Analyzing characters can be fun but challenging. When I think of Alexander Colbourne in season two of Sanditon, my initial reaction is, “it’s complicated.” There are multiple layers to examine, based on the information we have received from the screenplay. We do not have a novel written to dissect every word and nuance of who this man is as a character. What we do have is a script and screen time, with Ben Lloyd-Hughes bringing to life Alexander.
Each of us will view him through a different lens. We will analyze him based upon what we know, what we speculate to be, and no doubt compare him with our own life experiences and emotions. We may even draw comparisons from people we know. What I’m about to write, is from my lens. Your lens may be a bit more rose-colored or a shade darker. I tend to view things as they are and work from the facts. Of course, it would be helpful if I had Justin Young’s background sketch that he gave to Ben Lloyd-Hughes regarding Colbourne before I deep dive. Nevertheless, I’ll give it my best shot. Hang on, as I peel back the layers of this complex man. This isn’t going to be easy.
Alexander Colbourne’s Childhood
What have we gathered about Alexander’s past? We know this much.
- He and his brother had a governess that met independence of spirit with a leather belt. Ouch! We know that (a) he has at least one sibling – a brother; (b) that his parents were minimally involved with their upbringing, leaving discipline in the hands of their governess.
- Alexander is nothing like his father, who apparently loved to drink thanks to Lady Denham’s comment, “That’s a relief. It will save me a fortune in wine.” Colbourne refuses alcohol at the garden party.
- He grew up on the estate and knows all the best hiding places (no doubt hiding from the governess and his father).
Let’s talk about the first obvious pain point. It’s the long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect that can carry into adulthood. Rather than being able to express himself with “independence of spirit” that Charlotte spoke about, Alexander and his brother were punished and silenced for such behavior. Expression of thought resulted in punishment, which carried into Alexander’s adulthood in his inability to communicate effectively. It’s bad enough to be beaten by your parents, but to be left in the care of someone who is not a parent who is given the authority to physically abuse you, contributed to feelings of abandonment. There are plenty of articles on psychology websites that speak about the lasting effects of abuse and neglect, including low self-esteem, depression, and trouble forming and maintaining relationships, among others.
What I find curious is that Alexander tells Charlotte that what his daughter and niece need is discipline. He is of the opinion that is what is lacking, obviously blind to the detrimental effects his childhood discipline had on him. Charlotte’s idea of childrearing is far different in method. From the time she left his office and the moment he caught up with her on the cliffs, Alexander must have considered the possibility of a different path. He was willing to give Charlotte the opportunity to try another means.
To add to Alexander’s challenges, it’s inferred that his father was an alcoholic. No doubt his father’s condition contributed to the neglect that he and his brother suffered, and perhaps exposed them to even more physical and mental abuse if their father turned into an “angry” drunk when inebriated. It’s fortunate that we see Alexander shun alcoholic beverages at Lady Denham’s garden party, rather than succumbing to his father’s legacy himself which is often a danger for children of alcoholics. Frankly, given all that he has suffered would give him ample justification to turn toward drink. Thankfully, his integrity has conquered those temptations, and he has determined not to follow the destructive path of his father.
We hear nothing about Alexander’s mother, but I think it’s fair to say that she was overwhelmed, being married to an alcoholic. A woman in such a situation is focused on her own survival and probably did not have the ability to cope or protect her children from their father’s drinking. She may have been abused by her husband as well during his drunken state. For whatever reason, she too relied upon a governess to discipline the boys.
Alexander Colbourne and Marriage to Lucy
Alexander admits that he and Lucy married young. My first thought is that Alexander perhaps did so as a means of escaping a dysfunctional home. Did he love Lucy or was she just a means to an end? Of course, it could have been an arranged marriage as well, but we know nothing of how it came about. My thoughts are that Alexander had no concept of giving love or receiving love at a young age. It’s clear that he and Lucy were a mismatch from the beginning. Lucy loved society and being around people, while Alexander did not. Already, we see Alexander’s childhood having formed his adult personality by preferring isolation rather than stimulation. He experiences anxiety in social situations. Even Augusta said to Charlotte, “He rarely came to London. He’s always been solitary.“
Now that Alexander’s parents are dead, and as the eldest son he inherited the estate, Lucy and he separates. She preferred London society, and he wished to return to the country. Perhaps the land upon which he grew up is the location that grounds him, although it may not be filled with happy childhood memories. What Alexander does know is that he’s safe there from the pressures of social activity, and behind its walls, he finds solace staring out the window.
