Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy contains a plethora of fascinating and complex characters, but there’s one in particular who has especially captivated viewers watching the BBC One adaptation of his novels: Mrs Coulter.
At once beguiling and terrifyingly sinister, the character dominates every scene in which she appears, in no small part due to Ruth Wilson’s spectacular performance in the role.
But at this stage, many fans are still in the dark as to what to make of her, with some viewers especially unsure as to her precise motivations for behaving as she does.
The rather peculiar relationship she shares with her golden monkey daemon, meanwhile, has only added to those questions – unlike most characters, she is able to separate from him without any repercussions, while he is also seemingly unable to speak.
So who exactly is Mrs Coulter? We’ve done our best to answer your questions below.
Is Mrs Coulter a witch?
One explanation that some fans have turned to in trying to make sense of Mrs Coulter is that she is actually a witch – that would certainly explain her ability to separate from her daemon, if nothing else.
Now, the first course of action is obviously to go back to the source material and look for answers in the pages of Pullman’s novels. However, if Mrs Coulter is a witch, then it certainly wasn’t mentioned in the novels, which never fully explain exactly why she and her daemon have such a strange relationship.
Indeed, reading up on the source material would seem to rule out any possibility that she is a witch, given that her daemon is a monkey and witches daemons always settle in the form of a bird.
That said, the TV show has made a few changes from the books already, and although nothing has been altered quite to this extent, we can’t rule out that the series might go in this direction, perhaps hinting that Mrs Coulter does have some witch heritage after all.
Is Mrs Coulter good or bad?
Now, this is a very big question – and also one which is quite hard to answer without giving spoilers for the way the books turn out.
On the face of it, Mrs Coulter is a pretty straightforward villain: her work with the Magisterium, the torture of witches she carries out, and the experiments with child/daemon separation she oversaw in the first series all point towards her being downright evil.
In reality, the truth is more complex. We’ve already seen that Mrs Coulter is clearly wrestling with inner conflict, and it’s been hinted that her motivations might be more complicated than just good old-fashioned villainy.
Whichever way you look at it though, the character certainly isn’t a force for morality – and indeed for his part, Pullman has previously described her as a “cesspit of moral filth.”
Wilson, meanwhile has said that while Mrs Coulter is indeed a very dangerous character, the key to that is her vulnerability, and the secrets that she is hiding.
Speaking to Radio Times ahead of the launch of the current series, she said, “Mrs Coulter is much more alone without the support network that she had at the Magisterium and is taking risks and burning bridges. She’s much more vulnerable, and for that reason, becomes quite a lot more dangerous.”
She added, “For me, the biggest clue was her daemon, the monkey. They’re a great team, but when the two of them are alone, how do they interact? They don’t like each other; they never speak; they’re lonely and angry. That the monkey doesn’t have a name or voice suggests that if it’s a representation of self, there’s something Mrs C is repressing or silencing. That’s her driving force.”
Read more about the His Dark Materials cast, the His Dark Materials release schedule, the His Dark Materials books and the His Dark Materials age rating, plus find out where His Dark Materials is filmed, including the scenes set in Cittàgazze.