Sanditon 3×03 Review: Shots to the Heart

Men in Sanditon 3x03

Sanditon 3×03 Spoilers Ahead

Sanditon Season 3, Episode 3, is a patchwork of vignettes held together by its two central stories and a strong ensemble cast. While the first half of Sanditon 3×03 feels well-paced, coherent, and profoundly moving, the second half feels choppier, with quick switches between the various storylines.

The writers still pack lots of punch into almost every exchange, and Sanditon 3×03 contains enough shots to the heart to keep viewers’ interest. A wordless, almost two-minute montage accompanied by Ruth Barrett’s haunting music is a magnificent emotional wringer to mark the season’s midpoint.

Sanditon 3×03: Brave New Regency World

Georgiana, Mary, and Charlotte in Sanditon
©Courtesy of Joss Barratt

A stand-out element of Sanditon 3×03 is the unflinching exploration of social issues, even more boldly than the commentary in Jane Austen’s writing. In keeping with Season 1, the familiar themes of social class and economic progress, with a dash of feminism, surround the town’s development. This episode, however, forges new paths by treading into an exploration of a long-time character’s sexual orientation and, quite spectacularly, by indicting the brutality of slavery as Georgiana Lambe defends her fortune in court.

Lambe Family Horrors

Sanditon has not shied away from its bold exploration of slavery and British racism since Georgiana’s first appearance at the 1×01 ball to cries of “Look, a negress!” Season 2 had powerful but disappointingly few scenes directly exploring Georgiana’s marginalization. As if to atone for neglecting this central fact of Georgiana’s existence, Sanditon 3×03 jams a lifetime’s worth of racial trauma into 25 viewing minutes. This tight packing allows us to experience the shocking succession of revelations without time to recover, the same way Georgiana does. Lockhart’s legal strategy is to attack Georgiana’s character, invalidate her father’s will, and, as a last resort, deny her very humanity.

The full-frontal assault on Georgiana’s character relies not only on twisted interpretations of her individual actions but more insidiously on widely-held stereotypes about Black women. Samuel’s warning on the courthouse steps — “he will judge your actions as well as your words” — is a reminder of Mary Parker’s urgings about “respectability” in 2×03. Samuel instructs Georgiana, “You must try to maintain your composure.” As Lockhart and his lawyer trot out one racist trope after another, Georgiana’s ability to comply with this instruction becomes increasingly admirable. Lockhart emphasizes the word “illegitimate” to suggest immorality. He and his lawyer utter particularly evocative phrases like “house slave” and “West Indian temptress,” their voices dripping with disdain. Lockhart, who was playing the long con, produces his sketches of Georgiana as proof that she shares the “hot-blooded ways” of her mother and enslaved Black women generally. (Lockhart benefits from a presumption of truth. The indictments against his character — “An artist and an opportunist” — are much more benign than those leveled against Georgiana. He even doubles down on his ability to save her “honor.”)

Lockhart’s next line of attack is to present his fellow white man, Mr. Lambe, as a victim of the devious duo formed by Georgiana and the late Sidney Parker (Surprise! He lives on in memory in Sanditon 3×03.) If you cannot find fault with the document, challenge the fitness of the person who wrote it. Parish and Lockhart choose to defame the memories of not one but two dead men. Lockhart is allowed to speculate unchallenged that Sidney held the pen while Frederick Lambe signed the sham will. Faced with a thirsty press gallery, Georgiana (and Mary and Charlotte Heywood) must sit in composed silence, listening to these shameless lies. All three female actors spectacularly show a range of emotions from shock to outrage to frustrated pain with each salacious smear.