Lennox accuses Colbourne of abandoning Lucy in London, and that is why he was able to give his wife the comfort she needed. Colbourne believes Lennox preyed upon her vulnerabilities. The outcome, as we know, is that Lucy is pregnant with Lennox’s child, and is too afraid to face her husband. Colbourne admits he showed her no pity or compassion for her failings, and we can only assume that his personality trait of integrity caused him to lash out at her for her unfaithfulness. Now, he has even more reason to hide behind the walls of his estate – scandal. To make matters worse, Lucy takes that ill-fated walk into the night rain that leads to her death. The aftermath leaves Colbourne riddled with guilt and shame that he is responsible for the outcome.
The entire affair has a ripple effect on Colbourne’s life, compounding his low self-esteem born from his childhood. He has now failed as a husband like his father. Alone with his self-recrimination, the end result is his home becomes a prison, and his emotions are bottled up in the depths of his soul. Even though Colbourne says he is nothing like his father when it comes to drinking, there is a haunting aspect of identical failure that clings to him. He has difficulty being the father Leonora needs and the understanding uncle Augusta needs. It’s easier to hire a governess to handle it, rather than figuring it out for himself, so he can hide in his office behind a closed door. Of course, it doesn’t help that Leonora isn’t his daughter, and Augusta looks like his departed wife.
Alexander Colbourne and Charlotte
Charlotte has now entered Alexander’s life. From their very first meeting, she has challenged him. As I wrote about in my mid-season analysis of Alexander Colbourne, he is forced to examine himself through Charlotte’s eyes. She encourages them all to be a family rather than a mausoleum of secrets and pain. With each encounter, Colbourne is forced to make a decision. Should I take a minute for a picnic? Should I take Augusta to the garden party? Do I take my niece to attend the ball, meaning that I might have to dance myself? He’s falling in love with Charlotte and wants to please her, no matter how painful stepping out from behind the prison of his anxiety might be. However, feeling affection for Charlotte doesn’t necessarily equate to suddenly having the ability to express emotions. He admitted he worried about what she would think of him, once the truth about Lucy and Leonora was revealed. When he discovers that she does not judge him for it, he drops his defenses and kisses her with obvious need.
I talked about what happened in Episode 6 as well, attempting to unpack the ending where we find Colbourne tongue-tied (Unpacking E6 – What Happened). Though much of it is rooted in his integrity, it’s also exacerbated by the trauma endured during his youth. Lennox played a pivotal role in creating doubt and uncertainty in his life, laying the blame for failure square at his feet. I can relate to Colbourne on that point, that expressing yourself can be difficult and almost impossible under certain circumstances, especially when you are chained to the past. As we see, he often needs space to process and reflect before he can articulate his emotions. I’m the same way.
Colbourne at the end of season two is in love with Charlotte, but he is by no means ready for a relationship. There are more layers to peel back – more baggage to unpack – more healing to occur – and more growth to be had. We all want Charlotte and Colbourne to be together in a healthy relationship, rather than a dysfunctional one. Even our dear Charlotte is still dealing with unresolved pain and disappointment.
I’m hopeful that in season three, Colbourne will have vanquished the demons that keep him bound. Frankly, I can’t wait to hear him declare his love for Charlotte verbally, although he does quite well showing it with passionate kisses. He just needs to get the words out. Ironically, he thanks Charlotte for making her feelings clear, when he is unable to do so himself.
At the end of season two, we see that Colbourne leaves the confines of his estate. He realizes they all need a change. It’s time for reflection and renewal, seeking out perhaps his brother and friends to help him make sense of the past and forge a new path for himself. Without the Regency resident therapist with offices in downtown Sanditon, our hero is left to figure it out on his own.
Like any good writer knows, characters have an arc as well, taking their flaws and eventually seeing them grow and resolve their inner conflicts. Season three will bring us to that place with Colbourne, and I’m excited to see it unfold.
What are your thoughts on this complicated man?