We’ve made it to the end of Crappy Pride and Prejudice! How do you all feel? Pissed off? Used? Frustrated as hell? Yeah, me too.
Let’s explore those feelings.
Charlotte and Sidney are all loved up and enjoying kissy walks along the cliffs, despite Georgiana darkly warning Charlotte that she can’t believe a word Sidney says. She can’t? Why not? I hate it when characters say things like that and nobody pushes them on it. I mean, if you friend said that to you, wouldn’t you ask for some kind of explanation?
Not that it really comes to anything anyway.
Young Stringer is smart enough to realise he’s outgunned here, and gracefully bows out of the Charlotte running. He does have something to console him, though: the offer of an apprenticeship in London. He’s excited to go, and his dad’s a complete asshole about it, wondering why his son would ever want to leave Sanditon and then guessing it’s because of Charlotte that Young Stringer’s getting ideas above his station. They yell at each other, and Young Stringer leaves to go attend The Big Ball.
Meanwhile, Esther has moved into Lady Denham’s house but is proving not to be quite as pliable as Clara. Which Lady Denham doesn’t really seem to mind, to be honest. But when Lord Babington shows up to ask Esther out for a drive, her ladyship wastes no time hustling her niece out the door, despite Esther’s protestations.
Esther goes on the drive because she basically has no choice. She keeps a sourpuss firmly in place, and even though I like Babington, I can’t really blame her. It sucks to be shoved around in this manner, and she clearly sees that this is what her life’s going to be like now. Just as it always was, right? She doesn’t have enough money to be truly free. Though, as we’ll see, having money doesn’t guarantee freedom either.
Babington refuses to be put off by her attitude, and when she makes a comment about his carriage driving, he happily hands the reins over (symbolism!!!). She whips up the horses and seems to have a great time.
When she returns home, Lady Denham notes how happy she seems, though she tries to hide it. Lady D puts the pressure on Esther to marry Babington but Esther says she really shouldn’t, because she’ll never love him as much as he loves her. That’s pretty valid, actually. But Lady D insists it’s better to be loved than to be the one who loves the most. She follows this up with a story from her youth, of how she loved a young man who jerked her around and then married someone richer. Ok, then. Put a pin in that.
There’s a ball! Of course there’s a ball. We’ve had a lot of balls, haven’t we? Even for an Austen story. Everyone’s excited for this ball. Lots of romantic plans are afoot. Charlotte has a new dress and some cheering words from Mary Parker, who remembers being proposed to at a ball herself. Georgiana was planning to sit this one out, but then jolly Arthur Parker appears at her place and basically insists she go. Young Stringer is invited, which seems a bit unlikely, but there it is. He leaves his father finishing up some late work in one of the new terraces.
(Here, I got a bit confused. When we saw Old Stringer at work before, he was helping to move stone and I thought it was implied he was a mason or something like that. But here he’s doing some delicate painting work. So, what is his job? Is he a painter who was just helping out with stone moving because they were shorthanded? Maybe that’s it.)
As the ball commences, Old Stringer suffers from a heart attack in the room where he’s working, which is improbably lit with a TON of open-flame candles. Guys, candles were crazy expensive back then. So expensive that servants in posh homes had really good side businesses going selling the stubs. He’d be using lanterns or something similar for sure.
At the ball, there’s dancing! There’s merriment! Arthur trips the light fantastic with Georgiana and gets so out of breath that Diana insists they leave. What a wet rag that woman is.
I don’t know who Charlotte Spencer pissed off in the wardrobe department, but lord do they have Esther in the most unflattering dress. It’s this limp thing in a drab lavender-ish colour that might look kinda sorta ok on someone else, but is definitely NOT her colour. My goodness. She’s such a beautiful woman, how’d they screw that up? All of her other costumes have been great! And she’s meant to be making an effort here!
OK, the effort is, of course, for Babington, whom I guess she’s decided to go ahead and be in love with. Fine. He’s a nice guy, I like him, I like her, let’s let the two of them be rich, titled, and happy together.
But first, Edward has to come along to screech and embarrass himself and try to get Esther to admit she loves him. This briefly brings the ball to a halt, until Esther tearfully tells him to get lost and all the guys we like bundle the man onto the first carriage to London, on Lady Denham’s orders. Can she do that, though? Edward has a house here, which does, actually, belong to him, so she can’t just toss him London-ward at a whim, can she?
Esther, upset, runs off to be alone while everyone murmurs their sympathy. Babington, having disposed of her stepbrother, finds her being comforted by Charlotte. Charlotte makes herself scarce and Babington takes over comforting duties. Esther thinks he’ll want nothing to do with her, but of course he wants her more than ever now. He proposes, she accepts. Hurrah!
