Osborne, the handsome, beloved elder son of Squire and Mrs. Hamley, defies parental expectation when he flunks his exams at Cambridge, all the while running up debts that ruin his future prospects. Distraught and disappointed, the frail Mrs. Hamley takes a turn for the worse, while the Squire banishes Osborne from the house. He then embarks on the first of frequent unexplained trips. In time, he takes Molly into his confidence, revealing that he has a wife, Aimée, living in a cottage near Winchester, south of Hollingford.
Osborne is not your typical 19th-century leading man, says actor Tom Hollander, and that's why he likes him. "He's not formulaic or stereotypical. Unlike, say, Mr. Darcy, he's not your familiar, tall, handsome hero. The audience is not initially sure whether he's a villain or a good guy. Elizabeth Gaskell keeps us guessing, but eventually it turns out that he did what he did for love."
Hollander has starred in films such as Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence and Ben Elton's Maybe Baby and appeared opposite Liam Neeson in the Broadway hit Judas Kiss.