We have had three episodes to view our new characters – Colbourne, Lennox, Augusta, Leonora, and Lockhart. I gave my initial impression about them already. Based on what we know so far, I feel compelled to focus on a few of the characters and throw in some speculation just for fun.
When we sit and watch a screenplay, it’s vastly different than reading a book. In a television series, we are given a visual outline of individuals, but we are not always privy to the inner thoughts or motivations of characters. We also get short scenes thrown at us but don’t have the ability to continue those scenes to see what transpires before or after.
It’s like a coloring book in my mind. You have the outline of the person as portrayed by the actor, doing his best to give us a glimpse of who he is visually and by his speech and actions. However, we can’t read their thoughts. We can observe their facial expressions, the look in their eyes, and form an opinion. For me, analyzing a character is picking up crayons and filling inside the lines. Each of us will paint a different picture – perhaps varying in color and clarity – as we analyze characters in this entire season. For now, these are my mid-season thoughts on Alexander Colbourne, played by the talented Ben Lloyd-Hughes. He has become the quintessential Austen type-hero.
When we go back to our first introduction of Colbourne, we meet a man who had already been described by Tom to Charlotte. As Charlotte stands before him, she has preconceived notions of who he might be and so do we. He’s a miser, recluse, and rarely seen in public. Those lines have already tainted our opinion of him as well, and the music as Charlotte approaches his home sets the mysterious mood behind his life.
His body language at the first meeting is telling. He’s busy writing and looks up at his housekeeper and Charlotte with a slight annoyance that he’s been interrupted. Nevertheless, he starts rattling off questions barely looking at her – Seven fifteens? Capital of Argentina? Play an instrument? He tests her French. After offering Charlotte a seat, he gets up and positions himself in front of her, crossing his arms while leaning on the desktop. There is nothing welcoming in his stance or demeanor. He’s closed off and opinionated about what his niece and daughter need. “Society asks that a woman be accomplished, not learned. Trust me, Miss Heywood, I know what happens when a woman falls short of society’s expectations.”
Charlotte challenges Colbourne’s beliefs and hastily leaves, apologizing for wasting his time. She’s hit a nerve, confirmed by the look on his face having just been challenged by a female with a different opinion. He knows what happens when a woman falls short of society’s expectations, and I speculate he speaks of his wife. There is pain in his gaze. What is the secret of her death? Is he pressuring his niece and daughter to be accepted by society so that there isn’t a repeat of what happened to his wife? I have my theories but am holding my cards close to my heart.
By the end of episode one, we see Colbourne coming after Charlotte on horseback on the same cliffs where Charlotte met Sidney. He’s decided to hire her for the position. “Miss Heywood, you did not wait to hear my decision. The job is yours, assuming you still want it. You start on Monday.” So what changed his mind? The dog? Perhaps it was Charlotte’s words that resonate truth in him that he might be wrong in his goals for his niece and daughter. Society’s rules for acceptance can be brutal. However, Charlotte is not moved by such rules, because she thinks them wrong. I believe at this point Colbourne is willing to take the risk that this young lady who he has just met might have a point. On the other hand, he may think that Charlotte has expressed enough gumption that she might be able to endure the two unruly ladies living under his roof.
On the first day of Charlotte’s position, Colbourne is stoic and to the point. Here are your charges, good luck, and slams the door behind him. However, once again he’s reverted to his original goals for the girls – they need to be taught to behave like young ladies. Books won’t fulfill that goal. Leonora needs a feminine hand, and Augusta lacks manners, civility, or any qualities that would make her remotely marriageable. As if he’s washed his hands once again, he returns to his office where he hides from interacting with others, doing whatever he does behind his desk. The question remains in his mind – will Charlotte last a week after being around Augusta and Leonora? In fact, he has a bet with the housekeeper that she will fail like the others.
As Ben Lloyd-Hughes remarked, his character has layers. The longer that Charlotte is with him, another layer seems to peel away. When Charlotte plays the piano and he stands on the threshold looking at her with awe and disbelief, a sudden painful call for her to “stop” is uttered. He’s hurt by the memories of the past, which are remain hidden from the audience, and knows that Augusta has set this up in a bid to hurt him or get Charlotte in trouble. When Charlotte claims it was her idea, I doubt that he believed her.
