This month’s announcement that Sanditon has been renewed for not just a second but also a third season was met with glee by devoted fans of the period drama.
Ever since the series’ debut on PBS’ Masterpiece in January 2020, viewers had been pining for more stories from the adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, which centers on Charlotte Heywood and her arrival in the new English seaside town of Sanditon during the Regency era.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the reaction to us making seasons two and three,” Masterpiece EP Susanne Simpson said. Sanditon will premiere on Masterpiece before becoming available on the streaming service BritBox in the U.K., then ITV.
Filming on season two is due to begin this summer, and Masterpiece is aiming for it to air in spring 2022. Instead of being eight episodes long, though, like the first season of Sanditon, Simpson said Masterpiece was able to secure funding only after determining that it could shoot two six-episode seasons back to back.
“If you’re shooting that many episodes at once, it helps with the cost per episode,” Simpson said. “That was, again, another solution for how to be able to fund a new series. It was just cost-effective to do two at once.”
ITV initially decided not to renew Sanditon in the weeks after the culmination of the show’s first season in October 2019. “It didn’t do as well in the U.K. as they had hoped,” said Simpson. But she felt confident that Masterpiece’s U.S. audience would adore screenwriter and creator Andrew Davies’ latest costume drama, especially as he’d penned adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
“We aired it in January knowing that our audience was going to love it,” Simpson said. “Over the last 50 years, Masterpiece has broadcast all of Jane Austen’s six novels. We just know our audience loves a good Jane Austen romance. So we weren’t surprised that it did really well.”
Each episode of Sanditon drew an average audience of around 7.7 million viewers, and, according to Simpson, it was Masterpiece’s best-rated show since the last season of Victoria in January 2019.
While Sanditon was airing in the U.S., Masterpiece started to try piecing together funding for further episodes. But it quickly became apparent that it would be too difficult to do so.
“After a brief hiatus, we slowly started to put a partnership together in the U.S. with Masterpiece, PBS and PBS Distribution. All three of us were very interested in seeing if there was a way to get funding from the U.K. to bring it back,” said Simpson. “It just took time. Costume dramas are very expensive. We slowly found solutions to different things, like coming up with the idea to do two seasons at once.”
Red Planet, the U.K.-based producer of the series, pulled together funding, Simpson said. Partners included Masterpiece, PBS, PBSd, BritBox, ITV and BBC Studios.
The Sanditon Sisterhood swings into action
Simpson said that she, PBS CEO Paula Kerger and PBS Distribution’s co-presidents, David Bernstein and Andrea Downing, were the key people in pushing for Sanditon’s return. In addition, an army of devoted fans known as the Sanditon Sisterhood had already mobilized online and garnered a huge swell of support.
A founding member of the social media campaign was Vasantha Narayanswami. Having originally taken to Facebook to dissect each episode with Sanditon fans around the world, it was only natural that she would crusade for the show’s reinstatement, which she did alongside her job as a financial educator in Surrey, England.
“The fans have a combination of reasons for being on the campaign,” said Narayanswami. “But, for me, it was very much because the history is so pertinent and relevant to society at the moment and how we’re going to progress from now,” she said, especially when it comes to Sanditon’s exploration of race, abuse, identity and marriage.
“Andrew Davies said that his intention behind Sanditon was to address sensitive issues that have not been addressed in a lot of period-costume dramas, because Austen was a social changer,” said Narayanswami.
As Narayanswami focused on social media, another fan began a Change.org petition for a second season of Sanditon. Narayanswami began tweeting signees’ comments, which helped to draw hundreds more signatures every day. She believes that all of the petitions for Sanditon’s renewal drew a total of around 100,000 signatures. Fans also discuss the show in numerous WhatsApp and Meetup groups.
Simpson said she “loves the enthusiasm” from the Sanditon Sisterhood and added that public television stations have responded positively as well. “I got quite a few emails from people saying they were thrilled that it was coming back,” Simpson said. “It was nice to have that kind of excitement level, not only at the fandom level, but also among the system. We’re so glad to see the support. We hope the same enthusiasm will be there for seasons two and three.”
One of those who reached out to Masterpiece was Sherri Walton, program manager at Idaho Public Television. Walton told Current that she was delighted to learn of Sanditon’s return, especially because numerous viewers had contacted her distraught by its cancellation.
“You always want your viewers to feel good about their viewing experiences, and you never want them to feel like they’ve wasted their time or were left hanging on a cliffhanger because then they might be less likely to invest their time in the future if we don’t finish stories,” Walton said. “I, too, didn’t feel like Sanditon’s story had quite ended, and I wanted more of the characters, the story and the setting. So I just felt glad for our viewers that it’s going to continue, because it didn’t feel finished.”
Farewell to Sidney Parker
Not everything will be the same when Sanditon hits screens again, though. Days after the new seasons were confirmed, Theo James, who portrayed Sidney Parker, Charlotte’s main love interest, revealed that he would not be returning. Simpson said that due to the delay in making season two of Sanditon, James had moved onto other projects and it was “really not possible for him to come back at this time.”
“He felt that what he brought to the character in that first season was what he thought the storyline should be for Sidney Parker,” Simpson said. “I think he feels that he’s done that. Now he’s making room in some ways for Charlotte to have potential other love interests. The hallmark of any Jane Austen series is romance. This just opens up more possibilities in the second and third season.”
Justin Young is now in charge of developing the new seasons of Sanditon in his role as EP and lead writer. Simpson said Young, who wrote four episodes of the first season, has a “gift for witty and humorous dialogue” and will bring the “hallmarks of Jane Austen’s writing” to life.
Davies will once again write several episodes and consult on both seasons as an EP, while award-winning playwright Janice Okoh has joined the writing room. Simpson said Masterpiece has vowed to “really make a commitment to bringing in diverse writers, filmmakers and cast into its productions” and is “really pleased” to do so with Sanditon.
With filming still months away, Simpson said little about what future installments will bring. She did say that “Charlotte is certainly growing up” and that viewers can “look forward to her going on a journey of discovering who she is and what she wants out of life.”
“Like any good Jane Austen novel, what’s so interesting about it are the women characters who really find their voice and their purpose and what they stand for,” said Simpson. “I would say that we’ll see that happen in these next two seasons.”
This article has been updated with details of the second season’s premiere dates in the U.S. and U.K.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that BritBox and ITV are aiming for the second season of Sanditon to be available in spring 2022. The dates have not yet been determined.