Back by popular demand, the MASTERPIECE series Sanditon returns for a second season of adventure, scandal and — of course — plenty of romance.

At last, viewers will be reunited with heroine Charlotte Heywood, Antigua heiress Georgiana Lambe and their friends, including the five new men in town. Can anyone replace the cold, cautious Sidney as Charlotte’s love interest? What happens when Charlotte’s younger sister Alison — a “silly” girl according to writer Andrew Davies — joins the group? How will Georgiana, Austen’s first character of color, contend with townspeople’s racism and opportunism? We can find out starting with the March 20 premiere and streaming anytime on GBH Passport.

Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished 1817 novel, is a transfixing blend of romance, betrayal and rivalries, said Jace Lacob, host of the “Making MASTERPIECE” podcasts, which let us in on the series’ back stories. “There are fortunes that are won and lost. There are red-coated officers and garden parties. But it really is about the characters examining their lives and shifting destinies and what it means to be an independent woman in Regency era, Britain, and whether having a fortune insulates you from risk or attracts it.”

Initially a co-production with U.K.’s ITV, Sanditon nearly ended after only eight episodes.

“We were very excited about the series because Jane Austen-type shows are, of course, a fan favorite for MASTERPIECE and always have been,” said Susanne Simpson, executive producer. “When ITV decided not to commission the second season — before we had even shown Sanditon on the air in the U.S. — I felt very strongly that it was going to do well. So I started having conversations with PBS about whether we could raise the money to do a second season.”

When the first season finally aired in the United States in January 2020, the series, as expected, was hugely popular with American audiences.

“It created a kind of fandom that we don’t normally see for our programs except
for, say, Downton Abbey,” she said. “And that fandom let us know that they really wanted to see more of Sanditon.”

A new season meant new sets, some built inside a hangar, said Simpson, who visited the site near the city of Bristol in the U.K. Outside was a large street with beautifully
painted houses, a promenade and a beach.

“When you go to the set, you really get a sense of what a gigantic enterprise is
required to make two seasons of a show,” she said, adding that the costume room
and interior sets were half the size of a football field.

The two women leads, Charlotte and Georgiana, have mixed feelings about matrimony, while Charlotte’s hopelessly romantic sister Alison Heywood, can’t wait to find a husband. As a number of young military officers settle into town, they provide eligible women with dashing dance partners and potential matches.

Sanditon is also filled with moments of pointed social commentary. As the series depicts, English women organized a sugar boycott to protest the evils of slavery connected to the sugar trade.

In May 2020, Simpson decided that MASTERPIECE would commit to working toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion both in front of the camera and behind it, and Sanditon provided a perfect opportunity to do just that. She hired a consultant with a Ph.D. in race and gender studies and a background in television writing to provide a more informed perspective on the character of Georgiana.

“Our first way of approaching stories of diversity is to look to history and find precedents. And that’s what we did with Georgiana Lambe,” Simpson said. “We really wanted to give her a much more substantial backstory that gets bigger and bigger as the series progresses,” she said.

Enjoy "Making MASTERPIECE” episodes about Sanditon here. For the complete collection of MASTERPIECE podcasts—taking you behind the scenes of many of your favorite dramas—visit the MASTERPIECE website or subscribe to “MASTERPIECE Studio” wherever you get your podcasts.