Sanditon – ITV. Wrong ending.

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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.

 

Sanditon – ITV

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I really wanted to enjoy this, especially with Poldark finishing; and I did, but with a lot of reservations. On the positive side, I loved how Andrew Davies had interpreted the characters and their friendships. Lady Denham was superb, Charlotte Heywood appealing and Miss Denham gloriously bitchy; and Sidney Parker displayed traits of both Mr Darcy and Mr Knightley. On the negative side, he’d gone so overboard in trying to “sex it up” that I got the distinct feeling that he was more interested in trying to grab headlines than in entertaining viewers. Male nude bathing period during the Regency period, OK, but not streaking across the beach! The ball ended up more like the Oom-pah-pah scene from Oliver! than something from a Jane Austen book, the suggestions of incest were gratuitous; and Sir Edward Denham and Clara Brereton were supposed to be having a quiet private conversation, not getting up to all sorts in the woods. And a bit more humour wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, in between the shots of bare backsides and wild waltzing, plenty of interesting questions were posed as to how the story might pan out, and I’ll be sticking with it. But I don’t think we’ll still be talking about this in twenty years’ time.  Or even twenty weeks’ time.

The late Georgian era was not the Victorian era. Jane Austen’s books are hardly puritanical. Colonel Brandon’s childhood sweetheart had an illegitimate child and a string of lovers, Maria Rushworth (nee Bertram) left her husband and ran off with Henry Crawford, and Lydia Bennet was quite happy to live with Mr Wickham before they got married. But many of the scenes in last night’s episode just didn’t fit with her writing at all. They weren’t even historically accurate: the waltz was still considered quite shocking in 1816, when the book was set (the manuscript makes the date clear, although last night’s programme didn’t), and wouldn’t have been danced by unmarried couples at a respectable ball. And they weren’t even attractive. Mr Darcy in a wet shirt – yes. Ross Poldark scything with no top on – yes. Bare bums jiggling about on the shore – er, no, thanks.

Bare bums aside, this was always going to beg a lot of questions because Jane Austen was only able to write so little of the story before her final illness. What there is of the book tells us virtually nothing about some of the characters, and we have no real idea how everything was going to unfold or whom she intended to end up with whom. It’s also different from her other books in that it centres on, as Lady Denham summed it up, “industry and enterprise”, rather than the world of the country gentry.

Andrew Davies has developed what we are told about the characters, and I like the way he’s done that. Charlotte was in on the action from the first, with plenty of Elizabeth Bennet’s liveliness but with a touch of Catherine Morland’s naivete, and made a very appealing heroine. Clara Brereton, played by Lily Sacofsky from Didsbury – quick shout out to a fellow Mancunian there 😉 – , was reminiscent of Jane Fairfax – although Jane wouldn’t have been getting up to no good in the woods. Sidney Parker, who’s presumably going to be the hero, was being rude like Mr Darcy, delivering lectures like Mr Knightley, and generally being all dark and handsome and brooding. Arthur Parker was a bit of a comic caricature, but a lot of Austen’s characters are like that – think Mr Collins, or Anne Steele. Sir Edward Denham was very slimy, and Esther Denham very bitchy – I was going to say like a more sophisticated version of Isabella Thorpe, but she didn’t even try to be friendly with anyone!

The one main character whom we haven’t really met yet is Miss Lambe, who, as Austen’s only non-white character, will inevitably attract a lot of attention from viewers and reviewers. All Austen really tells us about us is that she’s “sickly”, the word she uses to describe Anne de Bourgh, which isn’t promising at all – I’m afraid Austen had no patience with health problems! But it looks as if Davies has imagined her being rather more like Caroline Bingley – a bit snooty and very confident, and much more interesting than Anne de Bourgh! The star of the show, though, was Lady Denham, played by Anne Reid. Absolutely brilliant! Like the Dowager Countess of Grantham crossed with a Coronation Street battleaxe. I can’t rave about her enough! I bet she gets all the best lines. And good lines are much more important than streaking across beaches.

The 9pm on Sunday timeslot’s now iconic. It’s the period drama timeslot. But Beecham House was disappointing, the last series of Victoria was too full of historical inaccuracies, the final series (sob!!) of Poldark got rather silly and now it doesn’t look as if Sanditon‘s going to live up to the high standards set by earlier series either. Thank heavens for Gentleman Jack, which raised the bar right back up! I just wish the rest of this year’s period dramas had matched it. It doesn’t look as if this one’s going to. But there were some promising aspects to the first episode, and, hey, maybe it’ll get better!

