Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 19 2019 01:00PM

A few weeks ago, as ITV began airing a much-hyped miniseries based on Sanditon, the seaside novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death, a painter commissioned by the broadcaster started work on a giant billboard promoting the series (see under: much-hyped).

Artist David Downes finished the job earlier this month, and from the photo I’ve seen, the completed painting, on a twelve-meter-wide billboard in the British seaside town of Bournemouth, looks rather lovely: a green and rocky coastal seascape dotted with sails, under a sky full of wispy, streaming clouds. Even the rather prominent “ITV” logo in the lower left-hand corner doesn’t detract from the scene’s intriguing combination of tranquility (those peaceful boats) and edgy energy (those scudding clouds).

Sanditon won’t officially make it to US screens until January, although YouTube appears to be replete with opportunities to view the four episodes that have screened so far in the UK. (I will not be availing myself of these opportunities, given their dubious safety and legality; as a producer of intellectual property, I try not to collude in the likely theft of other people’s.)

Judging from the reviews in the British press, however, the show seems long on titillation – male nudity! Outdoor sex! Hints of brother-sister incest! – and short on the wit and subtlety that notably characterize the works of Jane Austen. (No big surprise, since screenwriter Andrew Davies has said he ran out of Austen material halfway through episode 1.) I’m withholding judgment until January, but it’s entirely possible that this billboard may turn out to be the best thing to come out of ITV’s Sanditon.

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 22 2019 01:00PM

For the past week or so, barely a day has passed without a story in the British press about the forthcoming eight-part television mini-series Sanditon, based on the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death.

Just in case anyone has missed the news, however, broadcaster ITV has commissioned a twelve-meter-wide billboard in the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth, which will be painted publicly over five days beginning Sunday, the day the show begins airing in Britain. (U.S. viewers will see the show sometime next year.) The acrylic-and-ink painting by artist David Downes “will recreate an illustrated version of the poster artwork for Sanditon,” according to press accounts of the project.

It’s not clear to me if this means that Downes’ painting will mirror actual publicity for the television show or be designed to look like publicity for the fictional seaside resort where the story takes place. Either seems possible. In any case, the billboard will stay up for three weeks once it’s finished, providing plenty of opportunities for further panting press coverage.

Downes, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and is a vice president of the UK’s National Autistic Society, describes himself as “a landscape painter who amplifies the sense of place and time through the lens of autism.”

Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, one of the people I profiled in Among the Janeites, argues that many of the characters in Pride and Prejudice can be understood as on the autistic spectrum, but as far as I know she’s never diagnosed any of the people in Sanditon. Still, you never know what we’re going to get in the ITV version: Screenwriter Andrew Davies has said he used up Austen’s material halfway through Episode 1.

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