With season three of Sanditon, we are introduced to the Montrose family. As writers, it’s always a challenge, but also lots of fun, to create new characters and bring them to life whether in a book or on screen. We owe Justin Young, the lead writer of Sanditon season three, kudos for creating three distinct and interesting characters for our entertainment. Packed in their baggage as they relocate from Bath are secrets that are eventually unpacked in the six episodes we enjoy. Each individual has a purpose to move the story forward and reveal truths. Let’s take a look at them.
The Dowager Duchess – Lady Montrose
By the end of the series, it’s evident that the Dowager Duchess, Lady Montrose, is a character that contains bits and pieces of Jane Austen’s Miss Bennett, who worries about marrying off her children and also has a case of “nerves” when things are not going her way. On the other hand, she contains the snobbiness of Lady Catherine DeBourgh, Darcy’s aunt, inbred with superiority over the lower class. She’s an expert at subtly putting others in their place.
Lady Montrose is like any other mother of the era in that her sole purpose is to ensure her children make suitable matches. For aristocrats, marriage was business. Love, if lucky, would come later. It was a means of securing fortunes, keeping property, maintaining status, and continuing bloodlines for decades. Naturally, the Dowager, because of their situation, needs her son and daughter to secure wealthy spouses. Since the former duke gambled away their fortune, her search becomes a matter of survival. After all, grand houses cost money to maintain, as well as clothes and the lifestyle they undoubtedly enjoyed for many years, before they disappeared with the roll of the dice or a bad hand at cards.
Like Lady Denham, she keeps a book of possibilities, penning down the suitability of single residents for both her son and daughter. She studies the available men of Sanditon, and although the pool is relatively small, two names come to the surface – Miss Lambe for her son, an heiress with 100,000 pounds, and Mr. Colbourne, a wealthy widower, for her daughter. Lady Montrose, emphatically instructs her children to waste no time and pursue these two individuals. Love is not the focal point. It’s security and survival. Her children must sacrifice lofty romantic ideals to continue the bloodline and restore fortunes.
Lady Montrose is no fool either regarding Harry’s propensity toward men rather than women and has no qualms about consistently reminding him of his duty to marry, produce an heir, and live honorably in public life. The consequences should his secret be revealed would mean ruin for their family and could lead to his death. Men could be imprisoned or hanged for such lifestyles in the Regency era. Like any mother, her love for her son goes beyond the fact that he is a means to an end, but also someone she loves and cares about.
Her daughter, Lydia, has suffered under the control and demands of her mother to make a good match. Lady Montrose views the importance of procuring a wealthy husband for Lydia as a vital task. She wants Lydia settled and is appalled that she is almost thirty and unmarried. It’s unheard of, and she probably views it as a personal failure on her part that her daughter remains unwed. Even though Lydia found love, Lady Montrose disapproved of the match, for he was a man of no substantial fortune or status. Lydia’s mother would instead have her daughter marry a man of means and position in society, in case her son fails to fulfill his duty.
Lady Montrose is arrogant, having airs about her in the presence of others. She is pushy in social settings, manipulative in her dealings with others, judgmental of those of lower class to a fault, and shrewd when she wants to rid herself of unwanted acquaintances, such as Miss Lambe’s mother. Lady Susan finds her disagreeable and so do we, even though entertaining. Even with Lady Montrose’s faults, her presence in season three of Sanditon is a welcomed addition. She is the fundamental Jane Austen mother type, riddled with nerves, plotting, and focused on one element in life – making sure her children make a good match. Thanks to Emma Fielding for embodying her character so well.
For me, Lydia was endearing. Justin Young could have easily created a character we despised. Instead, we become empathetic toward her plight of being pushed by her mother to pursue Colbourne. As a young lady of twenty and seven (that’s Regency speak for 27), she could be considered a spinster at that age. However, it’s not that Lydia has not found love. On the contrary, she has, but her mother has forbidden the match.
We soon learn that Lydia is an accomplished equestrian who, as her mother boasts to Colbourne, can “tame any beast.” (Cringeworthy scene, indeed.) She is polite and kind, carries no grand airs about her status in life, is personable when around others, and is genuinely likable as a young woman. Even though she is being driven by her mother to pursue Colbourne, you cannot hate her character because deep down, we know she is no significant threat to the storyline’s eventual HEA. It’s obvious, too, that she is a reluctant participant in her mother’s scheming.
