Bright and spirited Charlotte Heywood arrives in the seaside resort Sanditon, where she meets the aloof Sidney Parker.
The first time I watched Sanditon a few weeks ago, I enjoyed it so much that I stayed up all night to finish all eight episodes. I wasn't going to recap it, because though I dearly loved Pride and Prejudice in my teens, I did not study Jane Austen enough to consider myself an ardent fan, much less an expert. The more I thought about Sanditon, however, especially its premature cancellation, the more convinced I was that the producers and writers could have squeezed at least two more seasons from the tale they laid out. Sanditon famously was Jane Austen's last and unfinished novel; Andrew Davies and his team found a way to craft a story about the building of a town as fortunes started shifting from massive lands to entrepreneurship, whilst centred on a Jane Austen-esque romance. Sanditon could have been the next Downton Abbey in terms of global popularity, had it been given more time to develop the story it wanted to tell.
In any case, though a renewal does not appear likely at this point, I still want to write about it. I still want to help spread word about it. This is a gem of a show, and I suppose there is sad parallelism in that Jane Austen was unable to finish the novel, and now the producers of the adaptation were not able to finish the TV version. Sigh. It doesn't have to be like this. Hello, Netflix, will you please pick Sanditon up?
Sanditon began with a chance encounter between Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), one of twelve children of a county gentleman, and the couple Tom and Mary Parker (Kris Marshall and Kate Ashfield), who were on a trip in search of a doctor for a seaside resort Tom was developing. Charlotte's assistance to the couple after their coach mishap and Tom's ankle sprain led to an invitation to stay with them at Sanditon. Though Charlotte's kindly father warned her about going to a place where no one knew anyone, Charlotte, bright, curious, and young, was determined and eager to go.
Lady Denham (Anne Reid) was the power centre in Sanditon, and the development's primary investor. She lived in the massive Denham Place with her niece and potential heiress, a poor relation named Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky). Brother and sister Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox) and Esther Denham (Charlotte Spencer) were also waiting in the wings, hoping for some largesse from the venerable old lady.
Lady Denham was a miserable mistress and a frequent source of stress for the genial Tom. He was dependent on her money to see through his vision of Sanditon as a prime seaside resort. Sanditon was a passion project for him, the mark on the world he hoped to leave behind, though he frequently appeared in over his head. He placed much hope on his brother Sidney's fashionable connections to help spread the word about Sanditon.
You might recognise Sidney (Theo James) as the unfortunate Mr. Pamuk, the gentleman who died on Lady Mary Crawley's bed in the first season of Downton Abbey, the event that led to years of fan speculation on what, exactly, happened there. Here he was a successful businessman, well traveled and connected, yet uninterested in serious attachments with the many women he no doubt often met. Mary alluded to a 'bruising experience' in the past that created the Sidney Charlotte met -- inattentive and abrupt. From the moment he got off the coach he drove himself, however, it was clear that this Sidney continued the lovely tradition of swoonworthy Austen gentlemen leads.
Sidney was in town with his friends Lord Babington (Mark Stanley) and Mr. Crowe (Matthew Needman) to attend a ball Tom organised for Sanditon. Sidney was also behind the arrival in town of heiress Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) who, to Lady Denham's great interest, was worth a hundred thousand pounds. It was whispered that Georgiana had to be taken away from London because of an unsuitable romance. More than whatever may have happened in London, what drew curious eyes on Georgiana was the fact that she was black. Georgiana Lambe was a character straight from Jane Austen's unfinished work, and her introduction to the all white Sanditon society was something to keep an eye on.
Because these were early days yet in an Austen tale, the episode ended with a misunderstanding between Charlotte and Sidney. Charlotte, still trying to understand what she actually witnessed between Clara and Edward on the grounds of Denham Place (Edward tried to make light of it and asked her not to speak of it; Clara said she was forced to do something she did not want to do to avoid something worse), found herself alone with Sidney. When prompted by Sidney, Charlotte spoke plainly of how she viewed the Parker brothers -- Sidney was the sensible one, Arthur seemed to have a contrary nature, and Tom passionately devoted to Sanditon to the point that he neglected his family. Sidney took that as a criticism to his brother Tom, and spoke down on Charlotte, whom he viewed as a girl of little experience who did not have a right to judge his brother. For her part, Charlotte's mind was clearly on Clara and Edward, and she spoke without carefully considering her words. Sidney's scolding left her close to tears. Brute. Be nicer next episode, Sidney.
I liked Rose Williams in Reign, but it was Sanditon that convinced me she needed to be cast in everything. She was enthralling through this episode, and indeed, through all eight episodes. We know we are in for a heartbreak of an unfinished tale, but Sanditon is such a delightful production, I don't mind going through it again.
❁ Amongst Sanditon's offerings were sea air, cliff walking, and sea bathing. I have been cooped up in the city for over two months. I could only dream of inhaling cool, fresh air, and feeling the sand on my feet. When this pandemic is over, I am spending at least a week on the coast.
❁ Lady Denham immediately concluded that Charlotte was sent to Sanditon to find someone to marry. When she saw that Charlotte caught Edward's eye, she warned Charlotte that Edward would sow his oats, but he would need to marry money. It was the only kind deed I could remember Lady Denham doing in this episode.
❁ Tom and Sidney's brother Arthur and sister Diana appeared to be hypochondriacs.
❁ Georgiana arrived in Sanditon with a maid. She is staying at Mrs. Griffiths with two other ladies, the Miss Beauforts.
❁ Clara claimed that Edward was trying to ruin her in the eyes of Lady Denham because she was favoured to inherit.
❁ Tom already feared that Lady Denham would withdraw her investment to his project.
❁ Esther Denham told Charlotte that she would come to regret ever setting foot in Sanditon. She also thought that Tom would bankrupt himself with his development.
❁ The first time they met, Sidney asked Mary if Charlotte was the new maid.
❁ Sidney and Charlotte danced at the ball, though that was largely because she was the only one left without a partner, after Lord Babington danced with Esther and Mr. Crowe with Clara.
❁ Mrs. Griffiths told Lady Denham that Georgiana's father's fortune would have been greater had he not ended his business and freed his slaves.
❁ Charlotte looked much too innocent to understand what Clara was trying to tell her regarding what happened with Edward. There were plenty of close ups of Rose Williams through the episode, including this scene, which was excellent because using the slightest shifts in her expression, she established her character's busy mind, her curiosity, her innocence, her understanding. It was a lovely, assured performance.
Writer: Andrew Davies
Director: Oliver Blackburn
Original Air Date: 25 August 2019