Deborah Yaffe

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Sanditon's Sidney

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 21 2019 02:00PM

Production of the new television adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death, is moving along even more quickly than I realized when I wrote about it earlier this month: PBS, which will air the eight-part mini-series on Masterpiece, reported recently that filming has begun and – squee! – provided details of casting.


Many of the names are unfamiliar to me, but Anne Reid, who will play the grasping and imperious Lady Denham, is a wonderful actress. And no heterosexual woman with a pulse could object to the casting of Theo James as the hero, Sidney Parker: James played the extraordinarily dishy Turk who seduced Lady Mary, back in the first season of Downton Abbey, only to die inconveniently in her bed. With luck, Sanditon will keep him alive longer, so we’ll have more time to admire his . . . acting talent.


In Austen’s fragment, Sidney Parker is barely a character: He makes his entrance only a few pages before the end, and his hero status is only an assumption, albeit one shared by most of Sanditon’s readers over the years. Thus, Andrew Davies, the revered screenwriter who is adapting Sanditon, had free rein. And here’s what we’re getting, according to PBS:


“Unpredictable, roguish and restless – seemingly never settling in one place for very long – self-made man Sidney finds his responsibilities to his family in Sanditon somewhat tiresome. And yet his cynicism masks a sensitive soul wounded by a broken heart that has never fully healed. In the company of Charlotte, Sidney must rediscover who he is and crucially, learn to trust again.”


In other words, it’s my all-time favorite Regency romance plot: Sensible, strong-willed heroine heals hero’s emotional wounds (usually the result of a bad childhood or PTSD from the Napoleonic Wars, but a broken heart works too). Typically, the hero repays the heroine’s wound-healing by introducing her to passion (see also: Jane Eyre, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.), and although PBS doesn’t spell this part out in its Sanditon preview, I think we can count on Andrew “Wet Shirt” Davies not to let us down, don’t you?


OK, I’m now officially looking forward to Sanditon, despite the many, many reasons to suspect that it won't be very much like Jane Austen and, indeed, may not be very good.


“You know you have a win-win situation here,” my husband said. “If you really like it – you’ll just really like it. And if it’s really bad, you’ll bitch about it for months on your blog.”


What can I say? We’ve been married a long time. The man knows me well.


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