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100 Looks to Pay Attention to in ‘Sanditon’ Season 1

Episode still from Sanditon season 1
©PBS

With just 100 days until the second season of Sanditon premiers on Masterpiece PBS in the US, now is the perfect time to discover or rediscover the first season.  

Whether you’ve never watched (gasp!) or you watched Sanditon every day during the months-long fan renewal campaign, Season 1 of Sanditon is so visually dense and the characters so complex that each viewing yields new information.  

The superb acting in Sanditon extends beyond impeccable delivery of scripted lines. If you can tear your eyes away from the stunning scenery, rich interiors, and intricate period attire, the character’s facial expressions provide important insights into their personalities, motives, and relationships. Each actor’s face provides a canvas that masterfully conveys thoughts and feelings, often more accurately than words possibly could.    

A summary of all the looks in Sanditon–including lead and supporting actors and extras – could fill a treatise. To celebrate the 100-day mark in the countdown to Season 2, I’ve organized 100ish of my current favorite facial expressions from Season 1 into four general categories. For your next watch, look out for these looks (and more).   

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Sanditon Eye Rolls 

Any gif search for Sanditon will quickly reveal that almost every main character has at least one notable eye roll. These expressions of frustration or disbelief provide comic relief and often add social commentary. 

These expressions of frustration or disbelief provide comic relief and often add social commentary.

Take Esther Denham’s iconic eye roll in church (Episode 2), which punctuates the viewer’s own disgust at Reverend Hankin’s sexist sermon. Mary and Tom Parker exchange no fewer than eight eye rolls with Charlotte Heywood as Lady Denham insinuates materialistic intentions for Charlotte’s coming to Sanditon (Episode 1).  Similarly, Georgiana’s eye rolls at the luncheon in her honor reflect restrained contempt for Lady Denham’s unrestrained racism (Episode 2). 

There are, of course, the eye rolls of irritated impatience, such as Sidney Parker’s eye rolls when his newspaper reading is disturbed or Lady Denham’s during Dr. Fuchs’ audition to become Sanditon’s resident doctor (both Episode 3) and those of exasperation, such as Lord Babington’s on learning Sidney must stay in Sanditon to fulfill his guardian role or James Stringer‘s when he learns Tom Parker has left Sanditon for reasons and parts unknown (again, both Episode 3). 

It is Esther’s more subtle eye roll when Lady Denham appears to be dying but sips seawater instead of seeking medical advice (Episode 6) that most surprises, as it arguably reflects the purest motives, not personal offense or frustration but genuine concern. 

The Side Eyes 

The eye game in Sanditon is not limited to eye rolls. The side eyes could lay claim to the title of most dramatic eye gesture. Unlike the eye roll, which involves an upward sweep without a fixed focus, or a stare, which involves a direct gaze, a side eye is an often-discreet cut of the eyes towards another person without turning the head. 

The side eyes could lay claim to the title of most dramatic eye gesture.

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We see side eyes expressing dismay. Sometimes, it’s a wonder such as Lord Babington’s subtle glance at a snickering Esther during the pineapple fiasco (Episode 2) or Stringer’s at Charlotte when she decides to take a walk rather than be accompanied home (Episode 4).

Other times it’s concern, such as: Charlotte’s at Esther after the warning that she’ll regret coming to Sanditon (Episode 1) or the look Miss Lambe’s maid, Crocket, gives to make sure Charlotte has not spotted her in line at the post counter (Episode 4). We see Mr. Crowe cut a side eye at Lord Babington when Crowe learns that his friend has had a letter from scornful Esther (Episode 5) or Clara Brereton’s concerned glance after Lady Denham tells her that the period of grace Clara won by harming herself has come to an end (Episode 4). 

And there’s pure confusion when Higgs glances at Tom who almost knocks Higgs over in his haste to report to Lady Denham (Episode 3) or when Sidney side eyes Charlotte after her question about the skin color of Georgiana’s kidnappers (Episode 5). 

There are disapproving side eyes. Charlotte’s sister Allison Heywood seems to anticipate that Charlotte will volunteer herself as the lucky daughter invited to Sanditon, and Mr. Heywood gives a side eye when Charlotte does just that (both Episode 1). Lady Denham’s side eye, with an emphatic headshake, as Edward moves seats to watch Clara play piano signals her displeasure with Edward’s tomcatting (Episode 4). We see Crowe give Sidney a persistent side eye when Sidney declines buying a round of drinks to go and see Tom (Episode 5). 

As with the eye rolls at Lady Denham’s rudeness, we again see a trio exchanging glances in the Parker home. This time, no fewer than seven mocking side eyes are exchanged between Sidney, Charlotte, and Mary as Tom appropriates the Sanditon regatta idea as his own (Episode 3). 

