The endings of Jane Austen’s books aren’t always entirely convincing – you really do have to suspend your credulity with Sense and Sensibility, when Lucy Steele goes off with her fiance’s brother and Marianne Dashwood suddenly decides she’s in love with Colonel Brandon after having spent practically the entire book being in love with Willoughby – but they are always happy. Everyone gets married and, we presume, lives happily ever after. That is how Jane Austen books finish. And that is how Sanditon would have finished, had she lived long enough to finish writing it. Sunday night, 9 o’clock, period drama time. Three people had been stabbed in the Arndale Centre, Turkey had invaded Syria, no-one was doing anything about Yemen, United’s season was going from bad to worse … I needed escapism. Me and everyone else. That’s what Sunday night period drama is for.
That meant Charlotte marrying Sidney, Esther marrying Lord Babington, some sort of redemption for Clara, and, possibly, Georgiana marrying Arthur. Charlotte and Sidney were obviously the main couple, but I also had my fingers crossed for daft-but-sweet Arthur winning the heart and hand of the beautiful heiress and proving that fat people can have happy endings (authors generally reserve them for thin people) too. The only snag was that there wasn’t a partner for nice young James Stringer, but he’d been offered a good job so he was still getting a happy ending of sorts. And Sanditon had been saved, by Sophie Winkleman making it the centre of high society and strongly hinting that she’d bring members of the Royal Family to visit. Well, she *is* married to the Queen’s cousin. Sorted. Or, at least, it should have been. But it wasn’t. What on earth did Andrew Davies think he was playing at? Sorry – not funny, not clever. Just wrong. It feels like a school bully’s played a nasty practical joke and is taking great pleasure in having spoilt things for the rest of the class 😦 .
To be fair, Esther and Lord Babington did get married, and, hopefully, lived happily ever after. It wasn’t very clear what had happened to Clara, but, OK, she wasn’t my priority. James had been offered an apprenticeship to an architect. Georgiana and Arthur were smiling and laughing and dancing together, and she even patted his arm. He told his sister that he didn’t understand women and couldn’t imagine being married, but obviously he was just saying that, right? Sidney kept trying to propose to Charlotte but kept being interrupted, but clearly this was just to heighten the suspense. Finally, they were alone together, and he was just about to ask … and then Esther’s stupid brother caused a scene, and Sidney had to go and chuck him out (could someone else not have done this)?
Now, we’d already seen that Mr Stringer senior had accidentally started a fire. So presumably someone was going to be heroic and save him. Maybe Sidney, to make himself look even more dashing (in a brooding kind of way) and attractive? Or perhaps Arthur, thus impressing Georgiana? Or maybe even Edward, to redeem himself? No. Andrew Davies just had to spoil it. Stringer senior was burnt to death. Poor, lovely Stringer junior, who’d argued with him just beforehand, was left guilt-ridden, grief-stricken, and feeling obliged to give up his new job. And stupid Tom Parker hadn’t paid the insurance.
So how were the Parkers going to pay for the rebuilding? Well, obviously, Georgiana would marry Arthur, and lend her new brother-in-law the money. Not that there was any reason why Georgiana’s money should have had to be spent on sorting out Tom’s mess, but it seemed to be the only reason all this’d happened. In the meantime, Sidney took off to London, but told Charlotte that they would finish their “conversation” (i.e. the proposal) when he got back. Whilst it was pretty mean to kill off poor Mr Stringer, I couldn’t believe that at least Charlotte and Sidney weren’t going to get their happy ending, and hopefully Georgiana and Arthur too.
Then … oh FFS, how many more twists in the tale did Davies think we needed? Sidney got back, and announced that he was going to marry his rich ex, Eliza Campion. She who’d dumped him for someone much richer, and then been widowed … and had hoped to get back with him before he’d made it clear he wanted to marry Charlotte. It wasn’t even convincing. If she was so keen on him that she was prepared to marry him presumably knowing that he was only after her money, why hadn’t she married him in the first place? No matter – surely it was only a twist in the tale. As soon as Georgiana decided to marry Arthur, and offered to lend Tom the money, Sidney would be free to marry Charlotte.
And, hooray! At the last minute, as Charlotte was on her way home, her coach was stopped, on a very dramatic-looking clifftop, by a man on horseback. And, whaddaya know, it was Sidney!! Yay!! He’d come to tell her that it was all sorted. Or even that he’d decided to leave Tom to sort out his own financial mess, which, TBH, you couldn’t have blamed him for. Expecting your brother to dump his true love and marry someone else because you tried to cut costs by not paying the insurance is pushing it a bit, by anyone’s standards.
No. Andrew Davies was just enjoying getting everyone’s hopes up. Sidney said that he’d come to say goodbye. Then he rode off. And Charlotte, presumably, went home. Scarlett O’Hara would have proclaimed that tomorrow she’d find a way to get him back, but Charlotte was too nice to do anything that would’ve stopped dozy Tom from being able to rebuild Sanditon. So she didn’t say anything. And that was it.
As I said, not funny, not clever. I’m sure Davies thought he was being very clever, but he really wasn’t. Come on, give us a break. There’s enough misery in the world. We wanted escapism. We wanted a happy ending. This was Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, so it should have been given a Jane Austen-esque ending. ITV were happy enough to take her name in vain to publicise it. Maybe the idea is that there’s going to be a second series. The Arthur-Georgiana situation was left unresolved as well, and a lot of Sanditon itself needs rebuilding, so there’s scope for one – but Jane Austen books don’t have sequels. They end with the heroine getting her man/the heroines getting their men. They don’t end like this.
No doubt some smirking or earnest types will tell us that real life doesn’t usually throw up happy endings and that we shouldn’t be so pathetic as to want them for fictional characters, but we do. This isn’t real life. That’s the whole point. It’s escapism. And Andrew Davies just spoilt it for us. Not clever. Not funny. Just nasty. Like a school bully playing a nasty trick and getting a kick out of spoiling things for everyone else. That’s just how this feels – like a school bully’s made fun of us all. Not impressed, Mr Davies. Not impressed at all.