What appealed you to about Sanditon?
The name Andrew Davies connotes so much. It is always a sign of very high quality. I was also drawn to the fact that it was a Jane Austen that people might not be familiar with. It was the last book she wrote, and the interpretation of the character of Charlotte is told from a more modern slant. She's not focused on marriage. Love finds her rather than her trying to find love. I love a love story, and this is a gorgeous romance. All in all, it's an absolute dream role.
How would you characterise Charlotte?
She's headstrong. She speaks before she thinks. Having grown up on a farm, she is also quite practical. She's very modern, too. She is focused on the new. She is interested in architecture and loves meeting new people. She has a lot of ideas, but not much experience to back them up. She has never been out of Willingden before, and so her ideas of everywhere else come from books. She has fantasies of a life she has not lived yet. Like Catherine in Northanger Abbey, it’s just in her imagination.
How does she meet the Parkers?
Very fortuitously. The Parkers' carriage crashes in Willingden, and Tom breaks his ankle. Charlotte and her brothers and sisters take in Tom and Mary. They extend hospitality, and that's returned when the Parkers invite her to Sanditon.
How does she get on with the Parker family?
I really enjoy her relationship with the family, especially Tom. She is inspired by his vision of creating a vibrant new resort. To crash-land amongst these very energetic Regency folk is what she has been dreaming of.
Does this new life take Charlotte by surprise, though?
Yes, it's not what she expected. She's never met anyone outside her village before, so to meet people so heavily focused on money and marrying for money is not something she's ever experienced.
How does Charlotte react to being at the centre of the love triangle?
She's oblivious to that because she doesn't even realise she has feelings for Sidney. Her relationship with Young Stringer is comforting because he reminds her of Willingden. But Sidney is like a question mark. She's completely naive about him. She's feeling it, but doesn't know what it is. That'll play out over the series. She comes to realise she has developed these feelings for Sidney, but it takes a mirror held up by someone else for her to see that.
How have you found it working with Theo?
I have so enjoyed my scenes with him. Theo brings a real elegance to the character. He carries himself as a sophisticated Regency gentleman. He feels 100% Sidney Parker in every moment he is on camera. It's lovely to bounce off that energy.
Have you liked wearing Charlotte's costumes?
Absolutely. I've really enjoyed wearing them. I love a corset. I wore a corset on another show for years, but this is very different. The style of the Regency corset is very loose. It was Grecian. After the war, trade started again with France and the fashions were coming in from Paris. They were very loose and much freer. Then the Victorians came in and restricted it all. This was a time of chaos before Victorian discipline arrived and the costumes mirror that.
Do Charlotte's outfits evolve as her character does?
Yes. Her transition from her family in Willingden to Sanditon is shown in her look. The palette of her clothes changes. At first she wears earthy colours – browns and greens. But as she spends more time in Sanditon, she starts to buy more refined clothes. She "poshes up". That reflects her journey towards sophistication.
Was it an era of decadence to some extent?
Yes. The Regent's partner caused a scandal. She was cheating on him and there were questions in Parliament about it. It prompted a tabloid newspaper scandal. It was a very dynamic time – everything was out there. That was reflected in the dandy looks of the time.
What do you think will be the lasting impression that Sanditon leaves?
That it's not all about getting married; it's about understanding who you are. Romance blossoms naturally without it being the whole focus of the show. Sanditon also concentrates on the amazing venture which is Tom's vision. What the characters are feeling happens to be situated in this place that hasn't finished being built yet.
Above all, for Charlotte, it's about seeing and understanding. She has to learn the hard way that things aren't always what they seem and she has no previous experience of that. Her journey is about understanding that you have to experience things before passing judgement.
Why is Jane Austen still so popular?
The idea of misinterpretations and reconciliations is ageless. But above all, the legacy of Austen's stories resonates still because of their message of listening to other people, not judging them and seeing them for who they are beyond their material circumstance. Her work is all about intention and where a character's heart really lies. Those themes will always be relevant.
Why are we so drawn to period drama?
Human emotion hasn't changed. That depth of feeling rides through the ages. To see how people are affected emotionally in different times will forever resonate because it reflects the human spirit. That's timeless. This story has comedy, romance, tragedy, pain, hope – and those are all eternal.