Despite what he tells his sister, Diana, in the debut season’s eighth episode, Sanditon’s Arthur Parker and Georgiana Lambe are more than just pals. They are increasingly bonded in a way few platonic male-female friends are in Regency-era dramas. The tearoom scene in Sanditon 2×03 (written by Janice Okoh) reveals the depth of their mutual regard as well as the potential danger of overestimating their understanding of each other. The vulnerability portrayed by Crystal Clarke and Turlough Convery gives Okoh’s words an authenticity and intimacy that truly feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation.
Georgiana and Arthur’s relationship began with his mysterious rush to secure a dance after overhearing the size of her fortune in Sanditon 1×01. It evolves through his amusement and encouragement of her assertive self-defense at Lady Denham’s luncheon in Sanditon 1×02. After a micro-scene of a giddy Arthur at the cricket in Sanditon 1×05, we next see Arthur liberating Georgiana from isolation in Sanditon 1×07.
When Arthur laughs at Georgiana’s concerns at the opening of the tearoom scene in Sanditon 2×03, chuckling and speaking with food in his mouth, viewers might be reminded of the earlier seemingly playful scene after Arthur drags Georgiana to the regatta. As they walk through the crowd, he challenges her claim that everyone is staring at the “ruined woman” by saying: “People have always stared at you. I thought you’d be used to it by now.” Arthur doesn’t realize that he’s offered cold comfort or perhaps even stoked her fears. Georgiana’s only defense is to snub him and walk away from the “infuriating” conversation.
The tearoom scene in Sanditon 2×03, however, takes a different turn. Georgiana is now confident enough in their friendship that she stands her ground, affirming that her concerns are no laughing matter. Rather than shying away from the issue, with a defiant lift of her chin, Georgiana interrupts to remind Arthur that he does not share her lived experience — “You don’t know what it’s like, Arthur.” Georgiana’s insistence, marked by subtle hand gestures, purposeful eye contact, and a significant change in tone of voice, rouses Arthur from his teasing, and he sets his utensils down deliberately as a sign that Georgiana now has his full attention. The viewer’s attention is also focused on Georgiana as the scene shifts from a wider shot of the pair to a shot of only her.
In this listening space, Georgiana reveals her lifetime of suffering under the othering gaze of everyone around her. Because she is the daughter of a Black enslaved woman and the white man who enslaved her mother, as a child in Antigua, Georgiana was “never allowed to forget [she] was neither one thing nor the other.” We might imagine that the absence of her mother deprived Georgiana of grounding comfort from the sting of being “seen as a curiosity.” Clarke’s pauses, changes of pace and volume, and subtle facial expressions of disgust as Georgiana speaks about England powerfully convey Georgiana’s dismay at seeing her “difference reflected in the eyes of every person [she has] since met.” This raw summary of Georgiana’s ongoing experience of hypervisibility is meant to help Arthur understand her anger at receiving the stolen sketch from Sanditon’s resident artist, Charles Lockhart. It also provides important context for viewers seeking to understand Georgiana’s character, her sense of isolation, and her quest for belonging.
As the scene switches back to the wider shot, we see signs that Arthur is deeply affected by Georgiana’s testimony. He has a pained expression, and a subtle sigh suggests that he has been holding his breath as he listens. The meaningful pause after Georgiana finishes speaking and Convery’s soft, almost whispered, voice as Arthur begins his response with the words “Oh, my dear Miss Lambe” make plain the compassion Arthur feels for her plight. Arthur’s following words are pivotal to understanding both the sincerity and the limits of his attempt at empathy. The scene shifts to a shot of only Arthur as he says: “I cannot speak to your experience.” This shift in focus indicates that attention is centered on Arthur rather than the offense and suffering Georgiana has just exposed. Arthur’s next phrase confirms that we will learn about his experience as he attempts to make sense of Georgiana’s feelings.
Hanging in the air unsaid is the word “but” before Arthur says: “I have spent my entire life being overlooked, even by those closest to me.” This unsaid “but” is important, but let’s first explore what is said. Arthur tells Georgiana that, when he saw Lockhart’s sketch of himself stolen while Arthur was napping on Sanditon’s beach, “I felt seen for who I am or perhaps who I’d like to be.” Arthur appears extremely aware of his feelings of neglect and of how Lockhart’s drawing not only responds to his need to be seen but goes further by providing an aspirational image of himself. What Arthur seems unaware of is that his need is at its most acute (following rejections from Tom Parker) almost every time he has encountered the artist, which may cloud his judgment about Lockhart’s character and about Georgiana’s needs.
Perhaps because she has already pushed back once, perhaps because Arthur has exposed his pain so plainly and she wants to honor that, perhaps because she hopes he’s right, Georgiana responds to Arthur’s story by validating the idea that Lockhart seeks to portray the true or aspirational face of his subjects: “He asked me how I would like to be seen.” Georgiana indicates she was at a loss for how to answer this question, and Arthur thinks he knows why. He again speaks from his perspective — “in my experience” — to explain to Georgiana that “people see the world through a particular set of views and prejudices.” While it can feel superfluous for Arthur to describe this reality to Georgiana, his acknowledgment of the taboo subject of racism serves a few purposes. It reminds viewers that there were white English people capable of perceiving the dynamics of racial prejudice in Regency society. It signals to viewers that Arthur has matured since his dismissive attitude in Sanditon 1×07, and it tells Georgiana that he understands her unwillingness to expose herself to further judgment and stereotyping.
As the framing alternates between Arthur and Georgiana, viewers see the tension between his certainty and her hesitation. Arthur praises Lockhart for his ability to “see things with a rare clarity” and, beaming an enthusiastic smile, lauds the artist as a social figure capable of transcending prejudice. With various facial movements and a side glance, we see Georgiana’s reluctance. She tries to legitimate her lingering concerns by invoking the closest thing Sanditon has to a patron saint, Mary Parker — “Mary thinks he’s not to be trusted.”
In a final wide frame, we see Arthur take up his utensils as though the matter is settled. He dismisses Mary’s (and Georgiana’s) concerns, saying, “maybe Mary doesn’t know you or Mr. Lockhart like I do.” Unfortunately, Arthur’s final enthusiastic bite of fruit is a perfect symbol of his overconfidence in his judgment and empathy, which brings us back to the unsaid “but.”
Arthur’s attempt at empathy is laudable but imperfect. In evoking his own feelings of being misunderstood, Arthur ignores the substantial difference between being an obscure white gentleman and a conspicuous Black heiress. His invisibility threatens his self-regard, is contained in interpersonal relationships, and is potentially changeable — he may yet win acknowledgment. Georgiana’s hypervisibility threatens the freedom her fortune provides, is rooted in systemic oppression, and is immutable — she is unlikely to escape the racialized gaze.
Georgiana’s final reticent smile is again a perfect symbol of her waning wariness — a desire to trust and fear of doing so. Just as Arthur wants to believe there’s someone who sees his laudable qualities, Georgiana wants to believe there’s someone who can see her beyond categories. The tearoom scene marks the turning point where, in being vulnerable with each other, Georgiana Lambe and Arthur Parker confide their hopes for being truly seen. Arthur builds up Georgiana’s hopes that Sanditon’s artist is such a visionary, not realizing that this artist’s true talent is the con.