Meet the Characters of Sanditon
A headstrong heroine, a mysterious, brooding hero, a wealthy Grande-Dame and more make up the eclectic cast of characters in Jane Austen’s Sanditon. Get to know them ahead of the premiere on Sunday, January 12 at 9/8c, and prepare for plenty of intrigue, seaside adventure and more!
Charlotte Heywood–played by Rose Williams–is the quintessential Jane Austen heroine. She may be young and sometimes naive, but Charlotte has a taste for adventure, an open heart that always sees the good in others and a very vocal attitude that gets her in trouble from time to time. Almost as soon as she steps foot in Sanditon as a guest of the Parker family, Charlotte is eager to be of help to the town’s development and its residents.
“She’s headstrong,” Williams said. “She speaks before she thinks. Having grown up on a farm, she is also quite practical. She’s very modern, too. She is focused on the new. She is interested in architecture and loves meeting new people. She has a lot of ideas, but not much experience to back them up. She has never been out of Willingden before, and so her ideas of everywhere else come from books. She has fantasies of a life she has not lived yet. Like Catherine in Northanger Abbey, it’s just in her imagination.”
Played by star Theo James (Downton Abbey, Divergent), Sidney Parker may have a tough exterior and a mysterious past, but he’s not all rough edges. Though sometimes gruff and quick to judge, he does possess a kinder, better side that can be drawn out by his big brother Tom, his ward Miss Lambe, and, eventually, Charlotte Heywood.
The youngest of the Parker clan, Sidney has spent years abroad in the West Indies, and during his time there, he (somewhat begrudgingly) became the guardian of heiress Georgiana Lambe. “He left home to find and make a man of himself,” James explained. “He went to Antigua, where he became quite wealthy on the back of the sugar trade. But he abhors the slave trade and as a result feels dirty and guilty.”
Returning to Sanditon isn’t something he’s exactly thrilled about, though–at least, in the beginning. “He’s the black sheep of the family. He has reluctantly come back to the town he sees as parochial and not reflective of his status. Sanditon is an acquired taste. Not everyone likes it at first. But it’s like peanut butter: as soon as you have tasted it, you want more.”
Miss Georgiana Lambe
Miss Georgiana Lambe (played by Crystal Clarke) is a wealthy heiress from the West Indies who is most certainly not afraid to speak her mind and make her opinions known. She’s unhappy about her circumstances (being cooped up in Sanditon, as Sidney Parker’s ward), and she’s determined to live her life the way she wants to and by her own rules. One bright spot in her time in Sanditon: she finds a kindred outspoken spirit in Charlotte, and the two become fast, best friends. Notably, she’s also Jane Austen’s first black character.
“Her father owned a sugar plantation in Antigua, and her mother was a slave,” Clarke said of her character. “Her father asked Sidney to take care of her. So, she is transported to a new place. She goes from sunny Antigua to not so sunny England and now she feels trapped. But she also has a secret which involves a relationship…She’s the richest person in every room, which is great. In period dramas, people of color are often very tragic, but Miss Lambe is not tragic. Although tragedy surrounds her, she has pulled herself out of it.”
When we first meet Esther Denham (played by Charlotte Spencer), she is shrouded in mystery and a hard attitude. She and her brother Edward (Jack Fox) are holding out hope to be named the inheritors of their aunt’s substantial wealth when she someday passes away–the sooner, the better, to them. But is Esther really as unfeeling and cold-hearted as she seems?
“Esther is misunderstood–and I love it!” Spencer explained. “She comes across as cold and unfeeling, which is totally not true. Her honesty is misinterpreted as callousness. She considers her brother Edward her best friend. She doesn’t get on with other people because she’s so blunt. I see her as a wild animal. She’s like a wild cat. Once you tame her, you realize she’s not as nasty as she seems. It’s like The Taming of the Shrew. You have to approach her with kindness.”
The depth to Esther and many of the characters of Sanditon is part of what Spencer thinks makes it so wonderful. “Every character has a layer which you don’t expect. It’s classic Jane Austen because the characters are not just one thing. Also, women drive this. They’re so well written. Lady Denham has money. She powers everything and men need her. That’s quite unusual. The women are all in control behind the scenes. For instance, Esther, and no one else, will decide who she marries.”
