One of the glaring downsides of not having the benefit of a second series as of yet of the British period drama, Sanditon, isn’t the fact that it didn’t adhere to a traditional Jane Austen ending but that there wasn’t near enough time during series 1 to fully develop the character of Georgiana Lambe, played by Crystal Clarke.
While Sanditon tells the story of the young and naive yet spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her relationship with the ever-so charming Sidney Parker set against that backdrop of older brother Tom Parker’s attempt to develop the budding seaside resort, it’s the arrival of Miss Lambe, a young, biracial heiress from the West Indies who comes to Sanditon as the ward of the youngest of the Parker brothers, Sidney, that warrants more screen time.
The character of Miss Lambe was a part of the original unfinished novel from Austen. A majority of what we see on the screen with regards to Georgiana comes from inside Andrew Davies mind palace. The 11 chapters that Jane Austen wrote on Sanditon before her death made up only a majority of the first episode of the series with the final 7+ episodes courtesy of Davies.
“There were only two words used by Jane Austen to describe Miss Lambe, ‘chilly’ and ‘tender.’ And I took ‘chilly’ very literally to mean that she found the climate very unpleasant,” Davies said. “‘Tender’ is ambiguous. I took it to mean vulnerable, quick to see slights and prejudice in others, which she does find, of course.“
We had the great good fortune to speak with Crystal Clarke recently to talk a little Sanditon…
Bill Young: Hi, Crystal How are you doing?
Crystal Clarke: I’m all right. How are you?
Bill Young: I’m doing great. Just having a nice rainy, Texas, day
Crystal Clarke: It’s a rainy morning here in New Jersey too.
Bill Young: Well, thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk.
Crystal Clarke: No problem, no problem at all.
Bill Young: I was telling Deanna that I had talked to Rose last week, and put the interview up this morning and the Sanditon Sisterhood were a big part of getting it out to the world
Crystal Clarke: (laughing) Yes!
Bill Young: They are a strong group!
Crystal Clarke: They are mighty!
Bill Young: To start things off, can you give me a little bit of insight as to your thoughts when you first read the script.
Crystal Clarke: Well, I got the script through my agent for the audition. I didn’t really see the character description initially. I saw what it was about and saw it was a period drama and I was like, ‘Okay, great. I thought it was just going to be another servant role or something like that I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
Then you have the first scene where Georgiana walks in explaining that she’s an heiress and she’s walking in looking like super expensive. And she’s standing in her power and I was like that was the thing that really stuck with me. The more I got into the script, the more I realized how important the scenes with Sidney and him trying to get her to to leave her room where she stands up for herself in those scenes with him very early on where she wasn’t mincing words and making it very clear.
There were like clear ties to colonialism and her expressing her distaste for how people were viewing her and it was very apparent that she’s aware of how people are viewing her in this little town and in England in general since she had been in London for a few months. So I was really struck by that and really excited by that because it’s a perspective that I’ve never seen in a period drama. My reaction was like nice!
Bill Young: The Regency period is interesting because you look at Georgiana’s character and you look at Charlotte and you think, both very strong willed, resourceful, you’re your own person it doesn’t mesh with the time period when you consider women really couldn’t do anything, and had no power.
Crystal Clarke: To talk back, too. Talking back to people like Lady Denham and being very forthright and honest about their views on things is like something that people just didn’t do and even, like, with most period dramas it’s always like a passive aggressiveness where nobody’s really saying how they’re feeling and these women characters they’re saying how they’re feeling, which I find very exciting.
Bill Young: I guess you might consider your past work in Star Wars to be a period drama but was there anything challenging as far as stepping back into a period drama like this?
Crystal Clarke: I didn’t find it too challenging in terms of the period, part of it. I think that’s always really exciting because it’s nice to be able to do some research and see what it would have been like for that character at the time like when I did Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie. It was exciting to be able to have a thought about what would it been like for this girl who’s adopted, a black adopted girl who’s living in Scotland in the 1950s.
To have to wrap my head around that which is not very hard for me to do, but it’s interesting to do that because there are so many of those experiences that aren’t represented. To be able to fit in that and really try and pull out things that were poignant. I feel like bringing it out with through my perspective to kind of help people understand a bit more.
