Sanditon showrunner says it was an ‘absolute no-brainer’ to give beloved bachelor a gay romance
The writers of hit CBC period drama Sanditon delivered a gay love story for longtime bachelor Arthur in the latest episode – and according to the show’s creators, it was always part of the plan.
Now in season three, the Jane-Austen-inspired show is set in the 19th-century fictional town of Sanditon, believed to be based on the author’s coastal home town Worthing, and draws from her final unfinished novel of the same name.
Following romances in high society and various courting misadventures, the starry cast, which formerly featured The White Lotus‘ Theo James, now includes Rose Williams, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Kris Marshall, Anna Reid and Alexander Vlahos.
In the fourth episode of the drama, which aired in the US on Sunday (9 April), viewers finally got to see beloved longtime bachelor, Arthur Parker (Turlough Convery) come out as gay and admit his feelings for the Duke of Buckinghamshire, Lord Harry Montrose (Edward Davis).
The heartwarming same-sex storyline wasn’t a last-minute addition, though. According to showrunner Justin Young, the culmination of the pair’s queer desire was “an absolute no brainer”.
“We love Arthur as a character,” he told Decider. “I mean, we absolutely loved him and we thought, ‘Well, he deserves a love interest as much as anyone else'”.
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Young also explained that the creators felt a queer romance was integral to the authenticity of the show.
“It would have felt wrong not to have [a queer romance] amid all of these love stories because as you may have noticed, there’s a lot of love stories in Season 3,” he continued. “It would have been wrong not to have all different kinds of love represented.”
Executive producer Belinda Campbell, meanwhile, explained that Arthur’s queerness had in large part come about organically through Convery’s portrayal of the fan favourite character.
“I think that Turlough’s portrayal in earlier series made us sort of think that this was an interesting avenue to explore with him,” she said.
“He hadn’t had his love story, and it felt much more authentic and truthful to tell that story than a sort of a more regular regency romance with a lovely girl. It’s almost like he’s denied himself happiness and an emotional life and then we discover why.”
Although Arthur remains single for much of the show, the storyline is queer-coded and there are many hints towards his sexuality. In season two, for example, there is discernible queer energy between Arthur and Vlahos’ character, Charles Lockhart, a flamboyant artist.
In the latest episode, Harry and Arthur share a heartfelt conversation after the former confronts the latter about his sexuality, leading to Arthur fully embracing his truth (albeit through metaphors) and agreeing to run away to a secluded cottage in Wales.
In the coming out scene, Arthur explains his preference for men by explaining that he simply likes “grouse” over “pheasant”. Young explained they were trying to tell a gay love story in “Austen grammar”.
arthur parker has grown SO much, i will never not cease to be amazed by it. it takes such courage to speak like this and actually mean it and he did it like a pro. i’m so PROUD of him 🤧#sanditon #sanditons3 pic.twitter.com/HSzdBQEc0Y— Giada; 📖🐺📣 sanditon era (@lupainthenorth) April 5, 2023
“When Turlough first read that scene, he was concerned because he thought it was comic,” Young said. “And I said, ‘No, no, no, no. You have to play this. It’s not funny at all. You have to play it absolutely straight’. I think it’s a lovely scene.”
Campbell and Young also knew it was an “absolute no brainer” to include the plot after looking back at original source material and researching how LGBTQ+ relationships were depicted at the time.
“Obviously [Austen] never wrote explicitly about same-sex relationships,” Campbell said, “but she did sort of allude from time to time about possibly gay kind of activities.”
It wouldn’t be an Austen period drama without a tragic twist, however, and Arthur is eventually left heartbroken after Harry is forced to abandon the plan to run away to Wales by his mother and get engaged to a wealthy heiress instead.
Young explained he wanted to “honour the truth of what would have happened” in the Regency era, adding that “you couldn’t live an openly gay lifestyle in that period”.
Sanditon is the latest period drama to depict nuanced LGBTQ+ characters, following in the footsteps of hit shows such as Gentleman Jack, Dickinson, Anne with an E, Victoria, Versailles, Outlander, and The Gilded Age.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Harry and Arthur will get the happy ending they deserve in Sanditon – but here’s hoping his lordship comes to his senses.
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