Sanditon, episode 4 review: we're past halfway but still stuck with archetypes and cliché

Gabriel Tate
Jack Fox and Charlotte Spencer in Sanditon - Handout

Without Jane Austen’s name attached to it, Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Sanditon (ITV) would have been an amiable, escapist romp. With it, expectations run a little higher; whatever Austen might have made of her never-completed story, it almost certainly wasn’t this. At the halfway point, eight episodes feels a couple too many, and the seductive promise of those early episodes is being frittered away, subtlety sacrificed for show-and-tell.

The arrival of Miss Lambe’s paramour allowed the slavery angle to be hammered home yet again; the business of establishing Sanditon itself, whether through Young Stringer’s cherished pagodas or Sidney’s society contacts, tried the patience; and the contrived sundering and splicing of Charlotte (Rose Williams) and Sidney (Theo James) edged into the ridiculous – their latest tiff over Sidney’s use of slave labour almost certainly just the latest misunderstanding on their rocky road to romance.

If Williams and James respectively feel too green and too one-note to convince, the supporting performances at least offer diversions. Alexandra Roach had fun as a hypochondriac fusspot-cum-comic relief, Anne Reid was effortlessly watchable as the haughty overbearing widow, Kris Marshall charmed as the scatterbrained dreamer. But after four episodes, these archetypes have scarcely evolved.

The truly intriguing characters to emerge from the morass of cliché and underdevelopment came courtesy of Lily Sacofsky and Charlotte Spencer, whose subtle, intriguing performances blurred the boundaries between manipulative ingénue Clara and vulnerable schemer Esther. Amid the piano recitals and implied incest, their entwined destinies offered compelling reasons to patronise Sanditon a little longer, but it feels far flimsier than one might have hoped.