There’s a lot we could point to as proof that the “Bridgerton effect” is real, but Sanditon on PBS might be the best evidence of all. Based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel, the show first aired on U.K. channel ITV in late summer 2019 but struggled to find an audience. By December, a month before its U.S. premiere, Sanditon was canceled. “We would have loved it to return, but unfortunately we just didn’t get the audience that would make that possible for us, which is heartbreaking for everybody involved in this wonderful adaptation,” said an ITV spokesperson at the time.
But timing is everything because one year later, Bridgerton arrived on Netflix. Suddenly, everyone was interested in buying empire-waist dresses, touring the south of England, and decorating their homes with wisteria. It also left viewers hungry for more Regency-era romances.
Lucky for them, Sanditon had a lot of similarities to Bridgerton—most notably, Theo James as Sidney Parker, a hero written in the female gaze so hot he could really only be rivaled by Regé-Jean Page’s Simon Basset. Word about Sanditon‘s appeal spread among Bridgerton fans so quickly and vocally that the PBS Masterpiece series was revived for two more seasons.
Sanditon season two returned on Sunday, March 20—the same week as Bridgerton‘s season two premiere, it’s worth noting—and I think viewers will be happy with the outcome of their fan-led campaign. There is one major disappointment: Much like Page on Bridgerton, James has decided to not return as the brooding hero. The season two premiere reveals that his character has died, so hopes that he might change his mind for season three seem unlikely.
While his absence is noticeable, it does create a conflict that strengthens the show overall. It’s interesting to watch as our heroine Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) grapples with her grief, becoming stronger and less naive about the world in the process. As she questions her place in the world, it leads her down unexpected paths—and towards two new love interests. It’s moodier and a little darker than you’d typically find in Austen’s novels and their many adaptations. Without giving any spoilers, it’s clear that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre became a major inspiration this season for Charlotte’s journey.