Sanditon Set Secrets: Jane Austen Easter Eggs Revealed & More
Sanditon‘s production designer reveals blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Jane Austen Easter eggs from the series and shares his insights on bringing Sanditon to life. Read an interview with production designer Grant Montgomery and see his gorgeous production sketches, BTS photos and more!
SANDITON’S HIDDEN JANE AUSTEN REFERENCES
MASTERPIECE: We understand you gleefully included a number of Jane Austen references, or “Easter eggs,” in Sanditon! We are so curious—can you reveal them to us, or would you rather share some of them, while holding others as challenges for super-fans?
MONTGOMERY: In an interview in with a [UK] newspaper, I listed a certain number of them, but no more, because that would be cheating! I think that people should be able to freeze-frame [to find them]. For example, in Episode 6, Charlotte takes the Sanditon Flyer to London, and as she’s getting out the coach, on the left-hand of the frame, you’ll see the sign on the coach, “Chawton.” It’s really quick, but it’s there. There are some that are little bit more there in your face, but you have to know a bit about Jane Austen to really get what the reference is.
In Charlotte’s bedroom, there’s an edition of Jane’s The History of England, that [Austen’s sister] Cassandra did an illustration for—we used that, and it’s sitting on the bed. But it’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. There’s a first edition, second volume, of Pride and Prejudice that we were lent, no less! We dressed that into one of the sets that was set in…so blink, you’ll miss that.
We called the stationers “Austen’s.” All the shops have a reference to an Austen character, so there’s lots of shops. I think “Brandon’s” is the barber’s, which of course is Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility. In Trafalgar House, in Tom Parker’s office, there’s a map of what Sanditon will become after they’ve built it, and all the streets are named after Jane Austen heroes. You’ve got “Darcy Place.” All those are there, but again, you’d have to freeze-frame it to really see all the names.
There are loads of jokes on the posters. You’ve got to really know your stuff, it’s a bit obscure. It’s for the real Janeites—we had The Jane Austen Society, and some historians, and actually the head of Chawton House come ’round, and they all got the jokes and I thought, “God, I was trying to be really obscure. I failed.” There’s one where it says there’s something only so many miles in from the sea. It’s a gag, a joke, and there’s loads of things like that in it. Aren’t I mad? We started with some of it, and then we just developed it from there. It all became a bit of an in-joke, really, in the Department…I was just having a ball, enjoying it, going, “Can I get that reference in? Can I sneak it in without anyone noticing it?” and all that kind of thing. Really!
MASTERPIECE: How many are there, total?
MONTGOMERY: 35. Gosh, I know it’s terrible, isn’t it?
MASTERPIECE: Not at all! I understand you’ve described them as love letters to Jane Austen.
MONTGOMERY: They are, yeah! For me, it was just something I really wanted to do, to make a point that “actually, it’s serious, but it’s not.” We’re winking, it’s a wink. If you love the world of Jane Austen, there’s another way of looking at it. If you watch it again, there’s things to pick up on and enjoy. For example, the big London ballroom, it’s filled with apple blossom trees, and I thought, “Well, it’s a kind of reference to Emma and the apple blossom tree scene.” That’s why that’s there, kind of a visual reference that way.
And even to the point that the décor may seem extravagant, but actually, for example, with Denham Place, the slightly Gothic room is Gothic because it’s a reference to Northanger Abbey. So you’ve got that, because Jane was taking the mickey out of it, wasn’t she, in Northanger Abbey? Everything around was, “Oh, it must be really dramatic,” and actually it was prosaic—that was the kind of gag we did. Olly Blackburn, the director and I wanted to put that Gothic thing in, so we found this Gothic folly for the exterior, and built the interior in studio. Then I used the painter Fuseli, who did loads of Gothic imagery—it was all sensational and kind of, not cheap, but it was popularizing that kind of Gothic imagery. So we used Fuseli on the walls to reference an influential artist at that time who was well-known for his Gothic imagery, and had a kind of Byronic background power. So it’s all there.
