• Deborah Yaffe

Be careful what you wish for

The #Sisterhood, it seemed, had won.


For more than a year, the online fandom known as the #SanditonSisterhood has lobbied tirelessly for a second season of Sanditon, the canceled PBS-ITV series based (oh-so-loosely) on the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. #Sisterhood members tweeted with abandon. They commissioned sand art. They launched a Change.org petition that drew more than eighty-eight thousand signatures.


They refused to accept as final the series’ cliffhanger ending, in which Our Heroine, Charlotte Heywood, and Our Hero, Sidney Parker, parted sadly -- atop a literal cliff! -- as he went off to save his family from financial ruin by marrying a richer woman. As the fan petition noted, the ending was very un-Jane Austen. Also “unfair, unjust, and unsatisfying.” “Give Charlotte and Sidney their happily ever after(s),” the petitioners urged.


And last week, the #Sisterhood’s wishes seemed to be granted: PBS announced that the series had been renewed for two more seasons, in partnership with BritBox and ITV. The fans exulted: “There are thousands of us crying tears of joy,” one tweeted. “Finally someone will fix this!!!!” another added, over a GIF of a devastated-looking Sidney, taken from the show’s closing minutes.


Umm. . . about that. . .


The celebrations had barely subsided before PBS announced that, actually, there was one teensy detail they had omitted to mention the day before: Theo James, the dishy actor who played Sidney, would not be returning for the new seasons of Sanditon.


“Although I relished playing Sidney, for me, I’ve always maintained that his journey concluded as I wanted it to,” James wrote in a message tweeted out by PBS's Masterpiece. “The broken fairy-tale like ending between Charlotte and Sidney is different, unique and so interesting to me.”


Pardon my skepticism.


I suppose it’s possible that when Theo James signed on to this enterprise, he told his agent, “Even though the last episode is clearly written as a To Be Continued trailer for a later season, and even if this show becomes a monster Downton Abbey-style hit, I will not return to play the heartthrob hero. No matter how much money they offer me, I will preserve my artistic integrity; I have no interest in becoming known for the kind of iconic TV role that gets you turned into a life-sized cake twenty-five years down the road.”


Yes, it is possible that this conversation took place. I suspect, however, that what really happened is that Theo James, concluding that a back-from-the-dead Sanditon would never amount to more than a niche product, decided his career would be better served elsewhere. Which is entirely his right, of course, but spare me the claims about his deep commitment to the character's "journey."


Meanwhile, as AustenBlog's indispensable Maggie Sullivan notes, we probably owe the return of Sanditon more to the success of Netflix’s megahit Regency soap opera Bridgerton than to the undeniable passion of what is, in TV-audience terms, a very small group of fans. But never mind. If the #Sisterhood can be happy with a Sidney-less Sanditon, I wish them well.


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