It’s the 1820s and England finds itself at the height of the extravagant Regency Era. The once quiet seaside village of Sanditon is changing fast, with ambitious entrepreneur Tom Parker set to transform it from a sleepy hollow into a fashionable spa resort.
Following a carriage accident, spirited ingénue Charlotte Heywood moves from her quiet rural home to stay in Sanditon with the Parker family, but she is ill-prepared for the intrigues, dalliances and societal maneuvering of a seaside town on the make. Nor is she prepared for the handsome but infuriating Sidney Parker…
So far, so Austen, but with skinny-dipping and a sex scene in the first episode, it’s no surprise the show has divided purists.
Multi-award-winning creator Andrew Davies (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, House of Cards) says he set out to make “a period drama that feels utterly fresh and modern – Jane Austen, but not as you knew her.”
“In the last year of her life,” he says, “Jane Austen embarked on a new novel, a bold departure from anything she had done before. Of course, she provides us with a spirited young heroine and a fascinatingly complex and moody hero, but the setting is new, and the Parker brothers embody a new kind of Jane Austen character – men who want to change the world they live in and leave their mark on it.” There’s “a great entrepreneurial spirit of ‘if we build it, they will come.’”
Austin set up the world of the story and peopled it in detail, but she completed only the first 11 chapters of the novel, so the rest was up to Davies and his team. “At that point Jane laid aside her manuscript, too unwell to continue, and she died soon after. Her seventy pages or so yielded only enough material for half of our first episode, but she had laid a solid foundation,” Davies says.
Sanditon stars Rose Williams (Medici, Reign) as Charlotte, Theo James (People’s Choice and Teen Choice winner for his role as Four in the Divergent trilogy) as Sidney, British Comedy Awards winner Kris Marshall (Death in Paradise, Love Actually) as his ambitious brother Tom, and newcomer Crystal Clarke as wealthy heiress Miss Lambe, Austen’s first black character.
Williams says it was exactly the idea of “a Jane Austen that people might not be familiar with” that drew her to the role of Charlotte. “It was the last book Austin wrote, and the interpretation of the character of Charlotte is told from a more modern slant. She’s not focused on marriage. Love finds her, rather than her trying to find love.” But, Williams adds, “I love a love story, and this is a gorgeous romance.”
The cast also includes Mark Stanley (Game of Thrones’ Grenn, of the Night’s Watch), Alexandra Roach (the young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady) and BAFTA nominees Kate Ashfield (Shaun of the Dead’s Liz), Anne Reid (Years and Years) and Charlotte Spencer (Glue).
While some critics have dismissed Sanditon as “un-Austen-esque”, Indiewire praised it as “sexy escapism for winter… Tart and political, gorgeous and honest… Austen would have loved it.” Similarly, audiences gave it a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and The Wall Street Journal praised Sanditon’s incorporation of “aspects of life that were more or less obscured in Austen’s books. One can imagine her being tickled.”
“I’m not worried about the purists,” says Theo James. “It’s impossible to say what the full story of Sanditon would have been. Austen was writing at the end of her life. She was a more experienced and wiser writer, but we don’t know where she would have gone with this.”
Williams believes Sanditon is still unmistakably Austen. “The legacy of Austen’s stories resonates still because of their message of listening to other people, not judging them, and seeing them for who they are, beyond their material circumstance. Her work is all about intention and where a character’s heart really lies. Those themes will always be relevant,” she says. “To see how people are affected emotionally in different times will forever resonate because it reflects the human spirit. That’s timeless. This story has comedy, romance, tragedy, pain, hope – and those are all eternal.”
Watch Sanditon on Showmax: https://www.showmax.com/eng/tvseries/ttvv2kju-sanditon.