I wrote a very disgruntled and ranty review of the first season of Sandition some while back (read it here). I disliked the sheer nastiness of it – a pretty obnoxious hero, a stupid heroine, a bunch of people obsessed with money and sex (or both!) and very little to praise beyond the inevitable lush costumes. And then the ending was an abomination, a negation of everything that a Jane Austen-inspired tale ought to be. Great was the disgruntlement in JA-fanland. And the fact that the intended second series was cancelled only rubbed salt in the wound.
But lo, wiser heads eventually prevailed, the series was given two more seasons and permission to round everything off in truly romantic style at the end of season 3. Gone is the sex and avarice and edginess, and in its place, a kind of fluffy soapiness that wouldn’t frighten the horses (or even keep them awake, possibly). There’s a cliched blandness to the series now that makes it more restful watching, but it never rises above the mediocre.
Season 2 focuses on a regiment of soldiers stationed at Sanditon for the summer. Charlotte’s sister Alison gets involved with two of the soldiers there, while Charlotte herself becomes governess to the two bolshie children of reclusive widower Mr Colbourne. Meanwhile, Georgiana Lambe has disposed of her unpleasant chaperon, and is fending off fortune-hunters and falling for the Byronic charm of painter Charles Lockhart, while Esther Denham (now Lady Babbington), Clara Brereton, Sir Edward Denham and Lady Denham have a convoluted subplot of their own, which proves ultimately the writer’s ignorance of Regency law concerning illegitimacy. And the Parkers are back, being very Parkerish – Tom enthusiastic, Arthur delightfully gentlemanly and Mary – well, Mary is the beating heart of Sandition, far more than the supposed heroine, Charlotte Heywood.
It’s obvious that Colbourne is Charlotte’s love interest almost from the start. Can I say at once how miscast I thought he was? I’m sure he would be great in other roles, and he can certainly act, but as a brooding Regency hero, he just didn’t cut the mustard, for me. I’d like him as a friend, but I’d never get the hots for him as presented here. Getting rid of the trendy stubble would help (Regency men were almost universally clean-shaven, folks, and those loose cravats are hideous), but I still don’t find him sexy. But then Charlotte isn’t exactly a hot heroine, either. She all too often looks like a bewildered rabbit caught in the headlights. Again, the loose hair doesn’t help – it makes her look fourteen instead of a grown woman.
The ending of Season 2 throws up the sort of pseudo-cliffhanger that TV types love, when Charlotte betroths herself to a farmer in Willingden, but since we know perfectly well that there’s a third and final series coming up (and the two were filmed back to back), no one was very worried about that, I imagine.
Season 3 moves on to make Sanditon the bustling resort Tom Parker always dreamt of, and I have to say that the set, although it feels smaller than in previous series, since the characters rarely leave the beachfront, is actually rather prettily done. And it really is thronged with people now. Of course, Tom Parker isn’t satisfied, and now wants to build a grand hotel, largely by knocking down the old village around the harbour where the poor people live. Well, we know how that’s going to work out, don’t we? In fact, this series has absolutely no surprises whatsoever, and very little conflict. Lockhart turns up to try to wrest Georgiana’s fortune from her, but he’s seen off by five minutes in court. A famous singer is engaged to entertain the king, but when he fails to turn up, she just shrugs and carries on. An old flame of Lady Denham’s turns up, fireworks are predicted and then… they get along famously. The whole series is a collection of nothingburgers that fizzle out at the first challenge. But it’s all very pretty, so there’s that.
The writers are still flummoxed by Regency protocol. A major new character in this series is variously referred to as Lord Henry Montrose, Lord Montrose and the Duke of Buckingham. These are THREE DIFFERENT PEOPLE! Lord Henry Montrose would be the younger son of a duke or marquess. He’s addressed as Lord Henry or my lord. Lord Montrose would be EITHER a marquess, earl, viscount or baron in his own right, OR the eldest son and heir to a duke, marquess or earl. He’s addressed as Lord Montrose or my lord. And the Duke of Buckingham is a duke, not Lord anything, and is addressed as Duke, or Your Grace. And it should be added that both the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Montrose are real titles (although Montrose is now a dukedom, but there was also a marquessate and an earldom of that name). It takes precisely five minutes to find this stuff out.
And while we’re on the subject of titles, how come Charlotte’s plot-device friend, Lady Susan (the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl) in this series becomes Lady de Clermont (the widow of a marquess, earl, viscount or baron)? She can’t be both simultaneously, or at least, she can, but she can’t be called both names interchangeably. But whatever she’s called, she’s by far the most interesting character in this series, a mature woman of common sense, who knows her own worth and her place in the world. And if she wobbled a little over her future at the end, that was just the scriptwriters ramping up the tension. She was far too astute a person to throw away her own happiness.
As for the rest of them – all the various storylines got tied up with neat little bows. Most of the romances ended the predictable way, and even Arthur got the prospect of a little future happiness, rather unexpectedly. And who foresaw the touching little romance for the vicar’s middle-aged sister? I did like that Charlotte reached her happy ever after at the exact same place high above the town where Sydney Parker so infamously jilted her at the end of series 1. That was a perfect resolution (even if I never warmed to Mr Colbourne as a passionate hero). Lady Denham made the correct decision for her – where most couples fell into the ‘love above all’ category, she decided that what she loved above all was her money, her house and her title. And her independence, of course. As for Georgiana, after dabbling with the idea of a loveless marriage to a duke, who could at least protect her from harassment, she fell back into the clutches of the undeniably handsome but unreliable Otis. So no independence there. And Sir Edward, the bad guy from the first moments of season 1, redeemed? Well… you can believe that if you want.
With the three series cycle now complete, I can say that there was more enjoyment than annoyance, overall. The costumes and sets were pretty, and if there was very little bite to any of it, if you can get past the unpleasantness of the first series, it’s lightweight and undemanding viewing. I might even watch it again in the future, who knows?