It would not be an exaggeration to describe being a Sanditon fan as having an unlimited, free pass for an epic, emotional roller coaster ride.
It’s certainly been quite an experience of late, says our guest writer Gillian Clifford.
The exit of Theo James (Downton Abbey) and thus the absence of the much-loved character of Sidney Parker cast a long shadow over the exciting news, received in May 2021, of Sanditon‘s renewal by PBS Masterpiece, BritBox UK and ITV, for a second and third season.
It left fans processing the demise of a central love story which captivated millions around the world. The new seasons, so long fought for and hard won, will not feature the much hoped for “Sidlotte” resolution which had been a core aspiration for so many of the show’s devoted viewers.
The production also confirmed that Leo Suter’s (Beecham House) Young Stringer and Mark Stanley’s (Anne Boleyn) Lord Babington, will also sadly be absent from these new instalments.
After its original cancellation in 2020 left the actors out of contract and looking for work elsewhere, it is perhaps unsurprising that, with a cast filled with talented and in demand actors, some were committed to other projects by the time Sanditon resumed production last summer. There’s no question that the winds of change are coming to the Regency seaside resort.
There is also no doubt, that as the show itself has had to recalibrate, so too have the fans. The process of letting go, particularly when you’ve held on for so long, can often be difficult. The emotional capital accrued by a character and the level of fan investment in them cannot be underestimated.
For some, the love story and the innate chemistry between Theo James’ dashing and charismatic Sidney and the beautiful Charlotte Heywood, played so compellingly by Rose Williams (Reign), was not only all encompassing, but series defining. As a consequence, there are those fans for whom it is simply impossible to perceive a path to a satisfying narrative, which does not include Sidney Parker.
For others, however, there is a willingness to embrace the new dispensation and to look towards the potential for a new hero, or heroes, to emerge. There is the tempting prospect of new storylines to explore and the limitless potential for characters new and returning, to develop and to shine. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.
While the future of the series will unquestionably be different from what has gone before, it does not follow that it won’t be every bit as engaging and satisfying. Perhaps, even more so.
Sanditon fans have much to look forward to. Not by forgetting the past, but rather by embracing it.
What lies ahead is not a simple binary choice. Either dismiss the past, accept the changes and embrace the new, or conversely, to recognise that the show you loved, is now gone. There is another way. A much happier alternative.
It lies in acknowledging the possibility that these new chapters of the story, may just find a way to recognise and celebrate what has gone before, and in doing so, to forge a path to a new and exciting future for all of the characters.
It is inconceivable that the creative team who expanded on the world created by Austen in her fragment will not want to continue to respect and honour the legacy of pivotal characters, which the audience came to know and love, such as Sidney. While he may not have a physical presence, he will undoubtedly remain a major influence, consciously or subconsciously, on numerous characters, their motivations and eventual outcomes.
Not least upon his brother Tom (Kris Marshall, Death in Paradise), whose obsessional, vaulting ambition and financial ineptitude, condemned his brother to a fate not of his own choosing.
There’s also his Ward, the heiress Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke, Ordeal By Innocence), who now awaits both the enormous power and the potential perils endowed by her imminent coming of age and the prospect of a substantial inheritance.
How will she navigate her life and determine her fate? How will the matter of her complicated and frequently toxic relationship with her remote and reluctant Guardian, finally be resolved in his absence?
And of course, there’s Charlotte. Her heart will still be in repair when we next encounter her. However, far from retreating into misery and gloom, in her character, we may have a chance to see a young woman, not embittered by “failed” romance, but empowered by the experience of a great love and the knowledge and wisdom which can come from the process of mending a broken heart. Knowledge which she will carry with her and use to help inform her choices and decisions in the face of new suitors and fresh challenges.
It’s easy to see the failure of Sidney and Charlotte to ultimately marry as somehow diminishing the power of their relationship. Particularly in the context of Austen, where the eventual union of the protagonists is characteristically the seal on a satisfying narrative.
However, an alternative perspective, is to see the ending of Season 1, as in many ways, a no less meaningful and defining an outcome, for both parties. Perhaps in the wider context of the show’s three-season arc, this will in time simply feel like the necessary conclusion of a first chapter.
Charlotte was forever altered by Sidney, and Sidney altered by Charlotte. Irrespective of their individual fates, both have been remade by this love. It is not diminished, but merely exists in a new form.
Hopefully for Charlotte, whose journey we will continue to follow, this will give her strength, resilience and the kind of personal growth and understanding which will allow her to have a much better knowledge of who she is and what she wants from life. Also, eventually, a sense of who she might choose to share that journey with.
If I had one wish in this context, and it is a personal preference, it would be that despite the apparent focus, once again, on a competitive “love triangle”, that this will not be to the detriment of Charlotte as a self actuating woman.
In eagerly anticipating our chance to meet some of the new male protagonists in the form of the “mysterious” Sanditon resident, Alexander Colbourne, portrayed by Ben Lloyd Hughes (War and Peace) and “self confident war hero” Colonel Francis Lennox, played by Tom Weston-Jones (Dickensian), my hope is that Charlotte will not be denied her individual agency. That she will not exist as a mere trophy to be coveted and fought over by two competing males, each jealously out posturing the other.
Better surely for us to be afforded a chance to get to know these new characters and their motivations and for Charlotte to be given the time and space to grow and to chart her own path. To forge new friendships, nurture her existing relationships and to ultimately become a fully realised Austen heroine.
If this delicate balance is struck between these narrative components, there will be much to enjoy as the story and indeed, the romances, unfold.
With this fresh roster of talented actors on board, including the wonderful Alexander Vlahos (Versailles) as the intriguing and flamboyant artist Charles Lockhart, there is a wealth of tantalising prospects ahead for maximum drama with scheming, secrets, love and romance, triumph and disaster, heartache and betrayal.
There’s also hope for a dash of humour, so quintessentially Austen.
Sanditon is also blessed with a returning cast of characters and actors which frankly any drama would envy. Whether Anne Reid’s (Last Tango in Halifax) Lady Denham, Kate Ashfield’s long-suffering Mary Parker, Lily Sacofsky’s (Bancroft) Clara Brereton, or Turlough Convery’s (Killing Eve) joyous Arthur Parker, each is an absolute delight.
A massive treat is being gifted another chance to enjoy Charlotte Spencer’s powerhouse performance as Esther, now Lady Babington, and her relationship with her venal stepbrother Sir Edward Denham, played with devious deliciousness, by Jack Fox – a saga as utterly compelling as it is deeply disturbing.
There is so much to look forward to in these new chapters of Sanditon, with Season 2 premiering in the US and then in the UK this spring. First time viewers will have much to enjoy and a rich character history to explore.
For those of us on a return journey, I for one, cannot wait to travel those cliff tops once again, and to begin a new adventure and I’m sure that many fans will feel the same. After all, they’ve richly earned their vacation by the sea.
Season 1 is available on DVD on Amazon.