By Jane Austen, completed by Marie Dobbs
Producers Guy de Beaujeu, Madalena Hudson, Simon Reade
Screenplay Simon Reade (Journey's End, Private Peaceful)
The first eleven chapters of Sanditon were written between January 27 and March 18, 1817. By then Jane Austen was seriously ill and unable to continue. She died on July 18, 1817.
The manuscript was bequeathed to her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy and wasn’t published until 1925. It was original entitled ‘The Brothers’ and was only changed to Sanditon by the family after her death.
Four of her novels were published in her lifetime; Sense & Sensibility (1811), Pride & Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1818.
Tom Parker has a dream – to transform the sleepy South Coast village of Sanditon into a fashionable, bustling seaside health resort, whatever the weather. One of life's eternal optimists, he puts his faith into his fellow man's incurable hypochondria, cheerfully hoping to cash in on their misery.
But even when his coach and horses crash into a farmland ditch, he doesn't stop to ask if he was going too far, too fast. It's likely his venture, too, will take a tumble.
Undaunted, Tom Parker repays the hospitality of the gentleman farmer on whose land he crashed, by inviting the farmer’s daughter, Charlotte, to spend the summer season at Sanditon. Thus the old world and the new, the natural and the artificially constructed, collide in a coruscating satire on a (not so) polite society on the make.
Sanditon is a hive of activity – property speculation, tea-room development, seafront opportunists and medical quackery. Or it would be if it had any visitors.
Not one to suffer fools, twice-widowed entrepreneur Lady Denham believes she is being fleeced by most of her family and by Tom Parker. She also suspects the motivations of her impoverished ward, the captivating Clara, who seems oddly content to endure the lascivious attentions of the lecherous Sir Edward, Lady Denham’s nephew.
Tom Parker’s family is a collection of meddling hypochondriacs who finally agree to visit for the summer, but not for their health as they don’t believe in sea air (more in the comfort of toast and hot chocolate). Instead they visit to help make Sanditon look busy for their brother.
Through a series of comic misunderstandings they have also invited a Mrs Griffiths down from London with her three charges – the silly, fashion-obsessed twins, the Miss Beauforts; and the beautiful, but (genuinely) sickly Miss Lambe, a very wealthy West Indian heiress.
Lady Denham quickly identifies the rich but ailing Miss Lambe as the perfect wife for Sir Edward, putting aside her prejudice for financial expediency.
Like all Austen heroines, Charlotte watches the comings-and-goings of this crazy self-indulgent world with increasing incredulity; her common sense and strong notions of morality seemingly at odds with those around her. But, like Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennett, Catherine Morland and Eleanor Dashwood before her, Charlotte is not as worldly as she might think and things are not always as they appear.
Into this heady seaside mix comes young Sidney Parker, Tom’s dashing 21 year old brother, who brings a London insouciance and social daring to Sanditon. He mocks all those around him, including Charlotte, for their country simplicity.
To her great surprise, Charlotte finds herself falling in love with Sidney, but is he all that he seems? He brings two friends to Sanditon – the feckless Reginald and Henry, the jilted lover, en route to self-imposed exile in the East Indies.
Soon Charlotte begins to wonder if she is simply an unwitting pawn in one of Sidney’s elaborate games, particularly as he seems overly solicitous of the beautiful Clara. Moreover, he is being chased by Sir Edward’s vampish sister, Miss Denham.
To release her heart from Sidney’s hot and cold affections, Charlotte announces she will shortly return home to her father's farm. But not before Sanditon’s first ball, to be held at the new assembly rooms.
Sanditon’s story strands unravel during the ball and its aftermath – Miss Lambe is engaged to Arthur, (Sidney and Tom Parker's hypochondriac brother). Clara reveals she has been in love with her cousin Henry forever and is to elope with him to India. Sir Edward is enraged.
In revenge for Clara’s deception, Sir Edward kidnaps Charlotte (who is in the wrong place at the wrong time), and attempts to ravish her in the back of his coach – but as luck would have it, it crashes into the very same ditch Tom Parker's coach and horses tumbled into, delivering Charlotte back into the safety of her family.
Sidney comes galloping to Charlotte's rescue and declares his true love.
And as the autumnal skies gather overhead, Tom Parker and Lady Denham are left in the vain hope that next year's season at the deserted Sanditon resort may bring even sunnier times.
© Fluidity Films 2023