Charlotte finds Sidney on the balcony overlooking the dance floor where they had their scene back in the first episode. ‘At last, we can be alone,’ Sidney intones. Did I mention they are on a balcony overlooking the entire dance floor, in full view of everyone? Their notion of ‘alone’ is very different from mine.
They laugh over their last scene here, and Charlotte says she totally deserved what he said to her then.
Sidney and I, in unison: ‘No, you didn’t.’
While this is going down, Diana and Arthur are heading home, having spent all of about 10 minutes at the ball. Diana is whining and fretting about how Arthur’s going to marry Georgiana now and leave her all alone. Arthur guffaws and says he’s totally just friends with Miss Lambe, because he just doesn’t get women, you know? Of course the jolly, overweight guy doesn’t get to have a romance. Not only that, he’s basically being presented as completely asexual. Nice, show. How very progressive you are.
As they walk past the terrace where Stringer’s father was working, they spot flames in one of the buildings. Diana runs back to the ball to raise the alarm while Arthur starts hammering on doors nearby.
All this chaos interrupts what was clearly going to be a marriage proposal from Sidney. Everyone rushes out to try and help with the fire. Sidney even mans a hose! (Not a euphemism.) Despite their best efforts, the terrace is destroyed. And Stringer’s father is, of course, deceased.
Charlotte goes to visit Stringer the next day and offer her condolences. Young (well, I guess Only Stringer, now) tells her he’s not going to go to London after all, because he feels he owes it to his father to stick around and get this work done. The what now? Oh, come on! The only thing that might have kept you in Sanditon is your father, and he’s gone now, Stringer! Fly free! Live your life!
Meanwhile, the brothers parker (plus Diana) survey the damage. Sidney’s like, ‘well, this is a setback, but thank god for insurance, right?’
Heh. Yeah, that’d be useful, if Tom had ever bothered to insure the works, which he didn’t, because he’s an idiot and also a terrible money manager. So this terrace? Not getting rebuilt. Even when Arthur offers up his entire inheritance, which he hasn’t touched because, you know, no wife or family or anything, it’s not nearly enough. Tom needs at least £80K to get out of the hole. Yikes. It’s a sum so staggering even Sidney blanches, and he knew that Tom was in deep because he was the one trying unsuccessfully to get the banks to loan them more money.
Tom is F’d, if you’ll pardon the expression. Lady Denham’s threatening legal action and debtors’ prison. Sidney asks for a few days to try and set this all right. He climbs into a carriage and heads to London, after promising Charlotte that he’ll return in a week and they can, hopefully, continue their conversation.
Bizarrely, we get shots of Sidney in the carriage intercut with scenes from Old Stringer’s funeral. It’s so blatant I seriously thought that Sidney was going to die, which would be an unexpected ending to something with even a tenuous connection to Jane Austen.
He doesn’t die, which makes that previous sequence feel a little odd. I guess we were supposed to get a sense of foreboding out of it? Ok. He returns after a week, as promised, and hurrah! He’s somehow managed to save the day! Tom is elated that he can continue building homes no one seems to want, in a town no rich people seem all that interested in, using workmen whose wages are still behind. Yay!
But this, of course, has come at a price. Sidney breaks the news to Charlotte that he’s had to go ahead and propose to Eliza.
Yeah, let’s just take a moment to pick that apart.
First of all: considering Sidney left Sanditon apparently expecting to propose to Charlotte on his return, when and how did this plan get cooked up and put into effect? It obviously wasn’t his plan from the start, so what else did he try first? What was his intention, in going to London in the first place? He already knew the banks wouldn’t lend to them, so what did he do? Go knocking on friends’ doors? And then, failing that, did he go and propose to Eliza? Wouldn’t word have gotten back to him that he (or his family, rather) was in financial trouble?
Which brings us to the second thing: Sidney only proposed to this woman, whom he does not love (but who loves him, or, at least, seems to and thinks she does) solely in order to get his hands on her money. That makes me wonder: was there full disclosure here? Does Eliza know that’s why he’s marrying her? Somehow, I kind of doubt that. I didn’t get the impression she was so hopeless over him that she’d take him no matter what. That she’d be happy to buy him. Which means Sidney pretended to still be in love with her just so he can use her. So he can get her money (or, more likely, since they need the money pretty soon, so he can use her money to secure some more enormous loans from the bank, which will doubtless be paid back with her money) and hand it over to his feckless brother who has already blown eighty grand. Folks, Sidney is NOT A GOOD GUY. Eliza’s a snob and a bit mean, but she definitely doesn’t deserve that.
And Charlotte, of course, is heartbroken, although you think this’d be something of a wake-up call. Charlotte! He’s hot, but he’s not a great person! And don’t give me that “oh, but he’s doing it for his family so that makes it ok.” It does not. Using a woman who thinks she’s marrying the love of her life is not negated by doing it for your family.
