Jane Austen’s works are timeless stories that has the power to tell a story that will captivate viewers no matter which era they belong. And Austen’s unfinished novel, SANDITON, is one of her latest works that has caught the interest of many fans. With the challenge of ‘completing’ the unfinished story, has Andrew Davies — the writer behind Pride and Prejudice (1995), Little Dorritt (2008), Northanger Abbey (2007) — continued Austen’s vision of Sanditon and her characters? Here is our review of SANDITON (2019):
Set in the seaside resort of Sanditon, the story of SANDITON revolves around the young and unconventional Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) who is brought to Sanditon by chance. With the prospect of going beyond her family town and seeing new things, Charlotte was keen to experience everything the town has to offer. Little did Charlotte know that she was going to encounter a town inhibited by a whole new culture and ambitious individuals.
Intrigued by their lives and the secrets they hide and share, the outspoken but naive Charlotte spends most of her time making observations and helping those around her. So when Charlotte tactlessly voices her opinion about Tom Parker and his family, it causes distaste from his younger brother, Sidney Parker (Theo James). With Sidney and Charlotte clashing throughout the story, can they accept and look past each other’s flaws?
Due to the unfinished nature of Jane Austen’s novel, it was up to Andrew Davies to follow up on Austen’s original work which only consisted of eleven chapters. For those who are not familiar with Davies, he has adapted many literary works including Pride and Prejudice (1995). Using Austen’s original blueprints of Sanditon and its established characters, Davies has certainly risen to the challenge to ‘complete’ the story. Who else is capable of doing this but Davies himself?
It’s another typical Austen setting as we know it. From the rolling hills to the refreshing landscapes of the chilly seaside, the production team has done a great job in using real-life Somerset sceneries to catapult Austen’s Sanditon to life. Complete with fancy balls, cricket games, new forms of technology, and adventures by the beach, Sanditon offers Charlotte (and the audience) an experience like no other.
However, due to a new wave of social change, Sandition is quickly transforming into a place that is distant from the Austen setting that we’re used to. Sanditon is a town that aims to be modern and bustling, and simply just thirsting for life and excitement. Male figures are entrepreneurs and not born with inherited wealth. Females are more confident with the idea of independence over matrimony.
But to our utmost surprise, the most distinct feature about Davies’ Sanditon is that it takes a bizarrely different direction by borrowing tropes from Gothic literature. Injecting a combination of drama, wit, and sensuality into this supposedly classic piece of literature, Sanditon’s setting and its characters are more complex and richer in characterisation in comparison to Austen’s predecessors.
From the pitiful Lady Denham who holds the future of Sanditon to siblings Esther and Edward Denham who are in a disturbing relationship, it is the revelation of their weaknesses; the distortion between fantasy and reality; and issues involving their wealth, families, and reputation that makes the story highly captivating.
Despite the presence of sensationalised drama in Sanditon, Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker’s relationship is the heart and soul of this story. Amongst Austen’s heroines, Charlotte Heywood is without a doubt one of Austen’s best leading ladies. She might be a girl from the countryside but she is opinionated, independent and does things on her own accord. Charlotte’s love interest, Sidney Parker, is your typical Austen hero: reserved, brooding, and has a strong reputation to hold — not for his sake but his family as well.
From the very first exchanged conversation, they both have different views and misconceptions about each other. Why is Sidney cold-hearted the way he is? Is Charlotte too naive and outspoken for her own good?
With two intriguing characters bouncing off one another, Davies has captured the essence of their relationship in a natural way — the good moments, the misunderstandings, and their slow-burning feelings. Of course, this pairing would not have been successful if it weren’t for Rose Williams and Theo James’ mesmerising chemistry.
Never before have we been this religiously invested in an endgame relationship, and it doesn’t help when Sanditon‘s climax is not your typical conclusion to a Jane Austen narrative.
Overall: Sex, drama, greed, death, betrayal — Andrew Davies’ follow-up adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon is completely different to what one would envision.
Season Two may have been announced but it has been confirmed that Theo James will not be returning as Sidney — an injustice for all Sanditon fans. Jane Austen would never leave us hanging with a doomed relationship. So is Sidney just a chapter for Charlotte to learn some hard lessons; experience pain; and grow as a person? Guess we’ll find out when we follow Charlotte onto the next chapter of her life…
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