Sadly, we got one shop name, I don’t know how we did that, misspelled—I cursed after it had been done. Sometimes you just miss something because you’re doing so many things. Because we mostly built everything—we didn’t go on location for interiors that much over 21 weeks—probably only about seven days of interiors were on location. Everything else, interiors, all the assembly rooms, the ballrooms, were on the set that we had in The Bottle Yard Studios.
CREATING THE WORLD OF SANDITON
MASTERPIECE: You were shooting on a beach, on this amazing set in Bristol at The Bottle Yard Studios, and then a couple of stately homes. Was there a particular challenge that stands out among all of the challenges, or something that you had to solve in a new way for Sanditon?
MONTGOMERY: Well, first of all when Olly Blackburn and I sat down and thought, How are we going to find a Regency seaside resort? we looked at [the town of] Lyme and a couple of others, but there was no way we could actually—it just doesn’t really exist, not an old fishing village that allows you to have the size of Regency buildings that Tom Parker was intending to build. It became readily apparent that we’d have to build it, so that was the biggest challenge, how to build it, really. There’s very little CGI used in the actual main town. We used green screens just to extend on very limited shots so you could get a sense that it’s connected to the beach. But the big shot in Episode 1, where you go down the street and then over the roof, that’s a live shot and there’s only CGI on either side of it, just to extend some of the roof lines.
And then you’ve got a real beach, and the two are married together. Brean Beach is one of the longest in Europe, so we shot that. So the thing was to try and build this village, this town, that didn’t actually exist. Once we’d decided we were going to do it, we had about 14 weeks, so we ended up building the interior and exterior in 10 weeks.
MASTERPIECE: So you’re basically the Tom Parker of this production!
MONTGOMERY: No one’s ever said that before! Yeah, I suppose I am.
MASTERPIECE: Olly Blackburn told us that once you guys had made this decision that you were going to build it, you were in your element, creating your own fabric, wallpaper, statues, marble. What was that like?
MONTGOMERY: Recently I was invited down to the Chawton House, Jane Austen’s Chawton, and I wrote a piece for them about the wallpaper that’s in the dining room, an arsenic green wallpaper. Now, you’d never think an arsenic green wallpaper would be a Regency wallpaper, yet it’s in Jane Austen’s house, it’s actually there. I knew that a lot of Regency interiors were not standard pale Wedgwood blues or that kind of color range, pastel and beige. They were actually much more vibrant—it was a quite vibrant world.
And in doing research, Olly and I went to [architect] John Soane’s museum and we talked about how maybe that was Tom Parker’s inspiration, and that led us to design Tom Parker’s set in the manner of John Soane’s museum, which again is another reference to that world.
I crossed it with the Duke of Wellington’s place, Stratfield Saye—he had a long gallery which has gold with loads of engravings that have been essentially plastered to the walls. So the inspiration was an amalgam of those two images. Then, his study is based on John Soane’s collection of ancient artifacts of classical busts, and Egyptian and Greek and Roman artifacts that he had dotted around the house. I just had a ball! The ceilings were all done in the manner of Napoleon’s Fontainebleau Palace, which is naughty because Napoleon was deemed to be the ogre and the villain of that period.
Sanditon House, Lady Denham’s, was inspired by James Bond, really—we just created this black marble set that has serpents on it and stuff, but we painted it all, and everything was handmade, really, right down to all the curtains. Little finials were molded that matched actual, real finials in John Soane’s; the columns were all made, cast specially for it, the whole thing. All the floors were designed and printed and marble effect. Basically, pretty much everything was built. We created our own wallpapers and wall coverings. They were all designed and made for all the different rooms.
We’ve got a set of people that we can call on that are specialists, but there were key people within the art department that could do very specific things. We had great model makers, and people who could source particular types of props. But we got a lot of things sculpted. There’s lots of maritime imagery used within the series, so you get a sense of it being by the sea, always there, probably in the back of shots. Especially with Sanditon House—there was a huge Neptune rising out of the water with horses, and that was built, all made especially for the show. I thought that was a bit over the top, but they did things like that then. It was a show of wealth.
