely been in the habit of revealing too much going forward. (What's the fun in that anyway?)

But aside from a prominent new cast member -- Richard E. Grant ("Gosford Park") will join as one Simon Bricker, a guest of the Granthams -- stars and showrunners here Tuesday did promise an evolution that will especially impact one of "Downton's" signature characters, Lady Mary.

Gareth Neame, exective producer of "Downton," did indicate that at least one major story will develop next year -- Lady Mary Crawley's eventual move out of the shadows into a new emotional life. Which is to say: She's finally thinking of playing the field again.

She said as much at the end of season four; the question for her and "Downton" fans is an obvious one, however: Said Neame, "We’ve, all of us, have played these characters now for several years. We’ve all lived in this “Downton” world. And the more we’re immersed in the world, the more we feel that we get to understand these characters, the more that the stakes of the stories are higher. I think what Michelle [Dockery] was just saying about the relationships and what she’s going to do and the idea that Mary has now decided by the end of Season 4 she said, “I know I will marry again. I’m not now” “I’m turning to life, and I’m going to be married.” But I think that whole challenge of how do you make a new relationship when your partner has died, how do you make a second marriage as an older, more mature person is way more complicated than the first relationship decision you make. So I think for all of these characters, everything is just ratcheted up. Everything is much more complicated. He’s still the guy stuck in no man’s land between these two worlds, but as you saw with the scene with Hugh Bonneville, the stakes are just higher and higher every time."

Dockery had this to say about Lady Crawley: "She’s very she’s very complex. I think that she she’s impulsive. So she makes these decisions, and then, you know, once she goes through with it, she looks back and actually realizes it wasn’t quite the right decision. And I think this series, she is quite impulsive, and she’s embracing her new life really. I think she’s through the grief now. And I kind of see Series 5 for Mary as the new Mary, I guess, in a way. And so with that, she’s got a bit of her bite back that we had in Series 1, which I’ve enjoyed playing, you know. It was lovely to do Series 4 with playing all of that emotion and everything, but this series is a lot more fun. So I’m enjoying it."

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