Jane Austen may have begun the saga of Sanditon in her last, unfinished novel in 1817 (the year she died, at 41), but she would not have recognized a lot of what writer Andrew Davies has done in expanding it for a TV series.
After a Rocky Beginning, the Beginning of the End for Sanditon
The third and final season of Sanditon launches Sunday, March 19, on PBS’ Masterpiece (check local listings for time and PBS affiliate in your area), continuing to follow spunky country girl Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and her adventures in a rising British seaside resort.
Parallel to Charlotte’s romantic ups and downs is the story of Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke). She’s a biracial Caribbean heiress who copes with secrets from her past and with the attention (unwanted and otherwise) that comes from being single and having a sizable fortune.
Season one featured a sex scene that, while tame by modern standards, was definitely not Jane Austen’s style. The author certainly knew sex existed, and many of her characters are hardly paragons of virtue, but she never wrote a sex scene.
To put it mildly, Austen fans were displeased.
Season two took an abrupt U-turn (as I discussed here, with quotes from the producers and writer). The sex vanished, more Austen-appropriate romance returned, and the story took on a decidedly soapy quality (not a bad thing, though).
We still didn’t have Austen’s sparkling dialogue and clever plotting, but it was perfectly acceptable Regency escapism.
To No One’s Surprise, Romance (and Romantic Complications) Are in the Air in Season Three
As season three opens, Charlotte has dealt with romantic disappointment in Sanditon by going back home and getting engaged to a charming farmer. This being Sanditon, the matter is not, shall we say, written in stone.
When she returns to the seaside resort, freshly minted fiancé in tow, inevitable complications ensue. At the center of these is her brooding former employer and erstwhile love interest Alexander Colburne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), who never quite manages to shave (or grow a beard).
Georgiana, while generally accepted in Sanditon, deals with disapproval and prejudice from the outside world. So, she contemplates marrying into nobility as a way of insulating her future.
But, her past resurfaces in a very personal way — both regarding her family and her former love, abolitionist (and onetime gambler) Otis Molyneux (Jyuddah Jaymes).
And Then There’s Arthur …
These aren’t the end of the traditional romances of Sanditon, but (and if you want to remain utterly spoiler-free, leave NOW) the show also dips just a toe into the waters of same-sex attraction.
Arthur Parker (Turlough Convery), jovial, good-hearted brother of Sanditon developer Tom Parker (Kris Marshall), is kindly and sweet, and has become Georgia’s closest friend and confidante. But, there’s no romance there.
Actually, Arthur hasn’t had any romances, saying, “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Well, in season three, he’s not headed to the altar, but he is making, at first, tentative, and then, enthusiastic, steps toward romance with a closeted nobleman. It’s all very decorous — and one wonders if the innocent Arthur really understands the implications of acting on his feelings — but it is there throughout the season, right to the end.
And the Villain?
And what of the nefarious Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox)? His imperious aunt, Lady Denham (Anne Reid), has forced the penniless gentleman to set out on the road to redemption, even to the point of studying with a clergyman.
Will he remain a thoroughgoing cad, like Wickham in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, or will he take a turn to the good? I had a hard time buying the whole storyline, but your results may vary.
Also, Prayer …
Faith and prayer are not absent in Sanditon, and they even take center stage at a couple of points. Kudos for that.
Speaking of the End
No, I won’t tell you what happens at the end. But Austen being Austen — or, at least, people trying to be Austen — there’s bound to be at least one wedding.
However, in my opinion, Sanditon fails to stick the landing. It feels facile, rushed and rather contrived — all things Austen managed to avoid.
She may have had romantic entanglements as complex as a Gordian knot (and more than her fair share of convenient coincidences and encounters), but her stories don’t feel manipulative.
No One is Jane But Jane
Ultimately, it just proves that, to date, no one has done Austen as well as Austen herself. Even as far back as the 1990s BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice, when writer Andrew Davies (the same one) strayed from the book out of dramatic necessity, the scenes were serviceable but lacked Austen’s wit and magic.
Jane Austen lived a short and geographically limited life, and her characters are mostly drawn from a narrow slice of English society. But somehow, she managed to make them express a whole world of human feelings and foibles. And that’s why she endures.
As fleshed out and finished on TV, Sanditon is fine, but Jane would have made it amazing.
Image: MASTERPIECE:”Sanditon” Season 3/ (L-R); Charlotte Heywood (ROSE WILLIAMS); Georgiana Lambe (CRYSTAL CLARKE). Photographer: Joss Barratt (C) Red Planet (Sanditon 3) Ltd
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