Georgiana Lambe in court

The final offensive against Georgiana’s right to inherit is also the most shocking. Does English law even allow Georgiana to own property, or (despite her protest to Mr. Howard in 1×06) is she instead some man’s property? Lockhart produces the bill of sale, proving that her father transferred her enslaved mother, Agnes, to the dominion of another enslaver. The casual pat on the back to his lawyer shows they think it’s a game without real, excruciating consequences. In contrast, Georgiana’s reality shatters. She can no longer believe that her father loved her mother or even saw Agnes as a person. She can no longer be certain that her fortune was a gift of love rather than a quest for absolution. She can no longer rely on her own legal status as a free woman should she leave British soil. With this brutal revelation, Sanditon 3×03 challenges viewers to be curious about the complexities of English slavery and abolition. The judge’s ruling is not humane but legalistic, not a condemnation of slavery but a nod to the rule of law.

The cost to Georgiana of securing her fortune against Lockhart’s claim is immeasurable and not well-understood by those around her. The joyful courtroom scene and Lockhart’s almost comical seething distract from the storm to come. Mary toasts Georgiana saying how proud she is, and Arthur expresses his relief and jokes about how famous she’s become. Only Mrs. Wheatley seems to understand fully the trauma and loss that Georgiana endures in Sanditon 3×03. When Samuel Colbourne belatedly (after decades of her service) asks Mrs. Wheatley about her family, we learn that her parents were emancipated in England before she was born. She, therefore, has no doubt about her legal status and has “the comfort of knowing her parents loved and respected each other.” It is Mrs. Wheatley’s seemingly misplaced condolences that open Georgiana’s eyes. She better understands Lady Susan’s warning that “society can be merciless” and decides to protect herself by focusing on position and fortune as her only true defenses. We watch in agony as she burns the note from Otis Molyneux (another surprise!), the one person close to her who can “understand her situation in ways [her friends] cannot, however hard [they] might try.” Georgiana’s trials have only begun.

Parker Family Feuds

Tom and Arthur in Sanditon eating

One constant across the three seasons of Sanditon is the surviving Parker brothers, Tom and Arthur, and their respective inner struggles. Tom wrestles with reconciling his desire to be a respectful and honest husband to Mary and his determination to create a lasting legacy. Arthur floats along, discovering his place in the family and his life’s purpose, his buoyancy deflated only when he feels overlooked. In Sanditon 3×03, Tom’s ambition takes its darkest turn yet, while Arthur faces an unexpected possibility in his quest for self-definition. While Tom’s conflict is surprising only in the bluntness of the dialogue, Arthur’s arc introduces an aspect of Regency society that rarely gets overt attention.

Tom’s story is primarily about how far a man will go in pursuit of profit and so-called progress. Sanditon 3×03, like past seasons of the show, highlights Tom’s ambition and greed. We see Tom get swept up in Rowleigh Pryce’s seemingly unstoppable momentum: “Nothing must slow our progress. Tally ho!” We see him angling for an out by urging Lady Denham to stop the project, telling her: “you value Sanditon’s character greatly.” She turns the tables and reminds him of what he values: “If you wish to fulfill your grand vision of Sanditon at last,” don’t get in Rowleigh’s way. 

As in 2×02, we see Arthur as the sober voice to a visibly tipsy Tom, drawn in by Rowleigh’s energy and the words “increase the daily profits five-fold.” Tom refuses to catch Arthur’s eye, even when Arthur asks, “What about Mary?” In this familiar scenario, Mary is the only wild card. In her quest to keep Mary Harrison (her maiden name) alive, she speaks out publicly against the plan to demolish the Old Town. Tom shows a new flash of misogyny, instigated by Mr. Pryce when he chastises Mary and explains that he “cannot afford to be sentimental.” The set-up is clear; will love and loyalty conquer capitalist grasping? Arthur remains unaware of the “why” of his vulnerability to Lockhart’s con.

Arthur remains unaware of the “why” of his
vulnerability to Lockhart’s con.