We had people that did all the food, which was it was really key, I was really all over it, because there are loads of [Austen] references. For example, there’s a fruit mountain—that’s another reference to Pride and Prejudice, because it’s about your pecking order. All the food that you see in that big dining sequence and even on the beach (at the cricket match you see all the food again)—we were very specific about what food. Like, they did a lot of jellies in that period, but they were all made with special molds, so we got the right kind of molds to make all of that. It’s all very much in the background, it’s all there, it’s just whether you wish to see it. But it’s that level of detail, I think, you need to do to, to make the world believable.
MASTERPIECE: It must make it more believable for the actors, too, living with all the materials of that world.
MONTGOMERY: Yeah, the dining room—because it was quite a long shoot and because it was quite hot, the food was…let’s just say, it had an aroma.
MASTERPIECE: It went the way of the pineapple!
MONTGOMERY: The pineapple! We had so much fun trying to make that pineapple work. We did so many prototypes of that, it was just hilarious. Injecting paint was one of them, to make it black.
MASTERPIECE: You guys were like “More rotten! Get me a pineapple that’s more rotten!”
MONTGOMERY: “More rotten! How rotten can we go?”
MASTERPIECE: I know that there was an historical advisor, Hannah Greig, on the production, but how did you come to know all of the details, to get the fruit molds and everything else right? Is this how you approach every project?
MONTGOMERY: I love history anyway. I read a lot, but quite widely. I’ve got a passion for history, so that made it easy, because I’d read a lot about Jane—I don’t know how many books I’ve got on Jane Austen, but a lot! So I came with that already, and that’s why I wanted to do the project, and to do it, finishing off, with Andrew Davies, was great. That was the thing that I wanted, the reason I did it, because of that.
MASTERPIECE: Did you have a favorite element that you created for Sanditon, something you were the most proud of or that you took the most joy in?
MONTGOMERY: That’s a toughie. It would have to be Sanditon House because it had a “wow” factor. You walked in and you went, “Oh, that’s great. That’s big. I didn’t expect it to look like that.” And it was the black marble. I loved it, I was really pleased with that.
MASTERPIECE: Did those snakes on the floor at Sanditon House come from Andrew Davies’ imagination, or yours?
MONTGOMERY: I’ve got to lay claim to that, so I’ll take the hit on that. If anyone doesn’t like it, it’s my fault! But actually, the thing was that I talked to Olly about it. I said, “Look, I’m going to put a snake on it.” He goes “Go for it.” And really, you don’t ever see the snake. I think the interiors help tell you something about the characters. They’re not just interiors; they actually tell you about the situation of the characters. For example, the scheming Henry Denham and Esther—you get the sense that something isn’t quite right from looking at the walls and their interior. So it’s playing with you. It’s not just, “Oh yeah, it looks pretty,” it’s got something else going on. Just like Lady Denham, which runs counter to what’s described, because it’s meant to be threadbare in the book. But I thought, “Well no, everybody’s hunting for money, so you better make it real that she lives big.” So if you see that interior, why would you not want that? You can sense the wealth.
MASTERPIECE: Did you work any Jane Austen “love letters” or Easter eggs in your production design of Death Comes to Pemberley?
MONTGOMERY: No, I didn’t put any in there. But I always wanted to visit Pemberley for myself! I know, you’re shaking your head, wondering, “Who is this guy? Where does he live? Which planet is he on?” My reason for doing it was that I’d always wanted to visit Pemberley. Also, I got to meet PD James—that was the icing on the cake, personally speaking.
MASTERPIECE: And you did get to visit Pemberley, for probably six to nine months!
MONTGOMERY: Yeah, yeah. That was it. I was very happy about doing it. To me, it’s like time traveling, what I do…It’s wonderful to be able to do this, and go and visit these places. People submit these imaginary places, and try to make them real, try to make them three dimensional. So yeah, I must be a bit mad, I think!
Discover the beaches, stately homes, and historic locations that bring Jane Austen’s fictional town of Sanditon to life in our Official Locations Guide.
Learn about Sanditon‘s surprising sound in an interview with composer Ruth Barrett, who found inspiration in the wild decadence of Regency England, folk music, and…The Clash!
Which other cast member visited John Soane’s museum for Sanditon inspiration? Why, the actor behind Young Stringer, off course: Leo Suter. Check out his interview for more!