It would be a stretch to call Sanditon a Jane Austen adaptation, as the writer’s unfinished final novel ran out of road midway through episode one. But like those amber-preserved mosquitos in Jurassic Park, the 11 chapters she did leave behind contain all the DNA required to grow a complete new Austen story.
It’s all there in the set-up: the wise, headstrong, progressive heroine (Charlotte Heywood - a star-making turn from Rose Williams); the brusque, stand-offish hero (Theo James’ brooding Sidney Parker); the indomitable grand dame (Lady Denham, played with gimlet-eyed relish by the great Anne Reid), the dirty rotten cad (Jack Fox giving it the full ding-dong Terry Thomas act as Edward Denham) and a plot that turns on the eternal Austen preoccupations of love and money.
But it’s also very much an Andrew Davies production, and Britain’s literary sexer-upper-in-chief is up to all his usual mischief, including an assignation in the woods that must have had hardcore Jane-ites reaching for the smelling salts. This week’s second episode, meanwhile, ended with an outrageously cheeky nod to his own reputation, as Charlotte stumbled across Sidney emerging stark naked from the sea. At least Colin Firth got to keep his soggy breeches on.
And if you think the inclusion of a black character – Crystal Clarke’s Caribbean heiress Miss Lambe – is a well-meaning 21st century attempt to spread a little diversity among Austen’s porcelain white heroines, you’d be wrong: she’s right there in the original manuscript.
Sanditon itself is an under-construction seaside resort – Georgian England’s equivalent of a goldrush town – being spearheaded by entrepreneur Tom Parker (a Tiggerish Kris Marshall). It’s the perfect setting for Davies’ bracing, salty take on Austen, where the humour is as broad as the beach (‘And then he has the effrontery to handle my pineapple!’ complained Lady Denham this week) and the bosoms as heaving as the dunes.
‘Seaside towns can be odd places,’ warned Charlotte’s father. ‘The normal rules of conduct tend to be relaxed, sometimes even flouted.’ Naturally, his daughter thought this terribly exciting. I think viewers might be quite excited too.
Poldark (BBC iPlayer)
And so Poldark ended its final run the only way it could: with Demelza standing on a cliff, gazing wistfully out to sea as Ross embarked on another heroic-slash-reckless adventure. That followed a busy 20-minute dash to the finish that found room for a duel, a pregnancy, a birth, a thwarted French invasion of Cornwall and, most surprising of all, evil George Warleggan suddenly discovering his conscience. After five series, it had probably run its course – but we’ll miss it all the same.
It’s a measure of Taskmaster’s runaway success that this week’s new series is the ninth since 2015, with David Baddiel, Ed Gamble, Jo Brand, Katy Wix and Rose Matafeo the new intake playing silly parlour games for the amusement ofBig Greg Davies and Little Alex Horne. If I tell you this week’s tasks includedhiding three aubergines and drawing a snake on a toilet roll, you’ll see it’s not exactly exactly University Challenge. But it is enormous, silly fun.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, 5 September, 2019
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