Sanditon 3×03 finally brings into the light of day the question of Arthur’s sexual orientation. In 1×08, he confirmed himself to be a “lifelong bachelor.” In 2×02, he was quickly “beguiled” by Charles Lockhart “for some reason.” Audiences have been left to speculate about that reason, and in this episode, we learn that Arthur remains unaware of the “why” of his vulnerability to Lockhart’s con. Even though Arthur is aware of his general need to be noticed, he still struggles to understand that he was seduced. Edward Davis, as Harry Montrose listens with an exquisitely pained, knowing expression as Arthur muses: “He made me feel as if I were witty; as if he truly valued my opinion.” When Harry attempts to confirm his suspicion that, like him, Arthur is gay, the game bird metaphor is clunky. The performances of Davis and Turlough Convery, however, give the right amount of seriousness to what effectively amounts to Arthur’s outing. The question — pheasant or grouse — remains unanswered at the end of Sanditon 3×03, leaving only three episodes for Arthur to fight off social constraints and embrace his identity.

Trial and Error

Still from Sanditon

In Sanditon 3×03, Georgiana’s story is finally given the space and attention worthy of a full-fledged heroine. At least for the first half of the episode, the accessory discussions appear to be in service to help viewers better understand her backstory, current difficulties, and future challenges. Unfortunately, despite the centrality of her story, Georgiana remains a useful object for the main romantic plotline.

Chinks in Samuel’s lawyer armor begin to show early in Lockhart’s testimony. Georgiana responds to being called “illegitimate,” and Charlotte seems vexed that Samuel had to be prodded to object to the term. By evening it is apparent that Samuel is in over his head. He confesses to ten years of earning “good money for easy work” but “never [having] a case of this nature or magnitude.” Upon hearing about this lack of experience, suddenly, Charlotte is more wary than she had been when Samuel strolled in with his brother in 3×02. Samuel reluctantly confesses that he has not taken the case on principle but because his brother begged him to and promised to pay his fees even if he loses. When Charlotte realizes that, in his attempt to impress her, Xander has saddled Georgiana with a lawyer who will face few negative consequences from defeat, she is both angry and panicked. Has Charlotte once again unwittingly put Georgiana in danger?

… she is both angry and panicked. Has Charlotte once again unwittingly put Georgiana in danger?

A question also arises about the grandness of Alexander’s gesture. Samuel confesses to lacking the principles he professed to hold — “integrity, a belief in justice” — when he so boldly agreed with Georgiana’s public letter in 3×02. Is it Alexander who is a proponent of racial justice, or is he simply trying to please Charlotte? Alexander shows some ignorance about race matters when he tells Mrs. Wheatley she’ll never believe what’s being written about Georgiana in the newspapers. Mrs. Wheatley’s sharp rebuke — “I suspect I would, sir” — suggests that she understands the derogatory ways Black people are portrayed as a sharp contrast to Alexander’s incredulity. He does understand her point quickly and asks for forgiveness.

We are meant to understand he is a good man. Yet, he may be trying to do the right thing, at least in part for self-serving reasons. We also have to ask whether it is, in fact, the “right thing.” We come to understand that Alexander has as much faith in Samuel as Samuel’s experience merits, which is to say not much. In hindsight, we understand his worried look as he reads the blurb in the morning paper while Leo asks about the consequences if Samuel loses. He later says, “That is a first,” when Samuel says, “I’m glad I didn’t let you down, brother.” He worriedly asks Mrs. Wheatley if he’s done the right thing by imposing his brother on Georgiana and concealing Samuel’s inexperience. This small moment between Xander and Mrs. Wheatley is meant to allow us to forgive him for gambling on Georgiana’s future to impress a girl. “He’s her best and only chance.” When Xander says, “God help her,” we realize he has little faith in Samuel. Thankfully, the lawyer takes “one last roll of the dice,” and the gamble pays off for Georgiana … and Alexander.