Two of the best disapproving side eyes may go overlooked. At the climax of the luncheon fiasco, Lady Denham cuts a glance at the offending pineapple itself (Episode 2). And James Stringer’s side eyes at Fred Robinson’s subtle digs at Tom as the cricket teams greet each other are expert level non-verbal reprimands (Episode 5). 

Side eyes also express disdain. Robinson and Young Stringer flash them as Tom uses Charlotte to wriggle out of a confrontation about back pay (Episode 5). Later, the workers collectively give their boss, Tom, the side eye as he steps up to bat at the cricket (Episode 5). We see Mrs. Griffiths glance disdainfully at all the girls when Sidney gives his permission for Georgiana to go to the cricket match (Episode 5) and Crowe side eye Lord Babington before scornfully telling Babbers that he’s “moving in the wrong circles.” (Episode 5). 

I interpret Otis Molyneux’s sidelong glance at a bellowing Sidney Parker as a look of disdain for the rude interruption of his anti-slavery advocacy (Episode 6). The most surprising disdainful side eye is from the usually cheerful Julia Beaufort after Mrs. Griffiths criticizes the Beaufort sisters’ poetry reading (Episode 4). 

The Smirks 

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The numerous insincere or smug smiles, in other words smirks, in Sanditon shift our attention from the characters’ eyes to their mouths. Even when not speaking, their stretched lips tell us a story. 

Even when not speaking, their stretched lips tell us a story. 

We see mischievous smirks such as when Edward pauses while extolling sea bathing to allow the words “give yourself to it” to land with Charlotte (Episode 1) or Sidney gives a micro-smirk just before shifting into mean mode to tell Charlotte her opinion means nothing to him (Episode 2) or Fred Robinson looks amused after hinting at Tom’s money troubles by asking after a cash prize at the cricket (Episode 5). 

There are mocking smirks such as when Esther challenges Charlotte to keep up with her walking pace (Episode 1) or Crocket punctuates Georgiana’s protest at being treated like an oddity for the general amusement (Episode 2) or Sidney teases Tom about being the chosen “Mr. Parker” for Lady Denham’s wrath (Episode 2).  Crowe smirks an “I told you so” to Lord Babington after Esther rebuffs his advances in front of Sanditon’s Crown hotel (Episode 2) while Edward and the other gentlemen cricket players smirk a “don’t go changing” when Crowe confesses that he’s drunk but “no more than usual” (Episode 5).  

The extras’ faces are rife with mocking smirks such as the racist gawkers as Georgiana tries to take the coach to London (Episode 2) or the worker just over Young Stringer’s shoulder when Charlotte shouts “I’ll play” at the cricket (Episode 5). 

We also see scheming smirks such as one from Clara as she sets down Lady Denham’s note to Esther and Edward after observing the siblings in an unguarded moment (Episode 4) or Edward’s evil smirk after kissing Esther and diverting her affections from Lord Babington (Episode 5) or Beecroft’s sinister smirk before revealing the name of the degenerate who “purchased” Georgiana (Episode 6). Eliza Campion and Lady Susan exchange competing smirks as they steer the conversation to elevate or humiliate Charlotte at the regatta (Episode 7). 

Tom Parker is the master of the smirk beginning from his first scenes. From his smug smile of reassurance to Mary that they are on the right route (Episode 1) to his trembling lips as Charlotte admires the Sanditon town model (Episode 2), we can doubt whether any of his smiles are sincere. Among his most irksome smirks are the two in the pub when he reassures Sidney that all he asks is for Sidney to try his best and lets loose an “if you say so” to question Sidney’s work ethic (Episode 2). These are rivaled by a more subtle smirk when he assures Fred Robinson the victors of the cricket match will win “glory” (Episode 5).  

Sanditon Stares 

Although Season 1 of Sanditon is action-packed, many scenes are punctuated by a pause where characters look fixedly at something, whether an object, another person, or simply the air in front of them.  

Some stares show us the character’s desires. We see material desires, such as when Charlotte Heywood stares at the blue satin shoes (Episode 1) or Arthur Parker drools over the plate of sandwiches at the cricket banquet (Episode 5). The town of Sanditon being a “wild” seaside resort, we also see sexual desires, such as Charlotte’s flashback to a sea bathing Sidney Parker as she ponders his portrait (Episode 3), the ogling ladies outside the milliner shop as Sidney rides into town on his dark horse (Episode 4), or a transfixed Reverend Hankins staring at Georgiana Lambe’s licentious painting (Episode 3).  

Then, there are the more complicated desires, such as when James Stringer stares after Charlotte when she leaves his cottage following a tense conversation with Isaac Stringer (Episode 4). It’s hard to know whether Young Stringer is pining for Charlotte or for her vision of the world where men like him can succeed. Similarly, as Tom Parker stares at his reflection in the jeweler’s window (Episode 4), we can wonder whether the object of his desire is really the image of himself as the successful builder of Sanditon that he hopes to be. 

