BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – It's hard to pick up where Jane Austen left off, but PBS is trying anyway.
The new Masterpiece Theater drama "Sanditon," due in 2020, is based on the legendary "Pride and Prejudice" author's unfinished novel, which she was writing when she died in 1817.
"She didn’t really get any further than introducing the characters and the premise of the story," writer/producer Andrew Davies told the Television Critics Association Monday. Davies, who wrote the 1990s "Pride" adaptation for PBS starring Colin Firth, explains that while Austen was "very ill" when she wrote "Sanditon," she was "breaking new ground."
The biggest departure for Austen was her inclusion of Georgiana Lambe, a black West Indian heiress played by Crystal Clarke ("Black Mirror") in the series.
"The 'mulatto Miss Lamb,' that’s Jane Austen’s description," Davies says. In the series, Georgiana is far wealthier than many of the white English people she interacts with, and her relationship to polite society is a big part of the plot.
"What's great is Georgiana hasn’t just been slotted in there just for the sake of diversity," Clarke says. "She was included in the original novel. I do hope to see more (people of color) but it’s also just really nice that it’s something that comes organically ... (black people) were actually a thing back then."
Clarke hopes the recent trend of including more and more diverse black characters in historical dramas is promising.
"It’s really important for us to have the knowledge of that history of black people, people of color," she says. "That history goes much farther back than (you think) ... it would be great to see more of it."
She also emphasizes that it's important how characters of color are portrayed, not just that they're included as tokens.
"We don’t want just diversity; we want representation."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Sanditon' on PBS: How it portrays Jane Austen's first black character