Moral Confusion

Charlotte in Sanditon 3x03 talking to Alexander

The romance elements of Sanditon 3×03 are frustrating for several reasons. The primary love stories — Charlotte/Alexander and Augusta/Edward — rely on audiences to shift between modern and Regency moral sensitivities to accept both as worth pursuing. Neither story, however, provides a clear basis for the characters’ initial infatuation or for actions that are inconsistent with past character development. The romances may work if you don’t ask too many questions. If you do, however, a lot of questions don’t have satisfactory answers.

Hollow Promises

Charlotte’s engagement is treated like an idle commitment throughout the second half of Sanditon 3×03. In addition to delaying her return to Willingden, Charlotte begins vocally expressing her doubts about whether marriage and motherhood are enough. When Mary seeks to reassure Charlotte by saying she almost called off her own engagement three times, Charlotte seems more curious about what made Mary doubt than why she went through with marrying Tom. Charlotte notices that Mary doesn’t address the question of whether she’s lost herself. When Charlotte and Mary learn that Tom has gone behind Mary’s back to proceed with the grand hotel plan, we can see Charlotte thinking about the compromises of marriage and whether Mary (and poor Mrs. Filkins) have compromised too much.

Compounding Charlotte’s mounting doubts are the unintentional and deliberate encouragements of Samuel and Alexander Colbourne. Charlotte listens intently when Samuel tells her: “The thought of being trapped in the place that I’d grown up was too much to bear. I wanted a chance to pursue my own path.” She understands the desire to “forge a new life, a new path,” as she explained to Augusta Markham in 2×02. Samuel is more obvious when he reminds Charlotte that it is Xander she should thank for securing legal representation for Georgiana. He pries, suggesting, “You and Xander have your own history.” When Samuel doesn’t buy her bogus explanation for leaving Heyrick Park, Charlotte allows herself to be persuaded by Samuel that a few more days away from her betrothed and her wedding planning won’t hurt. Charlotte is not naïve and knows she is returning not simply to say, “thank you.” When she meets with Alexander to express her gratitude, it is under the watchful eyes of the public assembled for the shooting party. Their evident emotion and longing silences seem imprudent given the audience and inappropriate given her engagement.

Alexander doesn’t give a thought to the man who’ll be jilted, though his history with Lucy should give him insight into the emotional distress.

Spurred on by Lady Susan and Samuel, Alexander Colbourne decides to ignore Charlotte’s engagement entirely. As Augusta and Leonora seem to have abandoned their parent trap scheme from 3×01 after learning that Charlotte is to be married, the adult meddlers pick up the scheme. Both Susan and Samuel provide an explanation meant to justify their interference in Charlotte’s solemn promise. Their jaunty toast, like Lockhart’s pat on his lawyer’s back, show that they view it as a fun endeavor without serious thought to the propriety of breaking an engagement. Even Alexander doesn’t give a thought to the man who’ll be jilted, though his history with Lucy should give him insight into the emotional distress. Upon Samuel’s urging, he strides across the clifftops (like 2005 Darcy through the morning mist) to find Charlotte. His declaration of love contains all the good words. The kiss is unexpected and tender. But … it feels wrong even before Charlotte angrily declares, “we shouldn’t have done that.” You don’t have to be a purist (I’m not) to see that this rash act crosses a Regency-era moral boundary that neither Charlotte nor Alexander would view lightly. The story of duty-bound would-be lovers overtaken by passion veers into non-heroic infidelity.

Parental Consent Required

Augusta in Sanditon 3x03 talking to Edward
©Courtesy of Joss Barratt

While Charlotte and Alexander’s storyline could work if we adopt a modern take on engagement, being at all moved by the budding romance between Edward Denham and Augusta requires maintaining a Regency mindset. He is at least a decade older, and more importantly, she is still a teenager. This age gap would not be an issue if Edward were a rake like Wickham to an Augusta as a man-crazed Lydia Bennet.

