As most period drama fans probably already know, new Jane Austen drama Sanditon is headed to PBS's Masterpiece this January. And, technically, it's a drama that's "new" in multiple terms - it's an adaptation of the existing 11 chapters of Austen's final, unfinished novel, and a continuation of it, with the remaining bulk of the story penned by showrunner Andrew Davies, who's not only brought many versions of the author's works to the screen, but gave us that infamous shot of Colin Firth striding out of the lake at Pemberley back in the 1990s.
So, you know, if anybody's qualified to make a leap about how Austen might have continued this story, it's probably Davies. But the existence of Sanditon does propose an intersting conundrum for fans - it's the one time we're all going to watch an Austen story together and have no idea what's going to happen next. The story isn't set in stone, and it pretty much feels like anything could happen.
But if that sense of the possible isn't enough reason for you to give Sanditon a try, we've got a few other reasons you should tune in for the premiere on Sunday.
Charlotte Heywood is an Ideal Austen Heroine. You all know Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Eleanor Dashwood. But you probably don't know Charlotte Heywood, given that she appears in so little of Austen's actual text. But in this television version of Sanditon, Charlotte is finally given a chance to shine. And she's incredible. A rustic sort of girl from a large family, Charlotte is capable, kind and always manages to view the world around her - and its worst residents - with warmth and something like awe, rather than cynicism or bitterness.
She's introduced hunting a rabbit and chasing a runaway carriage; throws herself into cricket matches and icy cold bathing plunges with equal enthusiasm; and doesn't fear speaking her mind, no matter who she might be talking to. Regardless of the fact that we don't necessarily know her story the way we do Lizzie's or Emma's, Charlotte's a character anyone will want to see more of, as soon as possible.
Theo James Finally Gets the Spotlight. You may only remember James as Lady Mary's handsome but ill-fated.....whatever you want to call him, Pamuk, on Downton Abbey, but he's a talented actor who's been bubbling around the "up and coming" actor lists for a while now. From his role in the blockbuster Divergent films to parts in TV series like Golden Boy and Bedlam, James has been quietly playing all sorts of different roles.
In Sanditon, he finally gets to be the broody heartthrob he's probably always been destined to portray.
Sidney Parker is an Austen leading man in the Fitzwilliam Darcy tradition - meaning that he's kind of a rude jerk, but a rude jerk with hidden layers and a big heart. You just have to get past the part where you want to punch him in the face for something like three episodes.
We Meet Austen's First Black Character. Even though only eleven chapters exist of Austen's final manuscript, we do know one thing for sure. Sanditon introduced the author's first black character, one Miss Georgiana Lambe, a wealthy bi-racial heiress from the West Indies.
Now, there's not really enough of Austen's original text to know what precisely she planned to do with Georgiana. But the mere fact of her existence, as a rich woman of color in a world and in a genre that's almost always heavily dominated by white characters, feels fairly revolutionary in its own right. Her presence is even more significant when we consider that her race and background are not mean to be decorative additions to the story we're watching, but rather important parts of the plot.
Anne Reid As Our New Dowager Countess. (Sort Of.) Every period drama these days seems as though it has to have a sassy, rich older lady with quick barbs, a high sense of herself and a lack of regard for things like general social politeness. Downton had Violet Grantham, and so Sanditon has Lady Dentham, a wealthy widow who runs the social scene in town and believes her entire family is waiting for her to die so they can inherit her fortune. Reid is clearly having a ball playing this character, which is a nice little bonus for those of us who've watched her in so many other things over the years.
Unfortunately, however, Lady Denham is sort of a terrible person. So, while she's entertaining as heck to watch, it's hard to really root for her, or to want to, say, wear gear emblazoned with her sassy remarks. (Don't judge my "What is a Weekend" tote bag, people.) She's manipulative, selfish and downright mean, and makes openly racist comments about Georgiana. To paraphrase Charles Barkley, Lady Denham is definitely not a role model. But she's one of the most memorable aspects of Sanditon, and is probably something everyone will be talking about come Monday morning.
And Of Course There's Some Romance. We Hope. As noted earlier, we don't know for sure that Sidney and Charlotte are, for lack of a better term, the endgame couple of Sanditon. After all, Miss Heywood manages to meet several nice - and a few very terrible - men over the course of the story, and some of those guys are definitely eligible and kind of cute But "Sidlotte" sure do seem like they're meant to be.
After all, they've got that standard Austen banter-y vibe going on, and for half the story, they both seem to actively dislike each other. This is a standard Austen cover for the fact that they're absolutely going to be in love by the series' end, and I think we all know that. Thanks for the precident, Lizzie and Darcy! How will they get there is the question - or at least, so we hope. Or I hope, anyway. (I'm weak, I can't help it.)
Are you looking forward to Sanditon? Or do you consider it just some fancy televised fanfiction? Let's discuss in the comments.