Right on the back of that, we get a wedding! It’s time for Esther and Babington to tie the knot. It’s lovely, they’re crazy happy, it’s sweet! I’m glad to see them happy together, even if I do feel like her falling for him happened a bit suddenly.
Sidney’s brought Eliza as his date, which is kinda awkward for Charlotte, who nevertheless manages to keep it together enough to ask how his wedding plans are going. He responds that they’re “elaborate”. I refuse to feel sorry for him in any way. Eliza sidles up and comments that a big London society wedding is such a hassle to plan, maybe they should have just done something nice and simple in the countryside. But, she adds, that probably wouldn’t have suited either one of them. If they’re trying to make us hate Eliza enough to think what Sidney’s doing is totally fine, it’s not working. He’s lying to her in order to trap her in a marriage so he can steal her fortune. It’s as plain as that. If Jane Austen had actually written this, he’d totally be the villain.
Summer at Sanditon has finally come to an end. Everyone’s dispersing back to London, and Charlotte is being shipped back home, less sprightly but still having not figured out that hairpins are ok for daywear. She gets tearful hugs from Mary, and from the kids, and a manly tear sendoff from Tom. She’s sad Sidney isn’t there to say goodbye. Oh, honey. Don’t be.
Into the carriage she gets, but then, on some road outside town, the carriage suddenly stops, because here’s Sidney, just blocking the way with his horse instead of coming to see her off like a normal, not self-important person would. Oh, no, he has to make a big thing out of just… saying goodbye. Because that’s all he does. He wishes her well and that’s it. They do not get together. This whole thing was clearly a setup for a second season.
No. No no no. This does not deserve a second season. This didn’t even have enough to sustain an 8-episode first season. What would the second season even be? Edward continuing to harass Esther and mucking about with her new marriage? The further adventures of Clara Brereton? Georgiana continuing to pine after Otis? Tom spending himself into another hole? Do any of us really want to see any of that? Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I sure don’t. I don’t care about any of that. I feel like it’s all been tied up and dispensed with.
And I definitely don’t care anymore about Sidney. Or, to be honest, Charlotte. She was a nice girl, but kinda forgettable. And I know that this stopped being something that would even hang out in the neighbourhood of an Austen novel waaaay back in, probably, episode one, but since this has been touted as an Austen adaptation, I’m going to judge it as one, and I judge it as a failure.
This doesn’t seem to get Austen. She was a keen social satirist, but what was this satirizing? The dangers of being to close to one’s stepsibling? I guess you could view Sidney’s marrying for money as a kind of “shoe on the other foot” situation, given how women at the time were pressured to do the same, but it’s not really the same at all. He has a choice in the matter. He has his own money, he’s not facing down poverty himself. And upon marriage, he’d assume complete control over his wife’s property, so he’s really gaining in power, not facing losing it.
No way would Austen have written this guy as her hero. He has more in common with Willoughby than with Darcy. And we all agree that Willoughby’s not a great guy, right?
And as for Charlotte, well, as I said, she’s a nice girl. A sweet girl. But I don’t find Austen in her either. Austen heroines tend to start a story one way, and subtly change by the end. Basically, they mature, to varying degrees. And Charlotte’s not that different at the end. She doesn’t seem to have any lesson to learn the way Catherine Morland or Emma Woodhouse did. Everyone seems to agree that Charlotte’s just perfect the way she is, and Austen didn’t really do flawless heroines. Charlotte’s a bit sadder at the end, but that’s about it. Maybe one could argue that she’s reined in the impetuousness that led to her rushing off to London after Georgiana, but we don’t really see any evidence of that, so it’s impossible to say. There’s something really missing here.
Look, I’m not a miserable cow, there were some things I liked. Bringing in a character of colour (two, actually!) was interesting and refreshing in a period drama. I think more could have been done with them (and it’s too bad Otis had to be a degenerate gambler, but I’m glad he wasn’t just written to be some sort of angel, so that’s fair) but having them in the story (and yes, Georgiana is in the original Austen fragment) was interesting. I liked the music, though I was a bit sulky about it at the outset. I liked Charlotte Spencer’s performance starting about 2/3 of the way through. They hit a few Austen tropes right on: the buffoonish/slightly hysterical relatives or friends, the understanding older female relative/friend, the bitchy old lady, the affable B-romance good-guy.
But that’s not quite enough to call this a success. Not when the people at the centre of the story fail so badly to be proper Austen heroes. Not when the story lacks bite. Not when the ending is so far from anything Austen ever wrote (we can only speculate as to whether she ever would have written this ending, but probably not) that it utterly divorces itself from its original creator. An ending that was such an obvious, greedy setup by Andrew Davies to get another payday, I actually feel somewhat offended by it. This was mediocre, at best. And it doesn’t warrant a second season.