Edward Denham is many things–brother to Esther, nephew to Lady Denham, adversary to Clara Brereton, and downright untrustworthy. Even still, he’s charming, and his true motives remain to be seen. Actor Jack Fox–brother to Victoria‘s Laurence Fox–took a deeper look at his shifty, villainous character.
“People will assume [Edward’s] the worst guy out there!” he said. “He’s driven as sin. Those people tend to forgive themselves a hundred sins. They’ll do whatever it takes to get what they want. In the 1800s, it was about status, titles and money. Edward is not afraid to step on other people in order to get those. He looks up to Lady Denham. She married for money and now doesn’t need to do anything. Edward thinks, ‘I want to be like that too.'”
“Don’t let emotion cloud your judgement–that’s his motto,” Fox continued. “He believes that if other people follow him over the top, it’ll work out in the end. But in the process, he’s asking them to compromise their core values, and that’s a tough thing to do. He’s a man on the make. He appears confident, but that’s masking insecurity.”
Clara Brereton (played by Lily Sacofsky) may seem sweet, subservient and doting on the outside as she stays by Lady Denham’s side, trying to win her affections–and her inheritance. But is she as innocent as she seems? When asked to describe her character, Sacofsky said she’d call Clara a survivor.
“The minute I read the script, I found Clara absolutely fascinating,” Sacofsky said. “She’s not from this world. She didn’t grow up with this sort of luxury. She’s not from a place where everything is made of gold. She grew up in a poorer part of London and has a background of abuse. She has no parents and a difficult relationship with her family.”
Her life in Sanditon involves competing with Esther and Edward Denham for Lady Denham’s favor, and ultimately, a place in her will. To win, Clara does what she must. “As soon as Clara comes into this world, she starts to perform. She creates a persona for herself that fits in with her new environment of courtship and manners. She quietly observes what people expect of women and comes up with this ‘butter wouldn’t melt’, marry-able persona. She makes herself soft and helpful. She’s there to please other people. …I hope people will see that Clara is doing what she has to in order to keep herself safe. She has no one else to do it for her.”
Young Stringer, played by Leo Suter (Victoria), is one of the local workers in Sanditon working for Tom Parker, but he has bigger dreams than the cards he’s been dealt. His father begs him to be realistic about what his life will be, but Charlotte (whom he quickly strikes up a friendship with) encourages his dreams to be an architect someday. He’s idealistic and kind, but also a hard worker who fights for what’s fair–even when it’s not easy.
“Young Stringer is the foreman on Tom Parker’s building project, but he wants to be an architect,” said Suter, who can also soon be seen on MASTERPIECE in Beecham House. “He wants to advance. He is eager to rise through the social ranks on merit, but he is being pegged back by the stuffiness of society.”
His relationship with Charlotte is something special to Young Stringer, Suter confesses. “As soon as Young Stringer meets [Charlotte], he realizes she’s something special. He also loves her modus operandi. She can float through the Parker’s stuffiness because she is willing to get her hands dirty. That really appeals to Young Stringer.”
Kris Marshall plays Tom Parker, the patriarch of Sanditon. He’s a visionary and a dreamer, who has risked everything he and his family have–and then some–on the budding seaside resort. It’s a gamble, but one that Parker is willing to make, even when the odds are stacked against him. But the question remains: will it all pay off in the end for Sanditon?
“[Tom] is a visionary and a family man,” Marshall said. “He has an entrepreneurial vein. If we were to transpose him to modern times, he would be someone like Steve Jobs. He’s trying to build something brand new that hasn’t been done before. He’s inclusive–he wants everyone to join in with his journey. But he ends up biting off more than he can chew, and outside pressures start to weigh down on him to the detriment of his relationship with his family. But he’s a great character to play with a very definite arc.”
It’s Lady Denham’s world, everyone else is just living in it–at least, that’s what she’d like to believe. Anne Reid plays the strong-willed, old-fashioned, very wealthy and very vocal Lady Denham. She’s upper-class gentry through and through, not exactly progressive, and not often kind in delivering remarks. She knows Edward, Esther and Clara are all angling for her fortune, but make no mistake about it–despite her age, she has no intentions of going anywhere anytime soon.
“Lady Denham has worked her way up,” Reid described. “She’s managed to get a title and money by using her feminine wiles to secure a profitable marriage. She’s not top drawer, but she knows how to cope with life. I loved playing her. …Like a lot of Jane Austen characters, she’s terribly mean with her money. Her money was hard to come by so, now she’s got it, she’s not going to part with any of it.”
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