Saturday, 12 October 2019

A review of Sanditon: My Thoughts on The Acting and Production

If you were to ask me what my all-time favourite TV series is I would not even need to think about it. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is Andrew Davies' 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I can watch it over and over again because the acting and production is just so fantastic. So, when I heard last March, that Andrew Davies' latest adaptation of an Austen story was being filmed, I could not wait to see what was in store.

Okay, confession time, I am a Jane Austen fan but I never knew about Sanditon. I had no idea it was an unfinished novel of Austen's. I could not even tell you what it was about until it lit up my TV screens recently. I did not want to research it before I watched it as this was a unique opportunity to watch an Austen drama without knowing the plot. I had no doubt it would be good. Davies always creates wonderful TV and when it comes to Austen he is the master. I would like to think that if Jane Austen had been reincarnated it would be as another woman, but sometimes I wonder has Austen come to life again as Andrew Davies? Of course I jest, but he seems to know her mind inside and out!

Most of Austen's novels are not named after where they are set, but this one is. Sanditon is the name the of the seaside resort, that we are introduced to through the eyes of our heroine Miss Charlotte Heywood. The screenplay has been produced so that Sanditon becomes a character in itself. We get to know Sanditon through our main female protagonist. She is plucked from her humble farm life by an enthusiastic Mr Tom Parker, the visionary behind turning Sanditon into a fabulous, glamorous and well-to-do destination resort. Tom Parker is wonderfully embodied by Kris Marshall who brings delight and passion to his character while showing an underbelly of insecurity. Marshall's comic timing, with the character's whimsy and wonder, allows the viewer to experience his passion and feel his failings. Tom Parker's likeability allows the audience to believe that Miss Heywood's parents could allow her to go off with strangers to a new place. However, in contradiction to the time period or other Austen novels, there is no intention that she should find herself a husband in Sanditon, but her father leaves her with a few words of caution about her destination. Quite rightly so, as maybe she is too innocent to see the dangers for herself, but her self-confidence, however, gives her a strength to not fall foul to all the manipulation that may be at play. Like Heywood, we as the viewer, have never come across an Austen town quite like this. The characters are edgy and there is more grit than we are used to. Austen always has undertones but this is a little closer to the mark and yet does not seem out of place. The seaside brings a bit of wildness and a little less formality that gives the characters more chance to break from societal demands. Through the setting, in particular, we can see our female characters have more to them then just relying on marriage to secure their futures.

There are many characters in this story and produced badly it could become too fragmented. Luckily this is not the case, Charlotte Heywood may be the lynchpin to the story, but we do care enough about other characters predicaments to indulge in their storylines that become separate from our heroine, which is something that is not often present in Austen's work. In her writing, usually, the main female and her male romantic interest are fully formed people with multiple characteristics and everybody else around them presenting as rather two dimensional. This is simply not the case in this Austen adaptation. It is the complexity of many of the characters in Sanditon that makes it feel more like an ensemble piece.

Quote from Radio Times Interview
Nevertheless Rose Williams, who plays Charlotte, brightly shines among her eminent colleagues. Williams is not new to our screens but will be unheard of to many of the audience. She is acting with some very experienced actors so could easily be overshone by them. However, she embodies her character to the core. No matter how much you are drawn into the other storylines, as soon as she is back on the screen you just want to follow her story. Miss Heywood is a young woman with little experience of anything outside of rural life. It would be easy for an actress to play this character as though she were just a naive girl, with wide eyes making ignorant remarks, but I do not think we can attribute these qualities to her. Williams manages to show us Charlotte's innocence alongside a certainty of knowing who she is and claiming her independence. She is intelligent and although she lacks experience of the world around her, she is not afraid to learn. She always owns her opinions, and mistakes, no matter who or what she comes up against. She is very quick to set the record straight that is not in want of a husband and we, as the audience, fully believe her and move on to examine her other qualities and the intrigue into where her story might lead. Of course, she is confronted with the inevitable rich, handsome gentleman, Mr Sidney Parker, who cannot help but try to make her feel small. However, like Bennett and Darcey in Pride and Prejudice, they are inexplicably drawn to one another. Parker and Heywood's interactions are compelling and leave us desperate to see them together more.

 They are drawn together like a magnet. Sidney is performed by Theo James who gives a stellar performance as the arrogant and mysterious gentleman who challenges Charlotte. It would be easy for his character to just be seen as rude and demeaning, however, we also see that perhaps there is another side to him. While James cleverly portrays the character's rudeness though his tone and manner towards his co-star’s character, his eyes tell us a different story. James invites the audience in to see that there is something deeper going on for his character. Through his eyes we can see a conflict between what he is saying and what his true emotions are, perhaps alluding to something in his past that is informing his present in a way he wishes it would not. James' subtle contradiction between his words and his inner thoughts clearly shows his complexity of feelings and hints to us that Sidney and Charlotte may become more than just two people who irritate each other? The question is, do we want the predictable romance to happen between the characters? Charlotte has no pressure to marry and we are presented with another possible love interest for her. Unlike other Austen novels, the second suitor Young Stringer is brilliantly, earnestly and honestly played by Leo Suter, is not absurd or horrific but a lovely and ambitious man who is closer to Charlotte in station. In some episodes, I could not decide which male actor would make the best romantic partner for her as Suter's portrayal of his characters heart on sleeve feelings for Charlotte were glorious to watch. Charlotte's lightness, kindness, outspokenness and intelligence are definitely a draw to both men in different ways. She compliments one and challenges another. Or, perhaps, as the feminist in me would like, she will end up with neither?

