After a Tumultuous Run, ‘Sanditon’ Finally Comes To a Close
Since signing up for PBS Masterpiece to watch Tom Jones, I’ve started to catch up on all the shows that have caught my eyes since first watching Downton Abby nearly eight years ago. Since most of these are not new series, I thought that I was too far out from certain shows to really discuss them outside of all-caps texts to friends, but as it turns out, my latest obsession over the last week, Sanditon (a show I pronounce differently every time I say it), just ended! Like, for real this time!
Named after Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript of the same name, the show (mostly) follows two young women’s experiences in a burgeoning seaside hotel. Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) stays with The Parkers as they navigate the ups and downs of building a remote resort. Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) navigates her new role as heiress—existing as the sole (free) Black woman of wealth where ever she goes. As Georgiana’s chaperone and Charlotte’s love interest, one of the Parkers, Sidney Parker (Theo James), serves as a connecting force. Through Charlotte’s and Georgiana’s eyes, we meet the rest of the eclectic cast that makes up the small town.
Because Austen “only” wrote 12 chapters before her death, the show expands upon the work significantly. With good pacing, the show reaches this point in the novel just a few episodes in so the show developer Andrew Davies (alongside other writers) had their work cut out for them. Between Austen’s notes, her previous work, and the imagination of writers that came before the show, Davies expanded the story in a way that left me tearing up multiple times!
Initial responses to Sanditon
Despite its current popularity, when Sanditon first aired on PBS back in December 2019, it opened to mixed responses. Some of the negative responses were quite predictable. The “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” people were using the pineapple emoji to show their displeasure with a canonically Black character, Georgiana, taking a central role in the show.
Others lamented the amount of sex and incest-ish relationships in the show. They criticized how these inclusions felt too modern and salacious for an Austen adaptation. I get that, I really do. But these elements aren’t just included to try to compete with modern romance TV. Austen’s work is in part praised for its way of sharing the lives and thoughts of women from a realistic perspective. And there are incestuous vibes in the book, so if you’re going to add sex into a work of hers, this might be the best one—one that’s a new take, rather like Bridget Jones’ Diary or Fire Island, than a straight adaptation.
Regardless of the criticism, millions globally adored the show. I can now count myself among them! Many elements felt so familiar to Austenites but also fresh because this work explored new topics. (That is, race, illness, emerging tech, and “getaways” as a curatory activity.) Additionally, the few changes from the first few chapters made sense. The show felt like it was made by people who love her work. The show kept in that tradition (in parted owed to Austen) of writing women who felt real and multi-dimensional. That’s part of why everyone was shocked the show didn’t immediately get renewed.
There’s a lot of conflicting information about why this show was not renewed but also not formally canceled. Most sources point to a lukewarm U.K. reception and viewership. This was a big deal because ITV is a British broadcaster and half of the support, alongside PBS. Still, the show was so popular that fans threw their full support for a renewal campaign from October 2019 to the announcement of season two, which didn’t come until 19 months later in May 2021.
Yes, it took almost two years for Sanditon to confirm a season two. While the fans kept the pressure across multiple sustained social media campaigns (in multiple languages), it’s hard to deny that the success of another show helped solidify (or at least influence) Sanditon‘s renewal. On Christmas Day 2020 (over a year after Sanditon‘s silence), Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton entered the broader pop culture landscape as the popular romance series became a successful Netflix adaptation. Beyond being regency-era romances with people of color in significant roles, the shows couldn’t be more different. However, Bridgerton‘s success brought more attention to contemporary regency works like Sanditon.
While many fans are ecstatic to have had two more seasons regardless of external factors, not everyone was pleased that the Netflix romp was the winner numbers-wise. (Well, if you’re judging based on online buzz.) The last time I saw the level of seething hostility towards one series compared to another was in the gaming space, when Team Fortress 2 fans were outraged that Overwatch‘s success felt like a final death blow.
Sanditon returned missing key figures
Major spoilers for season two onward of Sanditon.
The large gap between seasons (and with no confirmation) meant that many members of the main and supporting cast couldn’t return for season two. They had to take other work, contracts conflicted, and life happened. The biggest holes were Sidney Parker, Lord Babington (Mark Stanley), and Diana Parker (Alexandra Roach). The writing of these three out was effective to various degrees.
Sindey’s departure was the most felt as the leading man of season one. As the romantic interest to Charlotte and chaperone to Georgiana, his absence is always felt. James gave the show a public blessing to recast as he was tied up in other contractual obligations. Instead, Sanditon opted to make his death a part of many characters’ journeys. By killing the character off-screen, his death became a major turning point in their lives in very different ways.
With no attachment to Sanditon, Lord Babington’s absence was explained away fairly easily. After the wedding with Ester (Charlotte Spencer), he could stay away. Sanditon’s marketing as a place to heal allowed Ester to return without her husband to tackle fertility-related health issues. (And to further her family’s drama.)
Unfortunately, Diana was pretty much forgotten and is the least discussed. While I missed her at first, her brother Arthur Parker’s (Turlough Convery) friendship with Georgiana worked well. No longer being metaphorically attached at the hip to Diana like in season one, he experienced more character growth following her premature departure.
“Then this is farewell.”
Executive producer Belinda Campbell told The New York Post, “Throughout this process, I was talking to the cast. There were moments where we thought it was going to happen, and then the money fell through, or Theo said he wasn’t coming back. It was a bit of a roller coaster.”
If ratings are any indication (which should always be taken with a grain of salt), the end result was a success. This was not just a lot of pressure because of the hype but because some fans had a “demands” list. (This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and half of the demands were met, intentionally or not.) The cast and crew navigated a complicated situation nearly seamlessly. While PBS Masterpiece shows are fairly liked as is, this show raised the bar. I can’t wait to see more of many of these performers and from the network going forward!
(featured image: PBS Masterpiece)
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