Other stares reveal a character’s curiosity. We catch Charlotte staring at Georgiana outside the church (Episode 2), which seems meant to be a more benign form of the collective gawking and gasping at Georgiana’s blackness as she walked into Sanditon’s first ball the previous evening (Episode 1). Clara Brereton takes a long glance at Lady Denham’s ledger of eligible suitors (Episode 4), leaving us to wonder how much of the information she retained and what she might do with it after being banished from Sanditon. 

Both Sidney and Tom must bear the weight of collective curiosity following public outbursts. After Sidney’s shout of “That is enough” echoes through the streets of Sanditon (Episode 4), the gentlefolk stare and whisper; their curiosity at the lack of decorum is highlighted by the indifference of a worker who walks by carrying a sack over his shoulder as if nothing happened. Image-conscious Tom has all the town’s inquiring eyes upon him after Young Stringer reveals that the workers building Sanditon “haven’t been paid a penny in weeks.” (Episode 5) 

Some characters stare to intimidate. Clara’s seemingly innocent, but persistent gaze at Esther Denham as they sit in Sanditon House listening to Lady Denham discuss marriage prospects (Episode 4) is meant to make Esther uncomfortable; after discovering Esther and Edward Denham’s secret Clara feels she has the upper hand. This trio could be defined by their intimidating stares as Esther tries to use her eyes to stop Edward from revealing that Lord Babington has been writing to her (Episode 4), while Edward peers mockingly at Esther when Lady Denham reveals her interference (Episode 5). 

Watch for Higgs’ stoic stare as he closes to the doors to Tom Parker after Lady Denham tells Tom he’ll “live with the consequences” of his choices (Episode 3) or the worker who stares combatively at Sidney Parker as Sidney defends Tom at the cricket (Episode 5) or the menacing look from the woman who bumps into Charlotte as she tries navigating the London streets (Episode 6) just after arriving from Sanditon. Sam Sidaway’s “you’re wasting my time” stares as Charlotte begs for information in London emphasize the futility of her solo journey (Episode 6). 

And many, many stares invite viewers to imagine the character’s thoughts. In these seemingly blank stares, much of the story of Sanditon is wordlessly told. Charlotte Heywood appears to learn to bite her tongue in an out-of-focus stare after Old Stringer disputes her views about class and clearly has her views on race shaken in learning about contemporary slavery (both Episode 4). Charlotte’s growth is again marked by blank stares in the Parkers’ London home after she realizes her judgment about people in general and Sidney in particular is not as sound as she believed (Episode 6). 

Esther Denham’s growth is also conveyed in wide-eyed stares. We see Esther slowly realize that Clara has discovered the lurid secret Esther shares with Edward (Episode 4), that Edward’s greed is his most sincere feeling (Episode 4) and that she is worthy of more when Lord Babington admires how extraordinary she is (Episode 5). 

Otis Molyneux’s thousand-yard stare as he leaves the Parkers’ London home reveals his stunned disbelief at the turn of events that cost him everything, while Edward’s staring at his boots just after he too has lost everything suggests he may not accept defeat so easily (both Episode 7). 

And, sadly, there are the final two “blank” stares of utter heartbreak that close out Season 1 of SanditonWe may never know the full content of these last stares, but with Season 2 just 100 days away, we will soon have new looks to decipher or simply to enjoy. 

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Felicia A. Henderson View All

I am an American consultant and writer based in Paris, where I have lived and worked since 2001. Following a career as a corporate lawyer, I retired from Big Law in 2010. I now advise organizations and coach individuals on equity, diversity and inclusion and leadership.

I love helping people figure out why they do what they do (and how to do differently) and working to improve group, team, and organizational dynamics. Good fiction provides a wonderful practice field for observing people.

Although I've geeked out on many shows over the years, Sanditon holds a special place in my heart. I've been tweeting more or less actively about Sanditon from my fan account since November 2020.

One thought on “100 Looks to Pay Attention to in ‘Sanditon’ Season 1 Leave a comment

  1. Sanditon inspires the hearts of viewers. We love the town, the characters (their flaws and all) and I am trapped with in all the delightful feels in the possibilities of this continuation of a mere story start by Jane Austen. After winning our diligent fight to campaign for ITV and PBS to finish it, I know the actors, writers, musicians, producers and so many who have interacted with the Sanditon Sisterhood of passionate fans in these past long months are OUR people. We love them all and are eagerly counting down the 100 days until Sanditon Season 2 pulls us in again! I can not wait… they are simply extraordinary. Mark you calendar.

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