The cast as a whole really do excel and are very generous actors. By which I mean, they play their characters in earnest, even our more comedic and evil characters add to the charm of Sanditon beautifully. The step-brother and sister duo played by Jack Fox and Charlotte Spencer reminds me of the siblings Mary and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. Both of these sets are evil, shallow, manipulative but beautiful and charming. However, Davies has developed the Denham duo to become deeper than initial impressions. Fox and Spencer leap on this scripting opportunity and ask the audience to see a different side to them. Despite their manipulations, especially Esther Denham, their depth of character starts to unravel. Spencer brings a sense of sadness and desperation to her character. The director uses this to lead the audience away from the stereotypical evil nature we expect to see within this story format. It is safe to say that Spencer gives fantastic characterisation for others to bounce off in this production, but so do the rest of the cast. They all give a lot to their fellow actors allowing Sanditon to really dazzle as a period drama. No one person steals the show completely. It is well cast. However, I would be remiss not to mention Rose Williams one more time. Her characterisation of Miss Heywood is the key to us enjoying and engaging with this story. Played too naive, we would find her irritating and unable to see the other characters in their true lights. Her manner and brilliant facial expressions reflect her confusion at the responses and situations thrown at her, allow the viewer to care and fully engage in the story. Williams masterly combines Charlotte's inner conflict of natural confidence versus her inexperience of the wider world, to give us an Austen heroine that speaks to us in the twenty-first century. She is the kind of female character we need to bee seeing more of and Rose Williams brings Austen's and Davies' words to life quite wonderfully.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

FMT and M.E: Part Three Did it work?

This is the third instalment detailing my FMT journey. It follows on from my blog post Trying To Fight Back. It spans the second six months of my FMT treatment plan. It has its ups and downs but it is a little less of a rollercoaster ride physically and mentally than documented in my previous two posts. I hope what I have written continues to be helpful to anyone considering or experiencing FMT, as there is still precious little information available about what happens to M.E. patients and their symptoms when they embark on Faecal Microbiota Transplant.

(Number of FMTs December 2016 - June 2017: clinic + at home FMTs = 18 / at home FMTs = 9)

July - August 2017: So, did it really work?

BINGO! After a rocky six months, I finally felt like things had settled down. Mum continued administering my FMT at home. I could now go three weeks between implants before my improvement started to dip. I needed one week to get over each implant and had to deal with multiple symptoms including low mood, dyspepsia, sickness, even more inflammation of the gut and weakness but then generally I experienced two weeks of feeling a bit better. By FMT 10 (the amount I had done at home) and at the end of July I felt I had increased my energy levels by another 1%. So a total of 2% energy increase since December 2016, a reduction in light sensitivity, lower pain levels generally and a decrease in the severity of my headaches. I cannot describe how pleased with the progress I was. After 10 to 11 years of going downhill, with no cure on the horizon, this was akin to a miracle for me and my family.

By August these improvements in my energy, reduction in headaches and general muscle pains were fully cemented and I was less scared that it was just a fluke. I was convinced the FMT was working.

I had noticed a difference in how my body was feeling since the very start of my illness in 2006, even compared to the better times in previous years, when I had felt like my body was fighting to stay on a level playing field, holding itself up by a tiny thread. I had constantly felt like my body was fighting a losing battle against the deterioration that had been slowly occurring and had led my specialist putting me into the severe bracket of M.E. rather than the moderate-to-severe. In August I realised I no longer felt like I was trying to climb a nearly vertical slope. Perhaps this is the feeling of recovery? I don't know. All I know is my body felt different from how it ever had done since I first got struck down by glandular fever.

September/October 2017

We decided to try a holiday abroad at the end of August as my body had stabilised. I was not well enough to fly so we opted to take the overnight ferry to St Malo in France, and drive down to Concarneau to try and catch some hotter weather.

It was lovely to be away but sadly the 10-day break, the long drives and ferry trips left me feeling worse then I had accounted for. I did not recover well, in fact, I felt like I was deteriorating again rather than just needing extra long rest periods. I tried to go out a few weeks later but I had to cancel as all my symptoms were sadly worse than they were pre-holiday, even with doing 2FMTs during this time. I could feel my progress slipping between my fingers. It took me over a month to recover from my trip and I had experienced no positive results from an implant since July. I stubbornly tried another implant in mid-October determined not to let the last year be a waste of time and money.

