We’ve been giving some more thought to the Sanditon series announced as in production by ITV/Masterpiece. We know some people are really excited about this, because they love Jane Austen and movies and Jane Austen movies. Our Gentle Readers may be surprised to learn that we really don’t enjoy being Ol’ Negative Mags*, and that we certainly don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun; but we really, really love the little bit of Sanditon that Jane Austen left us, and just want any screen presentation to be worthy of it. Pretty people in period costumes and a story that is kind of Austenish are not enough.
Upon further thought, however, perhaps fidelity is not the thing to be looking for. Perhaps adaptation itself is the wrong word.
The thing we found most amazing and yet troubling about the description of the series was that it is to be eight one-hour episodes. Eight sumptuous one-hour episodes, but still eight episodes. What adaptation of Sanditon could possibly take eight hours to tell? And then we realized that this is not an adaptation of a set work, with a beginning and middle and end. It’s Austen Abbey.
Downton Abbey was a huge hit for ITV and Masterpiece, as we’re sure you are all aware. Period-set series then became A Thing as they desperately tried to once again capture the magic. Auntie Beeb beat out ITV in the Really Popular Series sweepstakes with the success of Poldark, though Masterpiece got in on that one on this side of the pond. However, the Poldark producers are making noise about maybe doing one more season and then calling it a wrap, so another Sunday night blockbuster series must be found. Enter Andrew Davies and Sanditon.
We suspect this series is not an adaptation of Sanditon as such. It will be a series of episodes loosely based on Jane Austen’s fragment, using the situation and characters, but the plot made up out of whole cloth (with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl heroine to boot). And if it’s successful–and how can it not be with the Jane Austen BrandTM attached to it–there will be a series two, and a series three, and maybe a couple of more until the plots twists itself beyond recognition and becomes something ludicrous and grotesque, and eventually it peters out and the makers move on to the next shiny thing.
For some reason, we are not as apprehensive about such a series as we would be about a more standard adaptation with a plot such as has been described. We are not sure why; perhaps we are feeling mellow this evening after enjoying several glasses of the best iced tea in the universe (seriously, we drink this stuff by the gallon all summer here at AustenBlog World HQ) but this appears to be, for all intents and purposes, fan fiction. And we like fan fiction. We write fan fiction. Of course if we wish to be perfectly honest, some fan fiction is better than other fan fiction, and some of it is not precisely bad but simply not to our taste. Thus it may be for Sanditon, and it makes us a little sad. We are of the opinion that Sanditon would have been Jane Austen’s best novel to that point, had she lived to finish it. We fear this series, made with an eye to ratings and thus catering to an audience that craves Dramah with a capital D, will not do it justice.
That being said, if they can score Maggie Smith to play Lady Denham, we would be a great deal more willing to tune in.
*But we do enjoy snarking the deserving.