It’s a conundrum when one likes a certain storyteller, but they are no longer telling stories. Having created other series adapting Jane Austen’s work, the most famous of which is Pride and Prejudice from 1995 starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, it makes sense that Andrew Davies would try his hand at a story Austen was unable to finish before her death: Sanditon, originally called The Brothers, stopped short at only eleven chapters. As I haven’t yet read the story, I can’t say how faithful the 2019 adaptation is to the bones of the story. As to the spirit of Austen’s romances, assuming Sanditon is to end at season or series 1, it’s a great big fail.
Davies is hit or miss for me with his adaptations, but I have truly enjoyed P&P ‘95, Little Dorrit (Dickens), Sense and Sensibility ’08, Northanger Abbey, and others. Sanditon begins well, feeling like a fresh story, because for many it is a fresh story, but modernity is soon shoehorned in, most noticeably in the casting of Miss Lambe (Crystal Clarke) which actually works really at times, but seemed awkward throughout, and the really unnecessary sexual exploits of some of the minor characters. Although this does promote character growth in one of the characters, Esther Denham (Charlotte Spencer), it’s so, so not Jane Austen. It’s not as if Austen never refers to sex in her books, but it’s very subtle–a girl can be ruined, but it’s never detailed exactly how and we don’t have to witness the act. In this adaptation we also we have to sit through how presumably bigoted everyone was back then, because that’s the main point, isn’t it? We are so modern now, so much smarter and better than they were, aren’t we? I mean feminism has made women perfectly happy, right?
Having to check certain Progressive or as I like to think of them, Communist, boxes in every single modern work, is tedious and ruins storytelling. The world isn’t perfectly or equally distributed by race, class, or creed, and to force it to be so, again, ruins the story, and real life as well. Human being are unequal in so, so many ways. That’s ok. It’s reality. Never will we make everything and everyone perfectly equal and how boring that would be. I myself am surely guilty of some of this in my own writing, as it’s a mindset pervasive and hard to shake off.
Sanditon is grating also in that the sense of the period is off. Never, did I think that the setting was truly Regency, and the excuse of it being a seaside town where conventions of society presumably drop, was exactly that, an excuse not to pay attention to detail. The detail, or should I say main storyline of the show that was severely lacking, was the main romance between Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and Sidney Parker (Theo James, Divergent). We simply don’t get to spend enough time with them and have to spend an inordinate amount of time with a creepy, manipulative sex triangle of other characters that have little to do with the three brothers in the story. Sadly, the romance is never resolved and hopefully there will be a season 2.
With all that, Sanditon wasn’t entirely bad. The Celtic music in the first episode was great, as was the dancing. It was exciting to watch Mr. Tom Parker (Kris Marshall, Love Actually) try to make his seaside resort town a reality, and his brothers Sidney and Arthur (Turlough Convery), and their sister Diana (Alexandra Roach, No Offence) have a fun quirkiness about them that is very Austen. The story of Miss Lamb was also intriguing and it was nail biting to watch as both she and Charlotte both plot and plan to thwart their guardians and caregivers who truly only have their best interests at heart. Ah, the rebellion of young women. It can be so, so dangerous for them, far more than for young men, though in this show nothing truly bad happens to the young women, if broken hearts can be considered as not truly “bad.” I would watch a season 2, but more, it would be great to have someone write and produce a screenplay more in the spirit of Austen, or even take on the works of her contemporaries, Fanny Burney, for example: Evelina would made a great show and has a ton of funny parts and a little romance that one could expand.
A bit more on the main romance: It’s generally true to Austen, for usually the main character does not at first get along well with her would-be suitor, but Sidney Parker’s initial anger at Charlotte seems to come out of nowhere, and I think that scene could have been done much better. Also, Charlotte came across as too young, in appearance, but also in her actions and thinking, at times like a teenager compared to Sidney, who’s clearly in his 30s. Not that unusual of a gap for the time period, but it made the match seem off. Why they made the choice to have her wear her hair down all the time, baffles me. Not only does her hair look bad, it just doesn’t fit with what the time period is supposed to be. The ending (spoilers) could have been better explained, for Sidney doesn’t really seem like a person who would agree to marry someone just to save his family. It just didn’t make sense, no matter how much he loves his brother and wants to save his enterprise. I wrote something earlier about men and being forced into marriage. If they allow it, it’s an allowance and on some level they want the marriage. Again, perhaps a season 2 is in the works and will explain further.
I think Davies is at a point where he can just write his own stories and succeed. He’s done plenty of series and movies set in the 1800s and could really get it right, if he wants and also add as much modern ickiness as his heart desires. I say his heart, for I truly don’t think it is the audience that wants it. Perhaps he’s just following the law, though, and shouldn’t be blamed.