After five years in Downton Abbey, Michelle Dockery is back playing a gun-toting rancher and a ruthless TV exec. She talks typecasting, the Weinstein effect and the sudden death of her fiance
If Michelle Dockerys latest role had been written in the last 12 months, the part might look like a lazily drawn cliche. She is about to appear at the National Theatre in a stage adaptation of the film Network, playing Diana, a savagely ambitious TV executive (played by Faye Dunaway in the original), whose editorial and commercial values would be indistinguishable from those found at Fox News today. Despite being written long before cable news was even invented, it eerily foretells reality TV, viral videos, ratings wars, YouTube terrorism clips, fake news and the triumph of sensation over truth.
Her co-star is Bryan Cranston, playing an ageing presenter with plummeting ratings, about to be fired by his failing TV station. With nothing to lose, the anchor goes rogue and lets rip, venting misanthropic fury instead of reading the news, and threatening to blast his brains out live on air. His rants send ratings through the roof, and Diana wild with excitement. Glimpsing the future, she grasps the lucrative potential for a channel willing to dispense with all journalistic integrity and broadcast partisan polemic instead.
Well, its just so obvious how its relevant today, Dockery marvels. [The anchor] Howard Beale shouting, Im mad as hell and Im not going to take it any more! feels very pertinent, in the world of fake news and people frustrated with the political situation. If you heard someone shouting that out of a window in New York today, you wouldnt be surprised. I think to a lot of people it will feel like a play about Trumps America.