[Potential spoilers ahead. If you have been living under a rock and haven’t yet caught up with the Sanditon season finale, proceed with caution]
The controversial Sanditon finale drew ire from fans, subverting an Austenian happily ever after for an ending that felt almost as unfinished as the novel it was adapted from.
The problem is that everybody claims to speak for Jane Austen. With one ‘expert’ claiming “I think she would have loved it” and another commenting “I imagine she’d have switched to Peaky Blinders on BBC after episode one,” the poor woman seems to have a lot of people putting words into her decomposing mouth. Not presuming to speak for the writer herself, I would argue the programme never felt authentically Austen. This makes sense, given that the entirety of the existing text was condensed into the first half of the first episode.
As for that love triangle…
Look, I get it. Jane Austen has a type. But I just couldn’t root for Broody McShouts-A-Lot (AKA Sidney Parker), whose only interests seemed to include nude bathing and mansplaining cricket. Admittedly, I may be slightly biased, having fallen desperately in love with Leo Suter’s Young Stringer. With aspirations beyond his station, a cute accent & far less emotional baggage, the character’s kindness and chivalry trumps anything that the hottest Parker brother can bring to the table. Ah, James Stringer. Winner of the boat race, and of my heart.
Alas, we know how this one ends. Handsome, brooding rich man insults vivacious young lady at a ball, but must grapple with his repressed feelings when he inexplicably falls in love with her, ultimately becoming a better man in the process. Stringer, bless him, never stood a chance.
After all, it was far more acceptable for a woman to marry above her station — just look at the Bennet sisters. It seems the writers are more than happy to be, perhaps unrealistically, progressive in terms of gender and race, but class still remains a barrier.
In between discussing architecture (“a lady architect!” Tom Parker exclaims), comparing marriage to slavery and joining the men’s cricket team, Charlotte is busy dismantling the patriarchy, one missing bonnet at a time*. It’s worth noting that men are said to have a stronger link between initial attraction and visual stimuli, while women stereotypically place more of an emphasis on emotional intimacy. This seems to be inverted with Charlotte (who seems to catch feels after she stumbles across Sidney in his birthday suit) and Sidney. How times have changed that viewers now need a whole nude bathing scene…a far cry from the lingering stares and wet shirt scenes of yore.
[* Call me nitpicky but all the scenes where Charlotte is in public, bereft of a bonnet & wearing her hair as loose as a Regency era tart, didn’t feel historically accurate]
The inclusion of Georgiana Lambe, described in the book as ‘half mulatto’ (or mixed race) was genuinely exciting. To see a woman of colour represented in a Jane Austen storyline felt very special, though her storyline seemed wasted by the end of the finale. The Otis escapade forgotten, Miss Lambe was reduced to mostly huffing and sulking in her scenes without any bearing on the actual action. The finale itself crashed and burned (literally), seeming to have more plotlines stuffed into it than the rest of the series put together, resulting in bizzare tonal shifts which didn’t feel satisfying.
Was it high quality, clever television? No. Would I watch a second season? Absolutely. But perhaps only for Young Stringer.
I really enjoyed Naomi Clifford’s Sanditon recaps, they’re worth a read — https://www.naomiclifford.com/sanditon-7/