For many of us, G. Clifford writes, one of the entertainment joys of a festive season like no other was Netflix and Shondaland’s sumptuous Bridgerton.
The lavish and deliciously entertaining adaptation of The Duke and I, the first novel in Julia Quinn’s family saga, focused on the lives and loves of the eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton.
It benefited from a lively script, a twinkle in its eye and a wonderful cast, led by Rege-Jean Page as Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings and Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton, a young debutante in her first season. It was also bolstered by a huge budget and publicity campaign, befitting the deep pockets of a powerhouse streaming service.
Ultimately, it delivered an instant hit. The eight episodes, packed with incident and intrigue, barrelled along and were made to be binged, along with every delicious treat left in the cupboard. Proving conclusively, that there is still a substantial, global audience for fresh period drama product.
What it also demonstrated was that this is a genre ideally suited to a streaming platform. Fans can devour the story in one sitting, like a good book, or choose to savour it over several days or weeks.
The release of the series becomes an event but the pace of viewing becomes a choice. The commercial success of a show is no longer dependent on the instantaneous judgement of overnight ratings but on a sustained build of interest and excitement, often over the ensuing days, weeks and even months.
Fans can plan when to settle down and savour it and if it proves to be a satisfying story, to revisit it at their leisure and share their enthusiasm with others through social media engagement and positive word of mouth.
What is also notable about the success of Bridgerton is the bounce it has given to other period dramas.
Not least of which was PBS Masterpiece’s Sanditon, a series still struggling to achieve a much hoped for and richly deserved second season commission.
Masterpiece’s production partner ITV hastily cancelled the show in December 2019. This was an oddly preemptive decision, based on a shortsighted analysis of overnight ratings and made before the show had a chance to air in other markets, including the United States.
It followed treatment of the series, which was the equivalent of throwing it to the wolves. ITV chose a promotion campaign for a largely unknown Jane Austen fragment, which spectacularly failed to emphasise the romance component.
Instead, they gave it a stylised but ultimately confusing series of promos, with inter-cut scenes, more suggestive of a Regency mystery than a highly charged love story.
Then, in a move as naive as it was completely inexplicable, Sanditon was scheduled against the surging global hit, Peaky Blinders.
Having triumphed on Netflix, the gangster saga was then entering it’s fifth season on BBC One, having moved from the more niche BBC Two, which had nurtured and built its audience over the years. The perfect storm of misjudgement was complete when it was decided to air Sanditon‘s first episode during the UK’s August Bank Holiday weekend. It turned out to be the hottest weekend of the year.
With a mixed critical reception, largely carping “No sex please, it’s Austen!”, the series simply never stood a chance, in the face of such powerful head winds.
However, against all odds, what was largely missed by viewers in the UK was embraced by the US audience.
A determined band of fans was adamant that Sanditon‘s adventures on the other side of the Atlantic would be more successful and that the series would not be simply buried and forgotten. They have richly succeeded in their endeavours.
Since arriving on PBS Masterpiece in January 2020, Sanditon went on to become the most successful new drama on Masterpiece prime time in 2020. It was also the most streamed new drama this year, on the PBS Passport streaming service.
It has become a hit on the BBC First channel on FOXTEL in Australia and on outlets across Europe. In an agonising year for everyone, the Sanditon Sisterhood’s extraordinary campaign delivered a stunning stunt on the sands of Brean Beach, where some of the most memorable Sanditon scenes were filmed.
Additionally, the social media campaign behind the show has continued to thrive, with tens of thousands of tweets every day, thousands of fans actively engaged and eleven million plus tweets using #Sanditon.
More than 80,000 people have signed a petition on change.org calling for season 2, with the numbers increasing by the hour. This isn’t just sentiment, it is evidence of the show’s commercial viability.
Remarkably, momentum and demand for the series, far from diminishing, continues to build and to grow. Each and every one of these fans is a potential subscriber for a streaming service. They are an advocate for the show. They are ready to promote it and watch it, over and over again.
They represent precisely the market that a streaming service dreams of. Fans ready, willing and able, to give Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu or any other potential partner, faithful viewers and a global hit.
Andrew Davies’ adaption of Jane Austen’s final, incomplete novel was a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of love, loyalty, loss, duty, greed, ambition and betrayal.
It was a departure from the traditional Austen terrain of landed gentry and a bracing exploration of a new, emerging class of entrepreneurs and men with ambition.
While her familiar tropes of love, money and the Regency marriage market are still present, they are seen through a fresh prism. It had moments of exquisite beauty and unforgettable emotion. It is, admittedly, something of a diamond in the rough and is not without its flaws.
However, you suspect that these are largely born of the belief that they had the luxury of time. Time to develop their characters and to build their narrative. Time, which they were destined to be denied.
It is evident that Sanditon was developed with a plan for a continuing series which sadly has yet to come to fruition. What is left, is a story on the precipice of greatness.
In the case of Sanditon, the best really was yet to come. The narrative possibilities are enormous and simply waiting to be fulfilled. That the wait continues, is a terrible injustice.
In the wake of Bridgerton‘s manifest success, the cruelty of depriving Sanditon‘s millions of fans around the world of a satisfying conclusion to the story they have come to love has seldom felt more acute.
Like Bridgerton, Sanditon endeavoured to bring something new to the table. To push the boundaries of a genre which had become a well trodden path.
It was blessed with a stellar cast and two leads in Rose Williams (Reign) and Theo James (Downton Abbey) who oozed sexual tension and chemistry. It was unashamedly sexy and subversive. It had and has so much potential.
With the loving care and attention it deserves and it’s fans have earned, Sanditon offers a streaming service the potential for the next great, period drama success. With the prospect of a better year ahead, including for film and television production, many of us hope that Bridgerton‘s success will prove to be the high tide that will raise all ships.
Find out where you can watch Sanditon on the Sanditon Sisterhood’s website.
Follow the Sanditon campaign at @SanditonSister2 #SaveSanditon on Twitter and at @sanditonsisterhood on on Instagram.
You can also sign the petition for Season 2 here.
Sanditon is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.