 

Sanditon by Jane Austen (Facebook group reading challenge)

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The forthcoming ITV adaptation of this, Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, apparently includes three men skinny-dipping in the sea.  Austen did not actually write that scene 😉 .  She didn’t actually write very much of this at all, before she had to stop work due to ill-health.  I’m not sure what she’d have made of people reading her unfinished work, much less of people making up their own endings to it; but it’s a promising start, and not necessarily what you’d expect of Jane Austen.  It’s set in a Sussex seaside resort – it’d probably make a wonderful sitcom, the genuinely funny kind that we used to get in the ’70s and ’80s – and there’s quite a big cast.  It includes a mixed race character, which was a first for Austen, and a wealthy widow who’s the queen of the town of Sanditon.  Our heroine is Charlotte Heywood, who’s staying with family friends, there are various other young single people, and presumably they were all going to be paired off after various misunderstandings and revelations.  However, there just isn’t very much of it – Jane Austen set the scene, but sadly wasn’t able to get much further.

It helpfully refers to Waterloo, so we know that it’s set some time between the Battle of Waterloo, in June 1815, and early 1817, when Jane Austen had to give up writing.  It’s summer, so it must be the summer of 1816.  I do like to know when books are set, and, apart from Persuasion, her other books don’t make it clear!   So it’s set in peacetime – not that the wars ever seem to bother Austen characters very much – and it’s set during the Regency, the Prince Regent famously being very keen on Brighton.  We don’t know exactly where Sanditon is, but it’s somewhere near Brighton and Eastbourne, but, unlike them, at this point fairly undeveloped.  There are all sorts of glorious Austen sarcastic remarks … oops, I mean “ironic” remarks.  We did Northanger Abbey at school, and the teacher went berserk if anyone talked about Jane Austen being “sarcastic”.  “Ironic,” she would say indignantly.

Anyway.  There are lots of ironic remarks sending up the fad for sea air and sea bathing.  Health fads are nothing new – although most of us are unable to take advantage of any which involve going on holiday for weeks at a time!  I’m actually a great believer in sea air, but, as this book delights in pointing out, at that time there were a lot of hypochondriacs who decided that they had all sorts of ailments which sea air and sea bathing would cure, and Jane Austen did love to poke fun at people she saw as being a bit daft.

Unusually, the book doesn’t start with the heroine, but with an initially unnamed lady and gentleman whose carriage overturns in the Sussex countryside.  They turn out to be Mr and Mrs Parker: Mr Parker is an entrepreneur who’s hoping to make Sanditon the next “in” seaside place.  This is really something different for Austen: she didn’t normally “do” entrepreneurs.  They’re helped out by the Heywoods, and they, apart from having 14 children (13 of whom aren’t even named) are a more typical Austen family – gentry, but of limited means.  The Parkers take Charlotte Heywood, one of the daughters, back to Sanditon with them.  They’re desperate to get tourism going in Sanditon, and news of any new arrival is greeted with great excitement.

Charlotte was clearly set to be the main character, but the book doesn’t revolve around her in the way that Austen’s other books revolve around their heroines.  There’s a lot about Lady Denham, the aforementioned wealthy widow, and her niece, the sweet and beautiful but dowerless Clara Brereton.  Then there’s Miss Lambe, the “half mulatto” 17-year-old West Indian heiress, who like Anne de Bourgh is extremely rich but sickly.  She’s one of a group of schoolgirls spending the summer in Sanditon, but we don’t really get chance to know any of them.  Assorted other characters arrive in Sanditon, but, before Austen was able to do anything much other than set the scene, that was it: she wasn’t able to write any more.  It’s not even clear who was going to be the hero.

How very frustrating!   I’m sure Andrew Davies has done a good job of it, but we’ll never know what Jane Austen intended to happen – and that’s a shame, because it was shaping up to be very good, and also a bit different from her other books.  I’ve read them all so many times that I practically know them off by heart, but, for some reason, I’d never read this one before.  The Sunday night 9pm slot, the famous Downton Abbey slot, always gets people talking, so, once the ITV series gets going, I’m sure that Sanditon will be being talked about everywhere!  But, in terms of what Jane Austen actually wrote, there isn’t really very much to say.  Unfulfilled promise!