The challenging part is being the only person of color, really, on these productions. That’s always a challenging part, which is hard for anybody who’s working in anything where they are the only person of color in the room. Having a support system around, being able to pinpoint people who understand that that’s hard on you and to have directors around or producers around who are aware of that and know that you can express yourself freely when things don’t feel right, is really good and I had that on Sanditon so that made the challenge less of a challenge.
Bill Young: I know Rose talked a lot about Olly Blackburn and being able to discuss with him her role. Were you able to do the same thing in order to get some backstory on and develop Miss Lambe? One of the most surprising things to me was that there were only 11 chapters that were written and Miss Lambe was in those 11 chapters, but that really encompassed only a portion of episode one so a lot of this is just in Andrew Davies’ head. Did that help you to have a base that you could base the character on from those 11 chapters, but then it became your own that you could make that character, developing it how you’d like to develop.
Crystal Clarke: I feel like it was really helpful for Georgiana. What was very helpful about the book was the fact that she was even written in the first place. This is actually a character that Austen was going to develop and she decided to include at this time and in this place. But the way the character sort of developed is definitely far from what is written in those first few chapters that that Jane wrote.
I worked with Olly in the same respect that Rose did. I sat down with Olly and had discussions about the character with him and with Lizzie Barrington who played Mrs. Griffiths and with Theo to talk about their relationship. There was a lot of talk with Theo and me about what was their life before Sanditon in London and then before London in Antigua. Things that she would have seen, the things he would have seen because it’s like two separate worlds, Antigua and London and so she knows a lot about him that she will know that other people might not know.
Olly also gave us a really good resource which was his book called The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker which focused on the sugar trade and plantations in the West Indies and what it was like for people living on those plantations, colonialists who come over from Britain, and this is now their life and this is now their way of making a living and then what itwas like for them, then taking that back to England, this sort of nouveau riche population, and what their interactions were like with the slaves in the West Indies compared to what it was like in America.
From that book it seemed like there was much more social interaction and a sense of mixing. Obviously, there was still the same oppression and everything but it seems like there was more of an entanglement with the colonialists and the slaves there which was really interesting and useful for Georgiana’s backstory like her mother being a slave and her father being plantation owner. What her views of Sydney would be which I think would seed her judgments with him because I get that question a lot. I get that question a lot on my Twitter of ‘…Why is Georgiana so upset with Sydney? Why won’t she forgive him? and I’m like, well, there’s so many factors that go into it, I understand he’s the romantic lead and everything and he’s a cutie but there are so many other factors that are going to her view of him and that dynamic.
Bill Young: One of the things that we have experienced from an audience standpoint across the board is that it is historically accurate. It’s not a documentary, but it does educate people as far as all of these characters, and you see them in a drama that is in Andrew Davies head, but it’s an education process of what it was like during that period of time.
Crystal Clarke: Yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely what everyone was aiming for.
Bill Young: There’s an obvious bond between Georgiana and Charlotte in the series. What came across also is the chemistry between the two of you.
Crystal Clarke: It was all real, honest!
Bill Young: Is there something that you discovered about yourself at series end? Was there, perhaps, a little bit of Crystal interjected into Georgiana’s character or vice versa.
Crystal Clarke: Oh, absolutely (laughing)!
Bill Young: The strong-willed part, I’m guessing.
Crystal Clarke: Yeah, and she’s very outspoken and I can completely connect with her in the sense of being a person, being in a place, feeling like you’re the only person of your kind there. So, I totally understand that and that’s something that I’ve experienced ever since I was a kid. My family lived in Tennessee for six years and so I moved from a more black and Latino populated area to a mostly white area and that’s an experience for a lot of kids of color growing up in America or in the UK and dealing with that and your identity and feeling like you belong in a place. So, there’s definitely a lot of me in Georgiana, actually a lot of me in her.