As season three unfolds, Lydia really has no choice but to play out the pursuit of Alexander as her mother instructs her to snatch every opportunity at hand. From glancing across the room to dancing with Colbourne, she politely does as told to satisfy her mother’s constant instruction. However, Lydia has ways of getting around her mother’s edicts and continues to pursue beyond Lady Montrose’s back the real love of her life. She confesses to Harry she has found ways around her mother’s controlling personality and encourages her brother, understanding the pressure her mother places upon him to perform his duty.
What we do not know is that although she and Colbourne do spend time together, where in the scheme of things did she reveal to him that she loved another? I can see her apologizing for her mother’s behavior and overt and obvious behavior to push them together as a possible match. It also makes you wonder if Colbourne at any time did entertain the thought of settling for Lydia to give Leonora a mother when it appeared that he and Charlotte would never be together after his hilltop declaration. It’s at times like these, I wish that we would have received eight episodes so that much more could be fleshed out in these unknown scenes rather than us speculating as to what happened.
Alice Orr-Ewing was a perfect addition as Lydia. If you didn’t know, she actually played in another production with Ben Lloyd-Hughes in 2019, The Important of Being Oscar, about Oscar Wilde.
Harry, the Duke of Buckinghamshire
The Duke of Buckinghamshire. Was there such a man? Well, a quick bit of research on my part reveals there was an Earl of Buckinghamshire, not to be confused with the Duke of Buckingham. It’s really a fictional title created for the show, it appears. Nevertheless, it has been bestowed upon Edward Davis, who plays Lord Harry Montrose, who you should address as “Your Grace,” in case you’re not sure how to speak when introduced to a duke formally.
Harry has the world on his shoulders. He’s a young man burdened with the inherited title from his father, which includes property, responsibilities, and a bankrupt inheritance. In addition, he has duties to perform to continue the Montrose line and produce an heir, but alas, he prefers grouse rather than pheasant. He is a gay man, living in an age when such behavior was frowned upon and carried dire consequences should his propensities for male companionship be discovered. Indeed, Harry was living in a precarious predicament.
His character is brought to Sanditon season three to confirm what we long suspected about Arthur, that he, too, preferred grouse. Harry plays a pivotal point in Arthur’s life when he comes face-to-face with his desires and finally recognizes who he is as a man. It’s no easy revelation, as Arthur fears the consequences it may carry personally and what it will do to his family should they know.
PBS Masterpiece describes Harry as a “charismatic and confident new face in Sanditon.” Indeed, his personality, too, is endearing. He appears to be a gregarious individual who shows kindness and support early on toward Arthur. I wonder, too, how soon Harry recognizes that Arthur could potentially be the type of man he needs in his life before he embarks upon the complicated subject of bird preferences.
We discover that Harry takes risks regarding his behavior and needs for the flesh, as witnessed in the bathing machine incident when Miss Lambe witnesses his awkward exit from behind closed doors. Such foolish action after his arrival immediately puts his rebellious behavior front and center. He’s not acting discreetly at all.
Harry is no fool that his preferences could very well put him in danger. As most men of the era, his motives for Miss Lambe are not just to gain her fortune but to put up a facade for society, which will hide the truth behind what he prefers behind closed doors. In his mind, it would be perfectly acceptable to have Arthur come and live with him, keeping him in the far corners of his estate where no one would be the wiser. It’s actually a cruel fate to give to Arthur, and as we know turns the idea down and is crushed at the thought he would be treated as such by someone he has grown fond of. Arthur declares he’d rather live alone than live a lie.
What we discover at the end of Sanditon is that there are no clear-cut resolutions for Harry or Arthur on how they will lead their affair going forward. It will be a difficult road to traverse together in a world that looks down upon such alliances. Obviously, there is a considerable gap of untold story concerning these two men. Will Harry ever marry to produce an heir for his mother or not? That is yet to be seen, and Lady Montrose will still carry many worries in the years ahead if he does not.
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