Sanditon star Anne Reid: ‘It’s nice to give the orders for a change!’

Sanditon star Anne Reid on how her role in the ITV drama finally got her out of the kitchen and above stairs giving the orders

Anne Reid is no stranger to period dramas. She’s starred in BBC1’s Bleak House (2005) and Upstairs Downstairs (2010), however, she’s used to playing characters that obey orders rather than give them.

But her role in ITV’s Sanditon – based on Jane Austen’s final unfinished novel – has finally granted a lifelong wish.

In the eight-part drama, Anne plays Lady Denham, a wealthy widow who relishes in barking commands at her servants, friends and family alike.

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But Lady Denham doesn’t just hold the power in her luxurious-looking household; she’s Sanditon’s principal investor, and her word is final on most things in this burgeoning seaside town.

Here, Anne Reid, 84, tells us why the role of Lady Denham in Sanditon is a dream come true, and why the miserly dowager is a force to be reckoned with…

You’ve starred in period dramas before but have you always wanted to do a Jane Austen adaptation?

Anne Reid: “Yes! I think everybody would love to be in an Austen series. But the most glorious thing about Sanditon is that I’m playing a character upstairs. It’s nice to be giving the orders for a change! For some reason, in the past, people thought I looked domesticated. But I’m the worst cook in England and my flat is a tip!”

Can you tell us a bit more about Lady Denham?

AR: “She’s only interested in money and that’s it. Her money was hard to come by, so now she’s got it, she’s not going to part with any of it. She managed to get it, along with her title, by using her feminine wiles to secure a profitable marriage. She sees marriage as a business.”

Kris Marshall as entrepreneur Tom Parker in Sanditon

How influential is she in the town of Sanditon?

AR: “Tom Parker, played by the wonderfully glorious Kris Marshall, has this vision for the town as a spa resort and Lady Denham has invested a lot of money to get it going. But it doesn’t go according to plan and she gets very bad-tempered when things don’t go her way.”

How does Lady Denham deal with the array of potential heirs who are after her money?

AR: “She can be quite mean, but everyone is after her money it seems! There’s her nephew and niece, Edward and Esther Denham [Jack Fox and Charlotte Spencer], and lovely little Clara Brereton [Lily Sacofsky], who’s also a relative. However, Lady Denham has got no intention of dying for a very long time!”

Sanditon also reunites you with screenwriter Andrew Davies, who has adapted and continued Jane Austen’s story…

“Yes, we did Bleak House together. Andrew’s work is wonderful; he’s very clever, but with Sanditon, Jane Austen only wrote the first 11 chapters. Luckily, though, she wrote a few pages on Lady Denham, so I don’t think I’ve ever had such a clear description of any character I’ve ever played.”

What do you think Austen fans will think?

AR: “Unless you’re a real fan I don’t think you would know this book like her others. We moved away from Austen and onto Andrew Davies quite quickly, but I hope the purists will not disapprove of what Andrew has done. He has created something extraordinary.”

Sanditon continues on ITV on Sunday at 9pm