Friends in need
Lady Mary and Tom Branson become allies as Downton grapples with grief, Allen Leech tells DEBBIE SCHIPP
THERE’S a dark cloud over
DowntonAbbey as season four dawns.
It’s six months since season three left viewers reeling with the shock death of Matthew (Dan Stevens), hard on the heels of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Finlay) dying in childbirth.
Behind the pall of loss, a widow and widower left as single parents struggle with the grief, trying to find a new path and purpose.
That’s the challenge facing Allen Leech’s Tom Branson – the cheeky upstart Irish chauffeur who defied class conventions to marry Lady Sybil, as he tries to console his sister-in-law Mary (Michelle Dockery) in the midst of his own bereavement.
“Tom’s very central to trying to get Mary out of this slump,” Leech says.
“He’s knows what she’s going through. They are both widowed, with a child. They become friends through that bond of grief and tragedy.
“He tries to get her to have an interest in Downton, and life, and the life of the house.
“He says: ‘Let’s do what your husband planned and what we were trying to do to keep Downton safe for the sake of your son, who is now the next heir’.” It’s dark stuff, even for
Downton, admits Leech, who in real life is irrepressible, cheeky, carefree and confesses he hates the dog that stars on the hit period drama.
Lord Crawley’s (Hugh Bonneville) faithful Labrador, Isis, Leech reveals, is not a “generous” actor.
“She’s the worst animal in the world, I don’t know why she gets hired,” Leech laughs.
“Her name is Abby. She won’t sit and she humps sofas. She gets bored and wanders into scenes.”
“You’ll be on take 27 and it’s all because Abby won’t stay where she’s told.”
Bereavement and fatherhood have brought out a softer, but no less conflicted Tom, Leech says.
“He is still coming to terms with who he is, what he’s become,” he says.
“He’s the chauffeur who is now living upstairs, sitting there going, ‘Why am I here? They don’t really want me here, and downstairs doesn’t want me’.
“I think he literally is the first middle-class man.”
Tom also struggles with single parenthood in unfamiliar 1920s upper-class surroundings.
“He has the support of the Crawley family in that regard, but you find him struggling to figure out, ‘Is this my family? Is this my place?’ and wondering about the upbringing of his daughter,” Leech says.
“The children have nannies. It’s different to the way Tom was raised.
“I do like the way Julian (Fellowes, DowntonAbbey creator) has written some nice scenes reflecting that, with Tom as a very hands-on dad.
“His relationship with Sybil was such a passionate and romantic story – the fact they didn’t let anything get in the way of that love – I think it will take a long time to fill that gap. His love story at the moment is his daughter.”
SUNDAY, 8.40PM, SEVEN
In it together: Michelle Dockery and Allen Leech form a special bond in season four of DowntonAbbey.