Over the years, there have been countless adaptations of beloved author Jane Austen’s six novels. In a plot twist that is truly Austen-worthy, what if we told you there was an unfinished novel? More importantly, what if we told you this unfinished novel has been made into an eight-episode show? Believe it, because Sanditon is the new series you never knew you needed.
Austen was only partway into writing the 12th chapter of Sanditon when she stopped due to an unknown chronic illness. She died four months later in 1817. It took more than 100 years for the story to be published in its partial form in 1925. Even in its unfinished state, Sanditon draws readers in to what would have inevitably become the seventh Austen classic.
The novel, originally titled The Brothers, is set in the small seaside town of Sanditon where Tom Parker (Kris Marshall) has invested his entire fortune in the hopes of turning the sleepy town into the newest, trendy coastal resort complete with shops, restaurants, and a hotel. In a serendipitous carriage accident, a worse for wear Parker and his wife are taken in by the Heywood family. The Heywoods’ kindness is not forgotten.
When the Parkers are well enough to return to Sanditon, they invite the eldest Heywood daughter, Charlotte (Rose Williams), to join them. It is there that Charlotte meets a host of peculiar characters and a new breed of Austen man. She meets Parker’s brothers Sidney (Theo James) and Arthur (Turlough Convery), who could not be more dissimilar. Sidney is a dashing antihero and Arthur a reserved hypochondriac. Charlotte also meets Austen’s first leading Black character, Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke), an heiress from the West Indies. Just when you’re hooked, that is where the book ends. *Cue an uproarious chorus of booing.*
Where one unfinished Austen novel ends, the award-winning work of screenplay writer Andrew Davies begins. He has adapted four out of six of Austen’s novels for the screen before and set his sights on bringing Austen’s progressive start to a compelling finish. Davies wanted to give as much of a modern flare as could be allowed in a period piece. “The underlying emotional issues are the same now as they were then,” Davies told The New York Times. “The frocks change, but the emotions remain the same.”
Davies brings much heavier topics for the characters to wrestle with than most Austen characters, whose greatest complaints about each other often come down social faux pas such as someone needing to be nicer, less prideful, or more understanding. Characters must contend with colonialism and the ethics of fortunes made from the slave trade.
“This is the first time Austen set a whole novel at the seaside, and her characters, who are normally very conservative, living very settled lives, are a bunch of guys trying to set up a bells-and-whistles seaside resort,” Davies told The New York Times. Heavier subject matter isn’t the only thing adding tension to the plot. To put it simply, Mr. Darcy’s pond-drenched walk up to Elizabeth Bennett will seem quite tame by comparison.
Because Austen didn’t finish the novel, there’s a lot of potential to dive into each of the characters’ stories which puts the period piece into the perfect position for modern viewers: possible multiple seasons. At least, that is what the creators of the show are hoping for.
Sanditon begins airing on PBS’s Masterpiece on January 12.