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December 02, 2019

Her Compass Points to Costume

Period costumes keep Rose Williams in the picture.

Ann Farmer
  • Joseph Seresin

Rose Williams keeps getting cast in period pieces.

She sported tiaras for The CW's historical series Reign. She corseted up for the Netflix costume extravaganza Medici. Now she's donning an array of English bonnets for the PBS drama Sanditon, which is based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen.

"It brings me so much joy to meld the worlds and find characters through the costumes," says Williams, who began her career in the BBC's wardrobe department, sewing and organizing actors' garments alongside her costumer mother. Watching the performers transform into characters, she got the acting itch. "I have to do this," she recalls thinking.

Six short years later, she's playing the central figure in Sanditon, which premieres in January. As Charlotte Heywood, a spirited, independent gal from the English countryside, she pays a visit to Sanditon, a sleepy seaside village which aspires to become a tourist destination. This sets the stage for romance, intrigue and multiple opportunities for Charlotte to put her foot in her mouth.

"She's got a good moral compass. But she often speaks before she thinks," says Williams, who appreciates Charlotte's spunk. "Her ambition lies in exploration and adventure rather than finding a wealthy man."

It all sounds very Jane Austen-y, though we'll never know what the English novelist would have thought of Sanditon the series. She penned only 11 chapters of the novel (initially dubbed The Brothers) before she died.

Screenwriter Andrew Davies, an eminent adapter of literary classics, was tasked with expanding Austen's premise to eight episodes. "I think he's captured the essence of where she was going with it," says Williams, who's become an ardent Austen fan. "I didn't quite realize how much of a go-getting modern feminist she was. Her message is still relevant today."

What is less relevant, however, is the homely full-length bathing outfit that Williams wears when Charlotte takes a dip in the sea. Even her tresses are suppressed under a puffy cap. "Yeah, that was a really bizarre look," Williams says, though she's glad that the production went for it. "It was," she says, "historically accurate."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 11, 2019

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