I recommend that you don’t read my review until you’ve seen the movie. But if you don’t mind spoilers, go right ahead. I watched this (three-part) movie again because I was very impressed upon first viewing it on You Tube this past summer. Then I saw it on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. My mom really liked it too, especially the beautiful scenery and music (dramatic when it suited the moment).
The newest film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is a mix of Austen and Bronte, according to producer Anne Pivcevic. The Dashwood ladies (middle-aged, widowed mother Mary, sensible/practical eldest daughter Elinor, passionate/opinionated middle daughter Marianne, and energetic pre-teen Margaret) actually live in a cottage very close to the sea in Devonshire. Talk about being removed from “society!” Most of the rain in the movie is real rain. Pivcevic and screenwriter Andrew Davies (who adapted Emma starring Kate Beckinsale and the gorgeous Daniel Deronda among others) explain on the commentary track. The family has fallen very far from the comfort of Norland, the viewer can see clearly.
I think it’s best not to hope too fervently for something that may never happen.
-Elinor Dashwood on her relationship with Edward
Aside from the great settings, I was struck my how well the actors (especially those under 30) performed. Janet McTeer (Mrs. Dashwood) is a tall, elegant woman. She brings softness to Mary, who had been a sheltered woman most of her life. Upon her husband’s death, she is a bit lost, and Elinor (just 19 at the start of the tale) has to explain their financial situation to her. One of my first thoughts was that Hattie Morahan (Elinor) has amazing skin! But aside from that, her great posture and fine features seem to suit the time period to a tee. I like her speaking voice; she sounds very elegant (and very similar to Emma Thompson). I always imagined Elinor looking something like this- mature, dignified, and a natural beauty.
Elinor, I don’t care what those people think! –Marianne Dashwood
Just 17 when the story begins, Marianne (Charity Wakefield) is justifiably a little rebellious. She gets upset with Fanny at the dinner table, embarrassed by Sir John and Mrs. Jennings’ jokes, and despairs of ever finding love. Marianne has many different hairstyles to go along with her many moods; this reminded me of modern girls (who often color/re-fashion their hair). The actress’ large blue eyes upon a small face are big assets. As in Ang Lee’s wonderful big screen movie, the young Margaret (here nicknamed Meg) is a bubbly, smart, somewhat tomboyish girl. She is observant, and often says the things that the grown-ups are thinking. You can’t fool kids!
I have no wish to be distinguished. –Edward Ferrars
I think we all have to find our own ways to be happy. –Edward Ferrars
Davies says that he worked hard to punch up the male characters; he felt they were underdeveloped in the book (especially Edward). I agree about Edward; in the book, he’s not a captivating guy at all. In this movie, Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens) is the best looking guy! His clothes are a bit old-fashioned and faded, as he doesn’t seek fortune or fame (unlike the rest of his family). Clothes reflect character sometimes, right? Edward seems shy and awkward, but only briefly; some Austen fans commented that they didn’t like that. This Edward is thoughtful, very honorable (like in the book), but also outgoing. I thought the horse-riding scene with Meg was sweet; that (gorgeous black) horse was Colin Farrell’s in Alexander (Dan Stevens says on the commentary). He did a good job with this role; I liked the moments of youthful uncertainty he displayed. The wet shirt/log chopping scene was a too much out of character. However, I did like the sincere concern with which he said “You have very little help here.” That revealed him as a true friend to the family!
He is too rational for me- more to be admired than loved.
–Willoughby on poet John Pope
Davies wanted more action for the men, so he expanded on events that were merely hinted at in the book (for example: the duel between Willoughby and Col. Brandon). I didn’t think Willoughby (Dominic Cooper, who can currently be seen in The Duchess opposite Keira Knightley) was handsome at all. However, he was very good at playing up the dark undercurrents of his character. His big dark eyes, dark hair, and richly colored costumes (red, black, elaborately embroidered) helped portray him as someone (potentially) dangerous. Remember that this guy seduced a very young girl (the ward of Col. Brandon) in the start of this version, then abandoned her pregnant. Pivcevic points out that Marianne could also have been ruined by Willoughby because she lets her emotions overtake her judgment at times. Wow, I’d never thought of that! She only lets him have a kiss in this film. Overall, having young actors really paid off!
…he’s the only one in the neighborhood one can have an intelligent conversation with!
-Marianne on Brandon
I really enjoyed the parts of Brandon and Marianne becoming acquainted before Willoughby raced in. David Morrissey looks boyish when he smiles; in his eyes, you can see his character’s hopes and fears. After Brandon gives her the sheet music, note the expectation on his face as he mentions her someday trying his piano- good stuff! She says she can talk with him. Marianne wasn’t thinking about love though. Pivcevic says that she needed to grow up more in order to appreciate a good man like the colonel.
I shall be very sorry to see her injured. –Col. Brandon on Marianne
My favorite moment in the film is at the very end of Part 1. Notice the look on the colonel’s face when he sees Willoughby paying his first call to Marianne (while her ankle is sprained). The concern and sadness in his eyes as he walks away from the cottage reveal much about his character. We can’t help but wonder if Brandon’s just sad for his loss of suit, or if he knows something not-so-nice regarding Willoughby. Another nice moment is when the girls spot Edward (riding quite fast, I thought) toward the cottage; the look of triumphant happiness on Elinor’s face is very sweet.
Company, company, company! Where would we be without company?
I thought that the smaller characters such as: Fanny, Mrs. Jennings, and Lucy’s hilarious sister (Anne) did a fine job. I loved Anne’s constant chattering about “beaux.” The evil sister-in-law, Fanny, was tightly wound (including her hair), unfeeling, and vain. Mrs. Jennings, besides being quite a busybody, was sweet and solicitous of the Elinor and Marianne (especially in London). Lucy was very naïve about Edward’s family; she is a simple country girl after all. Sir John was too gregarious in the beginning, but he had a twinkle in his eyes that told you he was a decent guy.
Austen makes a big point regarding money in her books, and Sense and Sensibility in no exception. The girls deserve much more than what half-brother John offers; Fanny changes his mind (as she wears the pants in that family). Willoughby, who falls in love with Marianne, chooses Ms. Grey “with her 50,000 pounds” after Lady Allen disowns him. (Lady Allen did so because she found out about his affair with Brandon’s ward, we are told in the Ang Lee version.) He’s used to the good life. Edward, fearing his mother’s wrath and disownment, keeps the engagement to Lucy a secret for 4 years! However, riches are not a big deal for Edward; he wants to become a country parson.
One of the main reasons Col. Brandon is seen as very eligible is his great wealth. Oh, we realize that he has great manners, reads, and is knowledgeable about music. But that doesn’t put food on the table! Husbands with good livings (incomes) are very crucial because the girls’ dowries are so small. Elinor is very aware of that fact, though her mother and Marianne choose not to dwell upon it. But it all ends well, because respectable, amiable, and pretty girls in Austen’s books get their just rewards!
Elinor nearly misses out on a (very compatible) match because she is too reserved- very aware of propriety. When her mother wants to write to Edward, she tells her to “let him come in his own time.” Marianne, on the other hand, risks ruining her reputation by revealing her preference for an (unworthy) man. Notice how she laughs loudly while dancing with Willoughby; she refuses to dance with any other guy at a party. This was not considered good manners in Austen’s time. However, he is her first love, and that’s an age when people aren’t usually sticklers for rules. I thought it was (a little) risky for her to go riding in the curricle for a few hours and visiting Allenham. (I had the same thought when I saw the Ang Lee movie, too.) What do you think? Watch this new S&S adaptation and share your thoughts!