Instead, they return to his study, and he declares that she has failed like all the others. Charlotte won’t take the entire blame, as Alexander must shoulder some of the responsibility himself. As Charlotte conveys exactly what she sees, Alexander stands there without interrupting. He doesn’t yell in retaliation (like Sidney) or denies the allegations. He listens, because inwardly he knows it’s true, but hasn’t the ability to admit his faults to this young woman who has come into his home. Alexander is forced to examine himself through Charlotte’s eyes. He doesn’t retaliate in return, he just assumes she’s going to leave the position because of him, which may have been part of the reason the other governesses did too. To his surprise, she stays, not daunted by what might lie ahead. Impressed, he says, “Tomorrow then,” and he watches her depart his study. With a sardonic grin, Alexander pays his lost wager to the housekeeper. Of course, he could have fired Charlotte afterward, but instead, he loses the bet on purpose.
By the time we arrive at episode three, we find that Colbourne decides to come out behind his desk so to speak, and interact more with his new governess. He may not approve of Charlotte’s methods but is decidedly intrigued by her as a woman. In doing so, he becomes more vulnerable to her influence. He also shows protective tendencies toward her in that he attempts to shield her from his out-of-control horse, and afterward offers his tailcoat to cover her from the soaking rain.
In episode three, Colbourne is faced with a choice, and he knows what Augusta and Leonora expect him to do, but when he glances at Charlotte he knows what she hopes he will do. In a rare display, he spares a moment of his time and joins them for a picnic. It’s here that more is revealed about Lucy, his wife. When he learns that Charlotte has inquired about her, he could have well told her that his private affairs are none of her business. Instead, he opens up a slight crack into the window of his past, but not enough to see the entire picture, by only confirming what Augusta has told Charlotte. In contrast, though, he is quick to dismiss Augusta’s view of the situation saying that she was too young to understand what she perceived about his dead wife.
The scene of the cornflowers being handed to him by his daughter, Leonora, opens up a moment of levity between the two, but also one of surprise at Charlotte’s knowledge regarding their meaning. When she declares it’s her favorite flower, without hesitation he offers the blooms for her to keep, but afterward shows a distinct embarrassment over his quick actions that could very well be misconstrued by his governess. He turns away, gazes in the other direction, and nervously rubs his thumb and index finger together. Leonora, however, glances between the two of them, smiling with a hopeful thought that something more may be blooming besides flowers. Perhaps Colbourne is struggling with a tug upon his heart that he has not felt for many years and reacts cautionary but intrigued. I don’t think he intentionally meant to express an interest in Charlotte romantically, but he knew the meaning behind the Cornflowers and how a young lady could construe such an offering.
Charlotte has a way of changing people wherever she goes with the kindness and respect she shows to those around her. By the time they have ended their picnic and are walking back, the three of them smile warmly at Charlotte as she departs. Already, she is breaking down walls, bringing back life into a broken household, and Colbourne is accepting that fact without complaint. Perhaps she is the first person to enter his protected world since his wife died who has dared to help free him from his self-made prison.
“Until tomorrow, then,” he calls after her when she departs for the mid-summer fair. Obviously, it’s an invitation for more of her influence and presence in their lives, as he realizes Charlotte’s abilities as a woman. Will it be her personality instead that he will eventually wish for Augusta and Leonora to mirror? Perhaps there is something to be said about not bowing to society’s expectations of what a woman should be because he recognizes the value of what Charlotte can bring in its place.
Colbourne is vastly different than Sidney in many respects. Sidney, as a result of his broken heart with Eliza, turned into an embittered and cynical individual when he came to love. As Mary once said, he didn’t think too highly of the female sex, and it became quite obvious through his rude and angry treatment of Charlotte early on in the series. Colbourne on the other hand shows no bitterness. Rather he has experienced loss and pain, the entire picture of which we are not aware of yet. Instead, he has retreated into a safe haven of his estate, leaving the world behind rather than exposing himself and the truth to others. Whatever it is that has caused him to retreat and hide, will eventually be revealed to the audience. I’ve thought about the clues and have my opinion as to what transpired, and if I’m right, I’ll be back yelling it from the rooftops that my plot brain nailed it.
I’m excited to see episodes four and five this coming Sunday so another layer can be peeled back. I have a sneaking suspicion that Colbourne’s encounter with Lennox is going to bring out another glimpse of his character, and we’ll be able to fill in more colors of his personality.
What are your thoughts on Colbourne?