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Here’s Why Theo James Isn’t in ‘Sanditon’ Season 2

”His journey concluded as I wanted it to,“ the ”Divergent“ star said of his character’s arc

Spoilers abound for Sanditon Season 1 (and the first episode of Season 2) below. You’ve been warned!

Fans of romantic period dramas, rejoice! March brought the sophomore return of two beloved Regency-era shows — Netflix’s “Bridgerton” and PBS Masterpiece’s “Sanditon.” While the former is definitely the more boisterous and popular of the two, the latter has amassed a small-but-mighty fanbase of devotees.

Based on the 11 chapters of Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, “Sanditon and The Watsons,” the series first premiered in the UK in 2019, followed by a January 2020 release in the United States. Created by Emmy and BAFTA-winning “Bridget Jones’s Diary” writer Andrew Davies, “Sanditon” follows the free-spirited Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) as she relocates from her rural town to Sanditon, a fishing village with aspirations of becoming a bustling seaside resort. While there, she meets the Mr. Darcy-esque Sidney Parker (Theo James), an initially uninviting man who nonetheless piques her interest.

Throughout her stay, Charlotte routinely clashes with Sidney, not only because of their similarly untethered and stubborn natures, but also due to his restricting approach to his legal guardianship of wealthy heiress Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke), whom Charlotte soon befriends. Much to Sidney’s chagrin, Charlotte often aids Georgiana in sneaking out from under her guardian’s watchful eye for various romantic rendezvous and exploits in town.

However, in true Austenian fashion, Charlotte and Sidney soon find themselves increasingly drawn to each other. But just as quickly as they profess their feelings for each other in the Season 1 finale, sharing a kiss and completing their steadily building enemies-to-lovers arc, Sidney is clued into his family’s disastrous financial state. Sanditon’s luxurious transformation — pioneered by Sidney’s older brother, the entrepreneurial patriarch Tom (Kris Marshall) — proved more costly than expected and was exacerbated by a devastating fire that wreaked further havoc on the financier’s already strained funds. As a result, Sidney is forced into a business deal rather than a love match, deciding to marry a wealthy heiress in order to bankroll the development and save his family from bankruptcy. 

Thus, in non-Austenian fashion, the season ends on a bleak note, with true love unfulfilled and Charlotte returning home to spend time with her family — and to mend her broken heart.

Simon Ridgway / ©PBS / Red Planet Pictures / courtesy: Everett Collection

Despite being canceled after a single season due to low ratings, “Sanditon” received a surprise renewal for two more installments in mid-2021. Naturally, fans were thrilled, thinking that James would return to the show in some capacity. However, these hopes were dashed when PBS Masterpiece released a statement on behalf of the “Divergent” star about his decision to leave the character behind.

“Although I have relished playing Sidney, for me, I’ve always maintained that his journey concluded as I wanted it to. The broken fairy-tale like [sic] ending between Charlotte and Sidney is different, unique and so interesting to me and I wish the cast and crew of ‘Sanditon’ every success with future series.” 

PBS Masterpiece’s social media account added, “While Sidney Parker will not return, rest assured that an abundance of romance & adventure lies ahead for the ‘Sanditon’ heroine. We can’t wait for you to see what we have in store…”

Season 2 follows Charlotte as she makes her return to Sanditon, where a new regiment of officers has taken up temporary residence. Despite being disillusioned with love, new romantic opportunities present themselves, encouraging her to once again open herself up to the world.

Addressing James’ absence in Season 2, Williams told Collider that she believed the way the show handled Sidney’s departure was “important because it’s truthful.” The first episode of the second season opens with Sidney’s funeral as it’s revealed that the nobleman died after catching yellow fever. 

“Charlotte would be grieving,” she said. “The Parker household would be grieving. I don’t think it would’ve been right to just eradicate the character. I don’t think it would’ve been right to just eradicate the character. And also, in real life, when people pass on, their presence is still felt, if you had a close relationship. I really liked the element of continuing Sidney’s legacy, as an overarching feeling across the second season. I think that was important, to honor the story of the first season, because it wouldn’t have been right to forget that he would’ve existed…I think that it was handled in an appropriate way.”

Indeed, “Sanditon” head writer Justin Young revealed at the Television Critics Association Winter Tour that when faced with James’ departure, it became clear they didn’t want to recast the role:

“Theo made it very clear he didn’t want to come back, and so we had to think about how to engage with that. Obviously we couldn’t recast because that would have destroyed the integrity of the world. It would have been implausible. We thought we needed to make clear to the audience right from the beginning that he’s not coming back, although she waits for him to come back, and we needed to let the audience grieve along with Charlotte. So narratively that made sense, and it dramatically gave us a fantastic opportunity, that it gave us this enormous emotional event at the beginning of the series that sets up all the stories, and really the season becomes about that in a way, how everyone moves on from Sidney.”

“Sanditon” drops new episodes weekly on Sundays on PBS Masterpiece and usually the next day on the PBS app.

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