An Interview with Sanditon Sisters Rose Williams & Rosie Graham
In the great tradition of Jane Austen sisters, Sanditon‘s Charlotte and Alison Heywood bring affection, intimacy, and drama to Sanditon Season 2. In a conversation with MASTERPIECE, Rose Williams (Charlotte) and Rosie Graham (Alison) talked about how their characters are alike and different, and how in real life they became—and still are—like sisters. You’ll delight in a certain someone’s nickname for her castmate!
Rosie and Rose, can you talk about how Alison and Charlotte are both alike and different?
Rosie Graham: Well, it’s quite nice that in Season 2, Charlotte returns to Sanditon having learned so much and also having grown and changed in her time back home in Willingden, whereas it’s Alison’s first time in Sanditon, so she’s arriving like Charlotte did in the first season, with a bit of a naivety and so much optimism and excitement. She’d heard about it from all of Charlotte’s letters and on her return home, so she’s just raring and ready to go. She’s full of optimism, maybe too much, as she’s slightly naive to the sort of issues that can come with society life. So she has the passion that Charlotte did in the first season, whereas Charlotte has obviously grown and learned so much from her first season.
Rose Williams: Well put, Rosie-Posey. I think it’s interesting—they’ve grown up in the same household in Willingden, working on the land and relying on a good harvest, and there’s a reference in Episode 1 to a poor harvest, meaning extra pressure for Charlotte to marry and secure the family’s finances—so I guess it’s the different pressures on them. Being the eldest daughter, Charlotte has slightly more pressure to get married, and the difference is that Charlotte has a staunch reluctance to go down that path, whereas Alison, perhaps due to her love of romantic novels, has a more rose-tinted glasses approach to romance and love.
But I think there’s a kindredness between the girls. Before we started filming, we had a couple of conversations and a Zoom with Charles [Sturridge], our director, and talked about the sister dynamic. What was really nice for me is that, of all the characters in Sanditon, Charlotte feels the absolute most comfortable with Alison—she’s known her her whole life and she doesn’t have to hide anything. With Georgiana or the Parkers, Charlotte might have to hold it together a bit and put on a slight front, whereas she can completely relax into how she’s feeling, the good and the bad and the ugly, with her sister. So it was really meaningful and one of the most important relationships, particularly as it’s an Austen and those sister bonds are so important throughout all her works.
Do you have sisters in real life, and was there a sister dynamic between you on set?
Rosie Graham: I don’t. I have a lovely big brother, but not a big sister, and I have always wanted a big sister. And Rose is like a big sister—we’ve gotten so close. It was so lucky, because we instantly got on so well. The first week of filming was all our sister scenes, all quite intimate scenes, in our bedroom in the Parker house, so that was Rose and me really getting to know each other, and I think that really helped the whole process. And then because we did so many of the sister scenes within the first week, whenever we got to do one again, it was so exciting. I think they were the nicest things to film.
With Rose being slightly older than me and being a more experienced actress, and me joining the cast in my first big TV role, I got lots of advice from her in general life lessons, and she took on a sisterly role on set. And hopefully, that comes across.
Rose Williams: Aww, sweet. Well, I learned equally, if not more, amounts from young wise Rosie-Posey. I echo all of those feelings. I really enjoyed the first day—it was the heat wave in the summer, and we were shooting the bedroom scenes in the Parker household, and they were really meaningful to us and our female Director of Photography, Emily Almond-Barr, who was really excited to shoot those scenes because she had a bunch of [Austen] references and because it was so intimate and feminine and nice.
As for sisters, it’s funny—I have a younger sister and she’s got blonde hair and blue eyes. I remember first seeing a picture of Rosie, I was like, oh my God, that’s literally like my little sister in real life!
Did you learn anything about sisters in that time period that surprised you?
Rose Williams: My reference point was Jane Austen and [her sister] Cassandra, having a sense of their relationship, all their letters. And both of us talked about Sense and Sensibility as a reference.
Rosie Graham: I learned and maybe appreciated how much pressure is on the eldest sister of the family. I think you saw in Season 1, just in the little bits of Willingden, that Charlotte was already the head of all her younger sisters, so when Charlotte left to go to Sanditon, that would’ve fallen on Alison’s shoulders. But when they’re together, Charlotte is still the eldest and wisest. And also, the pressure on the eldest sister to marry first really comes into it, because according to all of the romance novels Alison reads, marriage isn’t duty or anything negative—it’s the only way to find happiness, and she can’t wait to get stuck in. Obviously, Charlotte has a different mindset, and I think Alison struggles with that. She wants Charlotte to get married and be happy, so that she can get married and be happy.
How is it that in the same family, one is so romantic and the other is so interested in things that weren’t traditionally in a woman’s purview?
Rose Williams: In Season 1, I had lots of conversations with Ollie Blackburn, our director, and some of the scenes that didn’t make it to the show were about how Charlotte took after her father a bit more. He was slightly more interested in politics and the way the world was going, and she was introduced to news and information through her dad getting hold of newspapers. He made sure that she was well-read and educated in arithmetic, and he was the one who wanted her to expand her mind maybe more than her mom did. Those were Season 1 conversations, and the parents don’t feature in Season 2. But I don’t know. What do you think, Rosie?
Rosie Graham: I think they definitely have similarities, as well, and they’re both really loyal to each other, and protective of one another, and really just want one another to be happy. But I think in Season 2, you see that when there is some frustration, it’s maybe because Charlotte starts to try and hide some things from Alison that she’s dealing with. Alison can see that there are some issues—she can read her like a book because they know each other so well—but then Charlotte is not being quite honest. And that’s the start of Alison not understanding, because quite often, Alison thinks she’s helping Charlotte, but isn’t. She puts her foot in it quite a bit on behalf of her sister. Being the optimist, she thinks she can just solve things by getting stuck in and trying to set her up and embarrassing her. And it doesn’t always help her, but it’s always with good intention. It’s always to just try and find happiness for her sister.
Rose, would you personally have any advice for Alison?
Rose Williams: I think what Alison is doing is what you’re supposed to do when you’re young—you’re supposed to make mistakes and fall in love and go a bit crazy and a bit wild. I think she’s doing what you’re meant to do when you’re young. But maybe, “all that glitters isn’t gold.”
Rosie Graham: Yeah, that’s really good advice.
What about you, Rosie, what would your advice be for Charlotte?
Rosie Graham: Well, Rose and I spoke quite a lot about Sense and Sensibility—she told me to watch it before—and there were all these quotes that I would write down. But there was one, and I will probably ruin it, but it was, “Neither of us have anything to tell, because I conceal nothing and you communicate nothing.” And I think, with Alison, there are no secrets there. She’s so open and honest, and she makes it clear what she wants and what she’s doing and how she’s feeling. Sometimes, that’s not great, it doesn’t quite work out, but I think there’s a real bravery in her to just go for it and wear her heart so openly.
Charlotte is more considered, thinking about everything else and all the consequences, but I think there’s a time where you need to throw a bit more caution to the wind and be more selfishly in love. And that’s what Alison does—she really throws herself, not really thinking about anything else. I think they could both balance that out a bit more, but that Charlotte could take on a bit more of that sometimes: thinking less and following her heart more.
Rose Williams: I like that. I like that a lot.