‘Sanditon’ Season 3 Review: A Gratifying Love Letter to Period Drama Fans

MASTERPIECE "Sanditon" Season 3 Episode One Sunday, March 19, 2023 at 9/8c on PBS Fiance in tow, Charlotte arrives back in Sanditon for the society event of the year – Georgiana’s 21st birthday party. Her friends are unsure that marrying Ralph is the right decision and seeing Colbourne again leaves Charlotte feeling uncertain too. Meanwhile, Georgiana receives a shocking threat to her fortune, and Edward tries to prove to Lady Denham that he is a changed man. (L-R); Charlotte Heywood (ROSE WILLIAMS); Georgiana Lambe (CRYSTAL CLARKE) For editorial use only.
Photographer: Joss Barratt (C) Red Planet Ltd

Sanditon Season 3 is a love letter to period drama fans in general and, in particular, to fans who have stuck with this series through cancellation, campaigning, and a renewal curveball. Those who loved Season 2 should brace yourselves; the romantic tension ratchets up to almost intolerable levels. Those who were lukewarm about Season 2 can find much in Sanditon Season 3 to reconcile you with the seaside resort.

The final season of Sanditon includes familiar, well-loved Austenian elements and borrowings from other period dramas, self-consciously inserted often with subtle winks and nods. Astute fans will learn some back stories (and names) they’ve long wondered about. And much like Season 1, however, Sanditon Season 3 also features some decidedly transgressive storylines that should appeal to viewers who enjoy a healthy dose of social commentary with their Regency fare. The season feels simultaneously lighter and weightier.

Alexander Colbourne in Sanditon Season 3
Photographer: Rob Youngson (C) Red Planet Ltd

The teasers and brand-new trailer lay out the basic plot. Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) returns to Sanditon with yet another Willingden newcomer, her down-to-earth fiancé Ralph Starling (Cai Brigden). Any intentions she had for a quick return to her final wedding preparations are thwarted by unexpected events. Charlotte’s lively spirit, last seen at the May Day dance in Sanditon 2×01, is not along for the journey. This Charlotte is committed yet indecisive, loyal yet self-motivated, sometimes endearing, sometimes exasperating. Her hallmark grit and inventiveness surface as interludes to the broody, resigned persona that is the bass line. Those who enjoy doleful looks and sighs will be richly rewarded.

The driving energy in this storyline comes partly from Alexander Colbourne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), who is more assertive in Season 3, and in no small part from happenstance and various self-appointed match-makers.

Georgiana Lambe
©PBS via Trailer

Further, despite the natural focus on Charlotte as Jane Austen’s presumed heroine, I have always viewed Sanditon as an ensemble show. Season 2 edged closer to giving equal weight to Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) as a co-heroine, and Sanditon Season 3 develops her story more fully. Georgiana remains exposed to ruin despite finally reaching her majority. Her plans for autonomy over her life and her fortune come under threat as her past is scrutinized. While most storylines in Sanditon allow an exploration of the social constraints placed on women and the promises or burdens of marriage, Georgiana’s story confronts the legacy of slavery, the realities of English racism, and the unique burdens weighing on a young Black woman on free, but unwelcoming soil.

Alongside, and even within, these heavy plotlines, there are many moments of levity in Sanditon Season 3. It’s not all silent, lingering looks. The Montrose siblings (Edward Davis, Alice Orr-Ewing) join Edward Denham (Jack Fox) as purveyors of smirks and snark, while Augusta Markham (Eloise Webb) takes the reins from Esther Denham (who is not returning) as the queen of quips. Seeing the Heyrick Park universe expand to include Samuel Colbourne (Liam Garrigan) and more screen time for Mrs. Wheatley (Flo Wilson) is also a refreshing development, giving the manor softer, more welcoming energy.

Arthur Parker’s (Turlough Convery) continuing journey of self-discovery collides with the fears of others, and the fates of various budding romances (“you get a love interest, and you get a love interest, and you get…”) remain unclear going into Sanditon 3×06. And, of course, there are Tom Parker and Mary Parker, and Lady Denham, with both familiar and surprising tensions around the continuing development of Sanditon town. In Tom, we see the clearest example of a dilemma that racks many of the characters in Season 3: how does one choose when two equally important personal values or ambitions clash?

This internal wrestling and how each character manages conflict provide many heart-wrenching scenes. Sanditon Season 3 is not for moral absolutists. There are few purely good characters (except, of course, Mary) and few strictly evil characters. The open-hearted will feel both affection and anger for heroes and villains alike.

Sanditon Season 3

As the season builds, so much is happening in every scene—the sudden shifts between frissons and frustration and the numerous subplots verge on becoming overwhelming. Yet, Sanditon Season 3 is cleverly written and beautifully acted, and, with (I think) more outdoor scenes than Season 2, recaptures some of the soaring essence of Sanditon Season 1. The abiding themes of self-definition, redemption, duty, and sacrifice also appear in this new and final season. There are exquisitely heartbreaking moments that remind viewers why we fell in love with many of these characters.

With any love letter, the lingering impact ultimately depends on how the story ends. Sanditon Season 3 is, so far, a gratifying watch. Even on rewatching episodes (for professional purposes), the humor makes me laugh, often out loud, the personal predicaments and decisions make me reflect deeply, and the poignant moments still put me in my feelings. The way all the loose ends are tied up in Episode 6 may, of course, reset my sentiments. Five episodes in, however, Sanditon Season 3 presently has a hold on my heart.

Sanditon Season 3 will premiere on March 19.


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