Sanditon Returns to PBS

After an abrupt cancellation and a fan-demanded revival, PBS builds upon Jane Austen's infamous, incomplete romance in season two

After an abrupt cancellation and a fan-demanded revival, PBS builds upon Jane Austen’s infamous, incomplete romance in season two

Even without the original author around to finish it, the saga of Sanditon continues. Season two of PBS’s Masterpiece drama—inspired by Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel—premieres Sunday, as young Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) makes her way back to the titular seaside resort that’s on the cusp of major change in early 19th-century England.

She’s determined as ever to carve out her own, bold path in a society that thrives on convention, especially when it comes to marriage. But while Charlotte resists, her sister Alison (new addition Rosie Graham) can’t wait to find a husband.

Wedlock options are supplied by young soldiers fighting in the Napoleonic Wars (two of them portrayed by series newcomers Tom Weston-Jones and Maxim Ays), but heiress Georgiana Lambe (returnee Crystal Clarke) also has her focus elsewhere as a social activist. While Anne Reid, Kris Marshall and Kate Ashfield are also back, one original Sanditon star is glaringly absent, since Theo James opted not to return as Charlotte’s primary love interest Sidney Parker. (You can look forward to seeing the actor on another sweeping romance: HBO’s upcoming adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife, opposite The Good Fight‘s Rose Leslie.)

In fact, there was no certainty Sanditon itself would last beyond a single season, until PBS took the lead financially, after the show first aired on England’s ITV network. “I knew that it was going to be a huge hit for us, and it was,” says Masterpiece exec producer Susanne Simpson. “Certainly, having the kinds of fans that just really loved the show and were very vocal about it was very important to us. I think that really spurred us on.”

Actress Williams confirms she was “really, really glad for the opportunity” to move her character’s story forward. “I suppose in this industry, you get used to things going away when it comes to auditions or second seasons. I have done shows that got cancelled quite out of the blue. I know that feeling. With Sanditon, it was special and different because I had kind of wholly accepted that it wouldn’t be continuing. So it is really magic to come back with a fresh perspective, feeling like stepping into the shoes of Charlotte in a second chapter.”

Of course, head writer Justin Young had to invent even more for season two than he did for season one, but believes his team has stayed true to Austen’s voice. “The starting point obviously was a fragment of a novel,” Young reflects, “so in some ways, you are borrowing another writer’s style. You are channelling Jane Austen. The show has developed its own momentum, and the characters have developed their own agency. By season two, we are serving the story. We are not just trying to imagine exactly how the novel would have finished.” 

Sanditon returns Sunday, March 20th at 6 p.m. & 10 p.m. on WTVS, and 9 p.m. on KCTS