Back in 2021, Sanditon fans cheered when they learned that PBS was bringing back the romantic period drama for a surprise season 2. But for some, excitement quickly gave way to disappointment when they learned that male lead Theo James would not return as heroine Charlotte Heywood’s love interest Sidney Parker.
With both Sidney and Young Stringer (Leo Suter) absent for season 2, Sanditon’s writers got creative and introduced some new romantic possibilities for Charlotte. But that didn’t stop some viewers from wondering why the show didn’t just recast the Sidney role in order to give Charlotte the happily ever after they felt she deserved.
‘Sanditon’ writer Justin Young initially thought the show couldn’t continue without Theo James
Sanditon writer and executive producer Justin Young addressed the decision not to recast the Sidney role in a chat with Caroline Jane Knight of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (via YouTube).
Young explained that the hope had initially been for James to return as Sidney in Sanditon Season 2. He’d even developed a storyline for the actor, which he pitched to him in an attempt to convince him to sign on for a second season. But James – who recently appeared in HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife – decided to move on.
“Theo felt he’d told that story,” Young said. “He quite liked that broken fairy-tale, as he called it.”
“Honestly, at that moment, I thought, that was it,” he added. “We gave it our best shot and there’s no way we can bring it back without him.”
Recasting the Sidney Parker character would not have been a good idea, ‘Sanditon’ writer has said.
Though Young’s first reaction was that there could be no Sanditon without Sidney, he soon changed his tune, thanks to some persuading from PBS’s Masterpiece.
“They said, ‘Well, does that need to be the end? You’ve got all these other wonderful characters … we don’t think the story is over for these other characters,” he said.
At that point, there was some discussion about recasting the Sidney character. But that option was quickly ruled out.
“Honestly, I think it became apparent very, very quickly that that would not be a good idea,” Young said. “First of all, Theo and Rose [Williams, who plays Charlotte] had such a specific chemistry. You can’t hope to replicate that.”
If the show had moved forward with casting another actor in the role, blowback from viewers would have been severe, he added.
“The audience would have hated the actor from the get-go,” Young said. “I honestly think we would have found it a challenge to find an actor willing to take that job.”
Why the show had to kill off Sidney
Once it became clear that James was not coming back and that recasting was not an option, the challenge became how to write Sidney off the show in a way that made it clear there was no hope for him and Charlotte to reunite.
Sanditon needed to “draw a line under Sidney and Charlotte,” Young said. Otherwise, fans would not be able to “invest in any new narratives” because they would always be expecting James to make a sudden reappearance.
Ultimately, the decision was made to kill off the Sidney character. In the opening moments of the season 2 premiere, viewers learn that he’s died of yellow fever while in Antigua. A devasted Charlotte is left to work through her grief over the loss of her first love.
“We didn’t want to undermine their love story,” Young said. “We needed a solution that said, ‘Yes, Charlotte and Sidney were in love. And it’s heartbreaking that they can’t be together. And Charlotte’s still heartbroken, and let’s go through that with her. Let’s honor the character’s emotions.”
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