The story, however, seems to be developing into one of mutual regard. Edward’s “soul is troubled,” and he willingly admits: “at first, I sought to conquer her, but now I find myself entirely disarmed.” Maybe he’s no longer a scoundrel. Like her uncle Samuel, Augusta is inclined to fathom “the infamous Sir Edward Denham” for herself. She’s no ninny. When Edward claims his reputation is outdated, she calls him out, essentially saying, you’re not a scoundrel, but you’re acting like one. When she prods Edward to behave towards her in a respectable manner, it is a strong declaration of her interest in him and her belief that he has changed. “Prove it.” Despite her sharp wit, she is naïve to believe that others, even those who’ve experienced it, are willing to allow Edward to be an improved man. She declares: “No man is irredeemable, Sir Edward. My uncle knows that as well as anyone.”

Buoyed by Augusta’s belief in him and Miss Hankins’ assurance that he has “an innate goodness” in him, Edward drops all guile and foolishly asks for permission to court Augusta in front of a crowd (or perhaps he hoped the public setting might elicit a polite response from Colbourne). Alexander’s brutal refusal is painful, but only if we accept Edward and Augusta’s story as a romance. Keeping in mind that the significant age difference was not unusual in Austen, even for the main couples (most notably, Emma and George Knightley), is essential to empathizing with Augusta’s bitter disappointment and the growth arc Edward appears to be given. Of course, Edward has proved slippery in the past and may well prove Augusta and Miss Hankins wrong. It’d be unfortunate, however, to relegate Augusta to the bin of female characters whose lives are summarized succinctly by Harry Montrose: “Have I ever given my affections to someone unworthy who later used me ill?”

Sanditon 3×03 plays on various emotional chords, mostly harmoniously, sometimes hitting false notes. While the mid-season clifftop crescendo is electrifying (with both positive and negative charges), the orchestration of so many players is beginning to show some strain. 

Further Thoughts

  • It is especially poignant that Georgiana and Otis are reunited in the same London house where they said their painful goodbye in 1×06 and that their first topic of conversation is Sidney and Otis’s debt to him. Otis is trying to make amends right out of the gate.
  • When Samuel turns up late to court, amidst all the testosterone and whiteness, Mary, Charlotte, and especially Georgiana stand out. Lockhart’s smugness comes from knowing he’s one of the boys.
  • Charlotte has a deeply pained look when Georgiana says, “I am ashamed of my father.” Is she thinking about her own father and how grateful she is to have in him a man she can admire?
  • Is that Alexander Colbourne spotted playing cards with Leo? He really is more involved in her daily life.
  • Samuel is the older brother. He walked away from the estate, saddled with debt. Did Alexander Colbourne marry at least in part for money? The truth about Lucy, Xander, and Lennox remains murky.
  • When Edward sarcastically suggests Lady D’s heart breaks for Georgiana, Lady D replies she has “every sympathy.” She ladles on that she knows what it’s like to be pursued by a grasping relative. Her musings about whether men can change (“I sometimes wonder if men possess the capacity to change or if your natures are fixed at birth”) relate more to her suspicious glances at Rowleigh during the 3×02 recital than to Edward. Were Rowleigh’s statements of regret really sincere?
  • Lady Montrose is all business, zero sentiments. Lydia mocks her mother’s focus on their family fortunes rather than Miss Lambe’s potential loss of her fortune. Harry resists the idea of casting around for a replacement, jokingly suggesting he “has always found poverty a great aphrodisiac.” This scene provides one the most self-conscious winks to Jane Austen fans as Lady Montrose asks, “have you no sensitivity for my nerves?” Emma Fielding’s dramatic pause and conspicuous glance at both siblings allow viewers time to chuckle at the reference. Lydia flinches, sharply inhales, and looks away (as if fleeing the idea) when her mother says, “Our prospects now lie entirely in your hands, Lydia.” She always seems alarmed when her mother tries to put her in Alexander’s path.
  • The banter between the brothers shows Alexander’s playfulness and allows us to see more facets of his personality and a more expressive character – “I will admit, though, it gladdens me to see the house brought back to life.”

Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 3×03? Let us know in the comments below.


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