It’s been a couple of years since Masterpiece’s Sanditon first aired on PBS, and a couple of years since I blogged about it episode by episode. I’m excited to be blogging again about this Jane Austen adaptation.
So, let’s get two things out of the way. 1) There are going to be SPOILERS in these posts. 2) I am not here to give you a plot summary; in these posts I talk about some things that happen in the episodes and what I think about them. Got it? OK. Read on!
Spoiler 1: Sidney Parker is dead.
I was wondering how the show was going to deal with Theo James’s decision not to return. I honestly didn’t expect them to kill him in the first minute of the first episode. Well done, Davies, well done. Why was Sidney in Antigua, where he contracted yellow fever? How does this impact Georgiana’s future? There’s suspense, and the fans are surely here for it. I kind of wondered when I saw this death date, though. 1820? Seems a little too late for this Regency era show.
Spoiler 2: Mr. Stringer now lives in London. I had also heard that Leo Suter was not returning and wondered if the writers were going to give him a proper exit or just pretend he never existed. I am pleased to say that he got a mention: he’s now in London and is successful. Yay for him, but I would have liked to see his character develop. Maybe there wasn’t anything to develop.
Spoiler 3: The writers decided to replenish the dearth of suitable suitors for Charlotte by bringing soldiers to Sanditon as well as giving us a new brooder. First, the soldiers.
The colonel is OK. He seems like a forward-thinking dude. The captains are also OK. One is like a cute schoolboy while the other is like the guy always stuck in the friend zone. Then there’s that asshole, Edward, who somehow joined the military. He’s as despicable as ever. I was surprised to see him, TBH. I thought he was being written out of the show. I am also wondering if the writers got their timing wrong again. If it’s 1820, England is not at war with Napolean, so….
Spoiler 4: And then there’s Mr. Rochester–I mean Colbourne.
Yeah, I wasn’t expecting Sanditon to turn into Jane Eyre, but there you have it. When Charlotte decides to become a governess and suddenly looks all plain Jane (not to mention smacks of spinster Jane Austen) I was like, really?? OK. Then the man she works for is a widower and all broody, and I was like, oh, no you didn’t! Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, same thing….same name, same time period….no, that’s not right. Hmm. Two authors (Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë) worlds apart, whose worlds are drastically different, are now in the same adaptation. I guess this must be what the writers think fans want.
Spoiler 5: I guess the writers also think we need another new man to follow because they also added a Byronic artist named Charles Lockhart. Oh, I see what ya did there: lock heart. Who will unlock it? Well, that would be Georgiana. Right? (or Arthur?) Because Georgiana and Charles are both characterized as headstrong and break with conventions they must naturally be a perfect match. Feels very Lizzie and Darcy to me.
Spoiler 6: I was thrilled to see, I must admit, Georgiana getting more air time in the first two episodes (I’ll blog about the second one later). I don’t know about the way she is being cast as the instigator of the sugar boycott–like somehow because she is a Black woman she must be leading a movement? I get where the writers are going with this re: Antigua plantations, sugar production, commerce, enslavement, and abolition, and I’m glad they also show white people taking part in the boycott. I just don’t know how I feel about the writers making it seem like it’s all about Georgiana individually–like the sugar boycott is some personality trait associated with her being Black. Maybe I’m misreading what they’re trying to do here.
Also, it’s no surprise to see the show again putting her into an agonistic relationship with sugar-loving Lady Denham, whose presence in season 2 seems absolutely uninteresting. The Georgiana/Lady D conflict in season 1 was great, but what’s left in season 2? Unless the show seriously, thoughtfully takes account of the horrors of enslavement and colonialism and how the production of sugar is contingent on the consumption of it, this plot makes it look like a bunch of outcasts (Georgiana and the spinster woman) pushing some kind of liberal agenda.
I also was unsure if the show’s writers intentionally chose to name Lord Colbourne’s housekeeper Mrs. Wheatley because the character is Black. Was this intentional casting of a Black actress in a part for a Black character? If so, was the name supposed to evoke Phillis Wheatley? Would any of the viewers make this connection? So many questions. One thing is for sure: this series is still going by traditional casting where the characters are mostly white and the actresses/actors are mostly white, and most of the people watching who like things to be “historically accurate” (as the gatekeepers call it) won’t get their feathers ruffled by seeing a person of color play a part they think represents a white character. So, the only people of color we get in Sanditon are: a wealthy heiress from Antigua and a housekeeper.
Spoiler 7: I didn’t say anything yet about the introduction of Charlotte’s sister Alison, so let me add that she seems to be there to hearken to Pride and Prejudice (she’s like a Lydia, maybe? in the bedroom scenes it feels very 1995 P&P.) and maybe to Sense and Sensibility, where she’s the Marianne. Meh. Don’t care.
Finis: I’m glad they kept Arthur in the show. And it was fun to hear two pronunciations of Dr. Fuchs’s name. The bit about Esther’s pregnancy woes hit hard. That was some real shit right there. There was also some interesting cross-dressing in episode 1, too, but I’ll say more about that in my next post.
All in all, the first episode made me want to watch another, and that’s cool. 🙂