Luckily for me felt like all my birthdays had come at once, as after the initial side-effects had died down, I felt an increase in energy and my body had the ability to recover from its post-holiday dip. My next treatment at the end of October gave me another boost just in time for a very special event!

November 2017 coping

Wow! I could not quite believe it at the time but I was well enough to attend a large evening party with a light, sound and lots of people for my dad's 60th birthday. I was very strict of course and scheduled extra rest for the weeks before and after the party. I was taking every precaution possible to not only protect my precious progress but also make it to the party.

I had a wonderful time and even did a speech. I was feeling up to continuing tradition, since about the age of five, that I am often the member of the family called upon to make speeches at all sorts of family events.

Much to my shock, apart from the expected immediate fallout, I coped very well at the event and it did not cause a full-blown relapse after the initial few weeks of recovery. I certainly would have struggled downhill if I had attended an event like this prior to going to the Taymount clinic. Things seemed to be continuing on the upward trajectory again!

31st December 2017 - An Excerpt from my FMT Diary

‘So, last week I did my final FMT of 2017. I cannot believe that it is just over a year to the day from when I headed on up to the Taymount Clinic, freezing cold, tired and overwrought from nerves to have my first implant. I am so grateful that the FMT I have just had has given me enough of a boost that celebrating Christmas has not affected me as much as it has done in the past. I am worn out but I do not feel like someone’s about to push me down a dark tunnel of a dreaded relapse.

I am off to Center Parts with Mum in a few days for a mini-break and although there is always a risk of it being the final straw, I really feel strong enough that I do not think it will cause a relapse. I hope in mid-January when I am writing in this little book I will confirm this belief. Most people can’t see my improvement over the last year. It is small in the scheme of things. It is hard to explain how I feel, and most people still don't really get that just sitting up in bed a little more often to watch TV, rather than lying down is a big deal for me. But it doesn't really matter what they think or the look of disappointment on their faces that I'm not cured or not out of my wheelchair- that is their issue, not mine, and I am so proud of how far I have come in the last year. It has not been easy and I have wanted to give up a lot, especially during the relapse periods in the first six months. My bank account has also seen much happier days but its worth every single penny I have scraped together to pay for it and so much more. So, year twenty-seventeen you have been an interesting one for sure and I am so glad that I have ended you better than I started, I hope the new year continues as well as this one has ended.’

View of the lake from Center Parcs apartment

(Number of FMTs December 2016 - January 2018: clinic + at home FMTs = 25 / at home FMTs = 16)

2018: Looking Forward and Looking Back

If you have made it to the end of this blog post I commend you as it is the third part of my FMT treatment plan. It has taken me many months to write but I really wanted to continue to document my journey publically as to just how Faecal Microbiota Treatment has affected my M.E. Initially I told very few people I was having this treatment when I went to the clinic because I was so nervous about it that I didn't want to answer questions, or have everyone waiting with baited breath when I got back to see if it had cured me. Frustratingly, I did have to deal with the surprise from people that knew I was doing it that I only had negative side effects straight away. There were some comments thrown around by some people about my attitude after the first few days at the clinic. They thought I was being negative in explaining how awful it all made me feel and, from others, confusion further down the line as to why I was carrying on when I had only experienced, in their eyes, no visible improvement. I think that the first year of treatment has shown that my body isn’t going to bounce back quickly. I have got a devastating long term chronic illness, no treatment currently available is going to fix all the problems it will of caused in my body overnight, no matter how much I want it too. Before I went to the clinic I decided that I was going to commit to trying FMT for the whole of 2017 and then I would choose my next steps based on that. It has been an easy choice. I have continued on with my treatment for the whole of 2018 and now when this will be published in 2019, with a little input from my M.E. specialist, I have found a balance that where possible having at home implants every 5 weeks is the way to continue. However, it is sometimes longer due to health flares, commitments, and financial pressure. This seems to feel right for my continued improvement or stopping me from relapsing depending on what has been going on that month. I think from documenting this journey it is clear that I suffer from side-effects straight after for a few days and then usually see improvements in my energy levels, but there are bad times too and it is safe to say these continued over 2018 and 2019. As I said in part one of this blog it was ‘a bumpy ride with some positive results’!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I hope if you are thinking of embarking on an FMT protocol at the Taymount Clinic (or elsewhere) for M.E. it has given you some and hope and insight into what you might expect to happen.

Please feel free to privately contact me on my blog or message me on social media accounts which I will link at the bottom, and I will endeavor to answer any questions.

 Keep a lookout for the next installment where I discuss milestone moments and symptoms in particular that have improved from my FMT treatment over the last two or so years.



Other Posts in FMT and ME Series:

FMT and ME: A Bit on the Side

FMT and M.E. Part One: Why

FMT and M.E. Part Two: Trying to Fight Back

FMT and M.E. Part Three: Where Do I Go From Here


I am not a medical professional and nothing here can be taken as medical or health advice, so check with your doctor before following any information in my blog.
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