Even before “Sanditon” reached America two years ago, PBS had a dilemma.
Like virtually everything on “Masterpiece Theatre,” this was a global project, with a British network paying more and getting it first. And that network had already decided not to do a second season.
“We knew that (it) had been canceled before it even aired on ‘Masterpiece,’” Susanne Simpsons, the “Masterpiece” producer, said in a Television Critics Association virtual press conference.
The new season (shown here) finally returns March 20, but she was taking a chance: If there never was a second year, characters would have been left hanging; viewers would have been bitter. Since this is based on a novel that Jane Austen had barely started before her death in 1817, they couldn’t check a book to see how it ends.
“Masterpiece” launched that first year, while scrambling. “Our conversations about how to bring the series back actually started a little bit before the series was a great success for us,” Simpson said.
That became a long conversation, rounding up new British investors; it was also complicated by the pandemic. The second season finally starts March 20, more than two years after the first ended. Along the way, several key actors dropped out.
That started with Theo James as Sidney Parker, who spent the first season as the love interest (and verbal sparring partner) of Charlotte Heywood, the show’s heroine. “Theo made it very clear he didn’t want to come back,” said Justin Young, a “Sanditon” writer-producer.
When the first season ended, Sidney was leaving to marry a rich woman; now the writers knew he wouldn’t return. They decided to tell viewers right away, Young said. “It gave us this enormous emotional event at the beginning” of the second season.
Then they re-populated the show with young men – a somber landowner who needs a nanny for his daughter and niece … a self-obsessed artist … and an entire unit of redcoat soldiers.
Other actors had also dropped out. They played Diana Parker, Sidney’s hypochondriac sister … James Stringer, a foreman who loved Charlotte from afar … Lord Babington, an empty-headed man of means … and Mrs. Griffiths, visiting with three young charges.
But most actors returned, including the two key women – Rose Williams as Charlotte and Crystal Clarke as Georgina Lambe, a biracial 17-year-old who will be rich she turns 18. Like Charlotte, she speaks bluntly. “I have a tendency to just say what’s on my mind anyway, in real life,” Clarke said.
Such bluntness makes Austen women popular, but now it gets a counterpoint: That’s the arrival of Charlotte’s younger sister, whose only interest is marrying a guy with looks and money. “That wide-eyed innocence” is sort of the way Charlotte used to be, Young said, showing how far she’s evolved.
Charlotte has been through a lot, Williams said; people can relate to her two centuries later. She’s “like the whole planet (that) went through so much” in 2020 and can “come back with a fresh perspective.”