Bill Young: When you look at the audience that exists for Sanditon, one of the things that I really loved about it was how it attracted a younger female audience, seeing you, seeing Rose on the screen. Much of the same as with Downton Abbey when you had a lot of younger characters, then there’s Jenna Coleman in Victoria. Young girls seeing themselves on the screen. Is that something you’re kind of proud of where you are on the screen and you’re kind of the role model for younger women that are watching just to kind of learn to speak up, I guess.
Crystal Clarke: Yeah, definitely. I completely understand. I think that was really important for us. It really bled into also
the amount of the story that was focusing on because, yes it’s a Jane Austen, but I don’t think it’s just about the romance. It’s very much about also about female empowerment, that energy and that strength. And so, because we’re trying to bring this into now, we didn’t want too much of it to always be focused on our relationships with the male characters in the story. We don’t want that to be a lesson that’s taught, you know, that everything revolves around the men in your life. Charlotte and Georgiana’s relationship is integral to that.
Bill Young: The sad thing is that, unfortunately, some of these issues have not gone away today.
Crystal Clarke: So true. We do seem to move slow as a society.
Bill Young: Whether it’s the fact that currently there is not a second season, fan support and reaction has been very strong. Were you surprised at the fan reaction to the series?
Crystal Clarke: We were unsure how people would take it. When people started rallying behind it, it is a good feeling and it’s like okay, good. So, this is something that people want for their, their beloved genres to be brought into modern day in a way that is poignant for us now. So I think it was more just like happiness and appreciation and gratefulness for the fact that people saw what we were trying to do.
Bill Young: You talked earlier about Theo and, obviously, Rose. When you think about the importance of the ensemble cast that makes up the entire product can you think of Anne Reid, who I think is just amazing. You think of Theo and you think of Kris Marshall, how important is that from you coming into and being a part of that and having a really strong ensemble cast around you?
Crystal Clarke: The casting for that is a huge part of it. It’s an ensemble cast. If one doesn’t work unless then the others fail because they’re all related worlds, all of them are related to storylines related and tied in.
Bill Young: If this is it for Sanditon and there is doesn’t happen to be a second series, what would you see as Georgiana’s future? Where would you take it?
Crystal Clarke: I really, really want Georgiana to get her money. Be of age, get her money from Sydney and then she goes back to Antiqua and helps build up the island and abolish slavery. With all that money, so much can be done.
Bill Young: If you have spare time, what do you enjoy watching? What what types of programs?
Crystal Clarke: I really love documentaries. I actually really like reality television, but maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud. I think it depends on the day, really depends on the day. But I just love a good story and I love to see things where perspectives that aren’t being represented often, and things that might be bending the genres, which I think Sanditon does.
Bill Young: That’s one of the things I think I loved about Sanditon because it’s all about the story and you have so many underlying storylines within it. Do you find yourself as an actor, can you separate your profession, and just watch things for fun, or do you do you have more of a critical eye when you’re watching things?
Crystal Clarke: (Laughing) It’s really ruined it for me. That’s why the lean towards documentaries on television these days. It’s really hard, it’s hard not to. It’s really hard not to. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t I don’t always give other things a chance. You know, I think there’s room for everything.
Bill Young: So what’s next for you?
Crystal Clarke: Next, for me, I’m in a film called Louis Wain with Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy which will be out at some point and then another TV thing that I’m not allowed to talk about.
Bill Young: Well, thank you so much I appreciate it. Thanks for talking about something that you did a year ago.
Crystal Clarke: No problem at all. Thank you for taking the time to talk.
With that, we both hung up hoping we would have the chance to talk again soon about the possibility of a series 2 of Sanditon.
Fortunately, that decision has not dampened the hopes of the hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide as the desire for a second series seems to be picking up steam on a daily basis. So much so that there is a petition making its way around Planet Earth to encourage broadcasters to pick up the ball and get the Sanditon band back together. Don’t worry, petition organizers only have 6 requests for a storyline for series 2. If interested in adding your name to the almost 48,000 Sanditon fans who have signed the petition, click here.
For those that want to play catch up or watch series 1 again, you can become a member of your local PBS station and enjoy all 8 episodes on PBS Passport or you can also binge watch the entire series on the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel.