Roush Review: You'll Want More of 'Sanditon's Quintessential Austen Heroine

Matt Roush
SANDITON
Review PBS

You want pride? And some aggravating prejudice? Masterpiece knows just what the Jane Austen fan desires, having exhausted the beloved author's canon (adapting some titles more than once).

With the eight-part (you'll want more) romantic drama Sanditon, the PBS staple tackles Austen's last novel, for which she wrote only 11 chapters before dying in 1817. Luckily, the prolific Andrew Davies has the witty sense and sensibility to carry the story forward, concocting a delightful diversion that feels to her manner born.

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Charlotte Heywood (the effervescent Rose Williams) is a quintessential Austen heroine, a plucky farmer's daughter introduced to a wider world of passionate intrigue when invited to the title seaside town. She's taken under the wing of the family of Tom Parker (Kris Marshall), a reckless dreamer who's heavily invested in turning Sanditon into a fashionable resort where sea bathing is the rage — for men, we're talking skinny-dipping.

Instantly beguiled by a colorful community of knaves and fools in a society where most relationships are calculated and transactional, Charlotte charms nearly everyone — even the cantankerous dowager Lady Denham (the appallingly amusing Anne Reid), whose money everyone covets. But Charlotte's outspoken nature quickly alienates Tom's aloof, arrogant and, inevitably, to-swoon-for brother, Sidney (a seductively soulful Theo James). This dashing Darcy by another name comes to town as guardian to exotic West Indian heiress Miss Lambe (Crystal Clarke), who finds a kindred spirit in the willful, restless Charlotte.

(Courtesy of © Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019)

Issues of class and race factor into Sanditon's bustling subplots, adding a flourish of Dickensian realism to the high romance. And things take a decidedly dark turn in the sordid triangle of Lady Denham's avaricious nephew, Edward (Jack Fox); his waspish and lusty stepsister, Esther (a riveting Charlotte Spencer); and Lady D's impoverished but hardly innocent ward, Clara (Lily Sacofsky).

Throughout, events contrive to bring Charlotte and Sidney together: in a medical crisis, at a cricket match and, of course, whenever there's an elegant ball. A bittersweet ending suggests there's more story that could be told, but for now, that's all she (and especially Davies) wrote.

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Sanditon, Series Premiere, Sunday, January 12, 9/8c, PBS (check your local listings at pbs.org)