PBS’ ‘Masterpiece’: No Sex, Please, We’re ‘Sanditon’

PBS’ ‘Masterpiece’: No Sex, Please, We’re ‘Sanditon’ March 16, 2022

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood in ‘Sanditon’/PBS/Photographer: Joss Barratt (C) Red Planet (Sanditon 2) Ltd

In January 2020 (which seems about 300 years ago now), PBS’ Masterpiece premiered Sanditon, a continuation of an unfinished novel by Jane Austen about a rising British seaside resort.

It had many of the requisite Austen elements — muslin dresses, parties and balls, young women in search of husbands — but it also had one that Austen never addressed directly … sex.

One episode featured an awkward, shall we say, liaison on a marble floor between two characters, Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox) and the lovely Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky).

It wasn’t an HBO-level romp, but it was leagues beyond what one would expect of Austen, who created worlds in which sex definitely happened but certainly wasn’t seen.

As reported in the Daily Mail, one viewer said:

Another added: ‘That Sanditon sex scene was so awkward. I am mostly thinking about the painful bruises she probably sustained on that floor.’

While Bridgerton fans were no doubt cool with it, many Austen purists were not amused. And to make things worse, at the end of season one, Sanditon‘s heroine, spunky farmer’s daughter Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), did not get her Austen ending.

Her love, the dashing Sidney Parker (Theo James), declared his intention to honor an earlier promise and marry a rich heiress. It was to save his brother’s business, but even so, this is not how Austen stories are supposed to end.

However, this wasn’t the last we’ll see of Charlotte, as Sanditon returns for a second season on Masterpiece, on Sunday, March 20, at 9 pm. ET/PT.

And no, this is not Dallas. Season one was not a dream, and Sidney is most definitely not coming back (not least because James had no interest in returning to the role) — but fear not, his legacy echoes through season two.

At the recent virtual TV Critics Association Press Tour, the cast and producers of Sanditon were on hand, and the Sidney question came up quickly.

Said head writer Justin Young:

Obviously, we couldn’t recast, because that would have destroyed the integrity of the world. It would have been implausible. We thought we needed to make clear to the audience right from the beginning that he’s not coming back, although she waits for him to come back, and we needed to let the audience grieve along with Charlotte.

So, narratively, that made sense, and it dramatically gave us a fantastic opportunity, that it gave us this enormous emotional event at the beginning of the series that sets up all the stories. Really, the season becomes about that in a way, how everyone moves on from Sidney.

Along with the ending, the producers heard about the sex scene — did they ever.

I asked about that. Said the executive producers and Young:

SUSANNE SIMPSON: Well, we at MASTERPIECE heard that from our fans, and, you know, I would say there’s less of that in the next season.

I don’t know, Justin, Belinda, did you hear the same thing?

JUSTIN YOUNG: I think that speaks to a difference between the British audience and the American audience. I think you’re right, there is a shift. I think the second series ‑‑ totally I think that content isn’t really there in the same way in the season.

So, I think the reservation that those people had ‑‑ I think, in some ways, Season 2 maybe feels more classically Jane Austen than Season 1. I hope the people that have those concerns won’t have them for the second season.

BELINDA CAMPBELL: I would just add to that in the first season, while I absolutely agreed, you know, it is not traditional Jane Austen.

She alluded to such encounters, so that was the sort of justification and thinking behind it. It was making explicit what she had made implicit in her books.

The characters have evolved, they are different characters, so it wasn’t important nor appropriate for this series.

Well, with that settled, how is season two of Sanditon? It’s still not Austen — no disrespect to Mr. Young, but no one writes Austen as well as Austen — but it’s a perfectly respectable facsimile, and a decent soapy costume drama.

Sir Edward is back to cause trouble and potential scandal; Sidney’s brothers, Sanditon developers Tom (Kris Marshall) and Arthur (Turlough Convery) are still working to recover after a disastrous fire; their investor, the imperious Lady Denham (Anne Reid), cracks the whip; Edward’s now-married stepsister Esther (Charlotte Spencer) struggles with childlessness; and heiress Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) juggles suitors and threats to her wealth in the last summer before she comes of age.

In the wake of losing Sidney, Charlotte must find a new direction for her life. To give her comfort, her wide-eyed younger sister Alison (Rosie Graham) comes to Sanditon. Both of them catch the eye of a troop of soldiers (some of them uncommonly handsome) encamped near the town.

Now produced by Red Planet Pictures, Masterpiece PBS, BritBox UK and ITV, Sanditon has also been renewed for a third season. You can catch up on season one here.

Image: PBS

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is an entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Catholic production company Family Theater Productions and a screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.

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