Scenes with only Georgiana Lambe and Charlotte Heywood are a treat for viewers as they allow us to understand how the co-heroines complement, contrast, and shape each other. In their first one-on-one in Sanditon 3×01, we have the opportunity to discover where their hearts and heads are at the start of this final season. In addition to the dialogue, Crystal Clarke and Rose Williams tell us so much with their eye contact, facial expressions, and body language.
Georgiana and Charlotte first bonded in the wake of a near tragedy. In the aftermath of Lady Denham’s “welcome” lunch in 1×02, both young women found themselves on the clifftops. Returning from offering apologies at Sanditon House, Charlotte spots Georgiana perched on a ledge, clearly contemplating an irreversible act. Despite this intense beginning, their relationship takes time to become a mutually-supportive friendship. After spying, lying, a misguided joint plot, and Georgiana’s rescue from captivity, we get hints of their growing closeness in 1×07 and 1×08. In 2×01, their established bond is evident as Charlotte is brought back to Sanditon specifically to be a friend to Georgiana in the wake of Sidney Parker’s death. Yet, throughout Season 2, the friends have little time together as Charlotte tends to her new duties as governess at Heyrick Park. When Alexander Colbourne terminates the position prematurely, Georgiana’s hopes for more time with her friend and assistance in the search for her mother are thwarted as Charlotte feels compelled to return home to Willingden.
It is, therefore, a privilege to be invited into the intimacy of these two friends shortly after Sanditon 3×01 begins. We hear their conversation before seeing them, as Charlotte’s first question comes in a voice-over of a street scene. This editing gives the feel of sneaking in through the window to listen in on a private conversation. Charlotte asks, “And what of your mother? Are you really no closer to finding her?” We’re joining mid-discussion on the most important open question for Georgiana from 2×06. We finally discover the friends in a sumptuous sitting room that establishes Georgiana’s independence and wealth. The first shot is of Georgiana wearing a luminous yellow dress and the earrings she received from Mary Parker. The two are seated at a table covered in papers. Clarke’s hand gestures, downcast eyes, and exasperated tone confirm Georgiana’s frustration with the search. She informs Charlotte that, despite hiring agents in both America and England, she has no helpful information about her mother.
The exchange between Charlotte and Georgiana shows some traits typical of their characters developed in the first two seasons of Sanditon but also hints of newness. The first direct view of Charlotte shows us the contrast between the hopeful brightness of Georgiana’s attire and Charlotte’s muted, brown-toned dress as if to suggest her return to country life. Showing her characteristic determination, Charlotte encourages Georgiana not to lose faith. Her body language, however, subtly conflicts with her words as she begins to fidget with her hands. With the camera back on her, Georgiana explains that she is seeking not just her mother but, equally importantly, answers about why her father misled her. Seeds of doubt about her family narrative are growing. Charlotte attempts an answer: “Perhaps, he was trying to protect you.” In her assumption that a father’s motivation for lying is likely to be benevolent, we see some of Charlotte’s naivety as well as the influence of her upbringing. Georgiana’s expression, tone of voice, and brief flutter of her eyelids as she says “from what” suggest some irritation with this speculation.
The conversation abruptly shifts after Georgiana’s maid interrupts with a note that we quickly learn is from a would-be suitor. After a bit of joking, Georgiana is candid about the harm Lockhart did to her ability to trust any potential suitor and affirms her “resolve to avoid marriage at all costs.” Charlotte agrees with Georgiana — “I cannot blame you” — and then seems instantly to regret opening the topic to further discussion. She looks down and fidgets again with her hands. Georgiana witnessed Charlotte boldly ask “should not a good marriage be based on mutual love and affection” in 1×02 and boldly affirm she was “not going to return to Willingden and marry that farmer” in 2×05. In this Sanditon 3×01 scene, she challenges Charlotte for apparently abandoning her general convictions and her specific assurance to Georgiana —“Yet, here you are marrying the same man you once came here to avoid.” Georgiana’s voice is soft, but her eye contact is firm, and her words are direct.
In this scene’s final exchange, both actors demonstrate their remarkable skill in conveying complex emotions with micro-expressions and subtle eye shifts. Williams flinches and blinks before Charlotte speaks words that might hurt Georgiana and betray a difficult reality: “Not everyone has your fortune.” Charlotte appears to have resigned herself to the view that “independence of spirit” is a privilege not all women can afford. Like Georgiana, Charlotte uses a softened tone but direct words. With her head tilted apologetically as she finishes speaking, she meets Georgiana’s eye, and it is Georgiana who looks away. In Clarke’s lowered eyes and slow blink, we might read Georgiana’s shame at forgetting that her fortune provides (a kind of) autonomy or sadness that possessing £100,000 is not sufficient to comfort her lonely heart.
As Charlotte describes her motivations for accepting Ralph’s proposal, we hear distorted echoes of past Sanditon conversations. When Charlotte says, “I’ve known Ralph all my life,” whispers of Eliza Campion’s 1×07 pronouncement, “it helps to share a common background,” creep in. With her following statement — “and for my father, this was… a foregone conclusion” — Charlotte overrules Lady Susan’s 1×07 advice that such things do not exist when it comes to love. We understand that, as she was after Sanditon’s regatta, Charlotte is once again “more or less resigned to [the] outcome.” This resignation is evident in her halting speech, fluttering eyelids, slight headshakes of disbelief, and unfocused gazes as she avoids eye contact.
It is Georgiana’s final question and her questioning silence that expose the deeper reason for Charlotte’s surrender to practicality. Georgiana’s question is frank: “But, do you love him?” Charlotte’s response is evasive. She first extolls his virtues, giving reasons someone might love him: “Ralph is a kind, caring man.” She then describes her feelings, confirming she does not (yet?) love him: “I am very fond of him.” Williams’ face as she finishes speaking shows a masterful blend of discomfort and weariness. In the final shot of Georgiana, we see her listening intently with her worried eyes fixed on Charlotte, but she says nothing. With a very slight turn of her chin towards her friend, however, Georgiana seems to ask, “But will that be enough?” Charlotte’s final answer is agonizing as she tries to make light of her devastating loss and disappointment: “Besides, I’ve loved in the past, and look where that’s got me.” While viewers understand that she is referring to the fractured relationships over the first two seasons of Sanditon, the explicit reference from Georgiana’s perspective is only to Sidney. This sleight of hand very subtly resurrects the question of whether Charlotte has allowed herself to grieve him fully.
This opening tête-à-tête shows us that each friend clings to vestiges of younger herself while facing new realities that challenge her prior beliefs. Charlotte’s reflexes toward hopefulness and independence come through in her encouragement of Georgiana. Yet, she has given up her “imprudent ambitions” of marrying only for love or forging a new life for herself. Georgiana’s candor and (apparent) confidence spur her to confront Charlotte to be honest. Yet, she faces increasing uncertainty about what secrets are hidden in her past. This brief window into the heroines’ relationship with each other and their inner lives sets a foundation for the struggles and potential for growth to come in Sanditon Season 3.
Sanditon is streaming on PBS.