Andrew Davies gave Austen a touch of reality with ITV’s Sanditon – and I’m much vexed

Sidney Parker was not left “much improved” and neither was Austen’s unfinished tale

Sanditon

I won’t lie, I’m not a big Jane Austen fan. Whether that’s because I was forced to ingest Persuasion for A level or because she’s just too predictable and wordy, I don’t know.

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But what I do know is if I am reading Austen or watching an Austen adaptation I want what I expect: a happy ending. Austen without a neatly tied up conclusion is like Homer without Marge or Pam without Mick. It makes the world feel off kilter.

Millions of us invested hours-worth of Sunday evenings in the relationships of the residents of Sanditon, as passionately outspoken newcomer Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) found herself falling for brusque bachelor Sidney Parker (Theo James), leaving young Stringer (Leo Suter) lumbered with a case of unrequited love.

But writer Andrew Davies fooled us with his take on the unfinished novel. He hooked us in with brooding emotions, clifftop embraces and the promise of the classic they-hated-each-other-but-now-they’re-in-love romance, before shattering our expectations by casually marrying off Mr Parker to his stuck-up old flame Eliza Campion, leaving us feeling like we’d watched a doomed Hinge romance unfold rather than an Austen tale.

We know it’s unrealistic that Austen’s lovers always end up together: Mr Darcy and Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice), Mr Knightley and Emma (Emma), Edmund and Fanny (Mansfield Park) – you get the picture. But that’s just the way it is, you know who will end up with who and you can spot the plot hurdles from the off, so why change the rules with Sanditon?

We don’t want reality – we’ve all had enough failed romances and battled through enough bouts of unrequited love to know you don’t always get the guy, or girl. What we want is Sunday evening escapism.

Sanditon
Theo James and Rose Williams as Sidney Parker and Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon (ITV)

Yes, Sir Edward Denham got his comeuppance while his sister Esther finally found happiness with Lord Babington and this is classic Austen, but Charlotte needs her happy ending too. Be gone with your promise to Eliza, Mr Parker! We wanted him to throw caution to the wind, let his emotions steer his heart to Miss Heywood, sweep her out of that carriage, tell her she’s the one and gallop back to Sanditon to tie the knot.

But no, Sidney tells her “I don’t love her, you know” (of Eliza) as if that’s meant to make it better, before brazenly asking her not to “think badly” of him as he feebly lets her ride out of his life.

Davies clearly chose to tamper with Austen in order to leave the story open for a second series, but it could be too late to save this sorry tale. Sequel or not, do now think badly of Mr Parker, Charlotte. He’s an [insert expletive] and you need to go full on Lady Denham on him. If only her “exotic” mouldy pineapple was still hanging around. We know exactly where Charlotte could have put it.

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Sanditon is available to watch now on ITV Hub