Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sense and Sensibility 2008

Sense & Sensibility (with Miss Austen Regrets) (BBC TV 2008)Now, on to the new Sense and Sensibility miniseries of 2008. This is the BBC rendition, written by Andrew Davies.  It is absolutely lovely, well done and cannot be compared to the above because it is like apples and oranges.  This one is much longer, so it can highlight the back story at the beginning and Davies was also able to flesh out the male leads and make them more appealing (especially Edward) and lets us see the duel where Brandon’s passion emerges.  

Andrew Davies clearly wanted to emphasize the sexual nature of some of the characters, which I do not disagree with.  We have the scene with Willoughby and Eliza at the beginning which makes us a bit more reluctant to like Willoughby at first. Actually, it makes you want to yell “statutory rape!” or “creeper!” at the screen.  We also have sparks flying between Edward and Elinor which made my heart ache when they are separated, seemingly forever.  And when Willoughby takes Marianne on a tour of Allenham, you can feel the teenage hormones flowing and makes you think that she would have gladly followed him into a bedroom had he opened a door.  For a few seconds, I felt the butterflies that were clearly in her stomach when she slid her hand up the banister.  And when he says her name after the kiss in front of the windows at Allenham, one clearly senses that she was expecting either a proposal or roll in the hay or both.  The only self control in that scene was his, which was admirable, considering his previous inability to control his...urges.

Obviously Jane Austen could only allude to these things obliquely, but bringing this part of the story to life is not only realistic, as opposed to Austen’s sanitized version, but it would speak more to the younger viewers, who would be in the age bracket of the girls depicted.

The resurrection of some more minor characters like Lady Middleton, Miss Steele, and little Henry (a hilariously plump, redheaded mute) were refreshing.  Miss Steele’s lower class accent was great for her inane ramblings about her beaux, but if Mr. Davies had included a few of the “ain’t” words that Jane Austen wrote for Lucy, we could have seen her as just grasping at gentility, and the contrast to Elinor’s perfections would have been more apparent.

But this is nit picking (ooh that expression always makes me want to scratch my head).  This 3 episode miniseries is lovely and the casting and scenery are just brilliant.  Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield were plucked from obscurity to play the lead roles here and I hope they both get more work as a result. Mrs. Dashwood and Brandon were expertly played as well.  All of the other roles were well played but not quite as outstanding. No one seemed to really jar in their role, which is no mean feat. I loved the music, which is not surprising as it was done by Martin Phipps who did the equally good music from North and South.  The evening scenes were beautifully lit with candle light and added to the period feel. The costumes and hair were all great, especially Fanny’s stiff kiss curls around her face. Charity Wakefield’s soft curls are a lovely way of emphasizing her romantic nature and a contrast to Elinor’s straight controlled look.  And the ginger headed father and son John and little Henry Dashwood were priceless.

I have to say a word about the gorgeous house used for Norland. All of the locations were amazing, but this one is outstanding. Wrotham Park has apparently been used for many productions, probably partly due to it’s beauty and partly the fact that it is not open to the public.  The indoor stairs were famously used for Bridget Jones to pull Mark Darcy aside and ask him to pop by her place sometime.  Crikey!  The whole place seems unchanged since Georgian times and can be rented for weddings for a mere £8,000.

Anyway, it is a lovely watch, preferably spread over several nights but this one is hard to turn off so you have been warned. And if you don’t have a new appreciation of the character of Edward after seeing him chase chickens at his new rectory, you haven’t got a heart.  A lovely happily ever after.


  1. I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. The film tells pretty much the same story as the book, with the same characters, but there the similarity ends. Only a fraction of the dialogue here actually comes from the book and many scenes are completely re-written, or do not appear in the book at all. The worst scene is the one where Willoughby arrives at Cleveland while Marianne is ill. Jane Austen's purpose was for us to see how wretched Willoughby's selfish behaviour had made him- actually ruined his life, and Elinor comes to understand him and pity him. This in no way comes across in the film, and to have Marianne standing eavesdropping on the scene was totally wrong. The locations are excellent, particularly the Devon cottage, and Hattie Morahan is a fine actress who makes a very good Elinor Dashwood. I've no doubt this would make a very enjoyable watch for anyone unfamiliar with the book, but I spent the whole three hours shouting "No, no, no!" at the screen. My advice is curl up with the book instead. (Then watch Emma Thompson's film, if you must watch something.)

    1. The dialogue in S&S2008 was actually handled very well. What Andrew Davies did was rewrite conversations (that is, SOME of them - but by no means ALL) to convey the same THEMES and MEANING that Jane Austen intended. A three-hour miniseries cannot possibly include every line of dialogue from the book, so instead of taking bits and pieces of dialogue from here and there in the book and presenting them out of context (which Emma Thompson frequently did, when she wasn't substituting her own, inferior dialogue), Davies instead chose to distill dialogue to its essence. Nevertheless, there is still PLENTY of Austenian dialogue in S&S2008 - it's simply used more effectively than in the Hollywood-ized 1995 film.

      Age-appropriate casting is also important, and this is another area in which S&S2008 triumphs over S&S1995. Hattie Morahan is magnificent. So is Charity Wakefield, who portrayed a young Regency Era girl more believably than the younger (at the time) Kate Winslet. Winslet always has such a modern air about her that she is never entirely convincing in period pieces. Praise is due to the 2008 production's Colonel Brandon (played wonderfully by David Morrissey), as well. Brandon is one of Austen's most honorable and - importantly - masculine characters, but you'd never know that from watching the 1995 film. The 2008 version corrects this issue, making its Brandon a genuinely good, humane, competent, and highly respected character.

      The 1995 film seems to be deeply in love with the twit, Willoughby, so Edward and Brandon are greatly reduced - Brandon to a bitter, cold, and most ineffective suitor and guardian; and Edward to a dull wimp. Not my idea of Austen's work.

  2. To be honest, after the 2011 Jane Eyre and 2004's North & South, this is without a doubt my favourite adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I know there are some people who think it re-arranges things and only uses a fraction of the dialogue, but I'm actually reading the book right now and like all good adaptations, it keeps the important lines almost verbatim. Also I think one can argue that for almost any Austen adaptation. Her style of writing omits a lot of detail in many conversations. We're told the outline of what is said but Austen didn't necessarily put it all into words, so an Austen adaption is frequently a blank canvas. If one kept everything as it is in the book, more than half of the story would be internal monologue. I think they did a beautiful job with it abs kept it humorous, but also added a good amount of gravity to the story that the 1995 version just seems to lack in some ways.




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