Extended Movie Review: ITV’s “Sense and Sensibility”

One of the DVD covers
One of the DVD covers

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). 

 

 

Mrs. Dashwood
Mrs. Dashwood

 

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.

 

 

Two great interpretations of Elinor
Two great interpretations of Elinor

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Willoughby and Marianne (Ang Lee's film)
Willoughby & Marianne (Ang Lee)

 

  

The new Willoughby & Marianne
The new Willoughby & Marianne

 

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!      

 

 

 

Two VERY different Edwards!
Two VERY different Edwards!

 

I have no wish to be distinguished. –Edward Ferrars

  

This Edwars is NOT plain...
NOT a plain guy at all…

 

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!    

 

Bad boy
Bad boy

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!

 

 

 

  

What a CUTE horse!!!
What a CUTE horse!!!

 

…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.

  

 

Some comic relief
Some comic relief- the Steele sisters

Company, company, company!  Where would we be without company?

–Sir John

 

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.

 

A painting of JA
A painting of JA

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: “Persuasion” (BBC: 1995)

Persuasion is perhaps one of Jane Austen’s most personal novels.  The central idea for the story, loving someone even when hope is gone, comes from a terrible incidence in her older sister Cassandra’s life.  The young naval officer she was engaged to marry died at sea.  He wanted to seek his fortune before settling down.  Cassandra retired from society after this loss, vowing to never marry.  For many years, Cassandra kept house for Jane, while the more famous sis wrote.  Perhaps this book was a way to give her big sis a happy ending!    

Eight years ago, Anne (Amanda Root), daughter of a nobleman, Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave), fell deeply in love with Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), brother of the local curate (preacher; pastor).  Wentworth was in the navy, and not too much older than Anne (who was just 19).  He was not from a distinguished family, and had yet to prove his merit (meaning: get rich).  Lady Russell, Anne’s neighbor (acting in lieu of her deceased mother), persuaded her to refuse Frederick’s hand.  “He had nothing but himself to recommend him,” Lady Russell comments.   

At the start of the film, Anne is 27, and considered an “old maid.”  Her father pays little attention to her, probably seeing her as another burden.  (Sir Walter spends more than is prudent.)  Though her superficial, older sister (Elizabeth) is 29, it is hinted (in the book) that she’s waiting around for a super-rich beau.  The younger sis, Mary (Sophie Thompson, sister of Emma Thompson), is a mother of two sons, and settled comfortably with a gentleman farmer, Charles Musgrove

Things get so bad financially, that Sir Walter’s lawyer suggests the Elliot family “retrench” to Bath, a resort town where they can still live respectably.  They can rent out their house (on a big estate, Kellynch Hall) to Admiral Croft, a very gentleman-like naval officer and his wife.  Anne is (visibly) upset when she hears this- Mrs. Croft is the elder sister of Frederick!  Lady Russell remembers the “disappointment,” but has no regret about it.  However, Anne is still in love with her first love.

Captain Wentworth comes to Uppercross (where Anne is staying for a time); he is introduced to all the Musgroves.  Both of the unmarried Musgrove girls, Louisa and Henrietta, seek his attention.  At a dinner, Wentworth comments to someone that Anne “was so altered that he’d hardly have known her.”  What will happen now that the tables are reversed?  Anne’s family has its good name, but very little money.  Wentworth has made a considerable fortune at sea, and is therefore a great catch for any single gal.  Anne looks weighed down by life; Wentworth is social and upbeat in all types of company.  Have his feelings changed?  How will they ever get together?

You have to remember that in Austen’s time, single people (usually) did not have long courtships or engagements.  They were often in company, so had little chance to talk alone about crucial matters (how they really feel about each other and so forth).  People usually hung out with their neighbors, cousins, and others in their social rank (when they were on vacation or in London).  It wasn’t polite to go blabbing your (true) opinions in public.  But, people did write letters- this is crucial in Persuasion.                   

The lead actors are very good at conveying their emotions, however subtle, in this film.  A lot has to be said without words, or the movie would not be true to the book or its time period.  Sophie Thompson, as Mary, is also very good (as she is in Emma).  She has some subtle comedic moments; Mary likes to create little dramas (she’s a typical bored housewife).  Another small, but notable character, is Mrs. Croft (Fiona Shaw).  Anne is drawn to her warm personality.  She is a very kind, energetic, and well-traveled older woman.  The Crofts, though they have no children, are a very loving/compatible couple (both in the book and film).  In one dinner scene she says that “we [women] none of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”  Very true!        

Jane Austen said that the character of Anne was “almost too good to be true.”  Anne is described as capable (she nurses her injured nephew) and down-to-earth (she visits an old, sick school friend instead of visiting a high-ranking relation).  Like many Austen heroines, she likes reading, long walks, and intelligent conversations.  She is not obsessed with rank, unlike the rest of her family.  She is unbowed by the flattery of her cousin, Mr. Elliot, who heaps attention on her in Bath.  So, she’s a gal you can root for!     

The look of this film is very authentic, in my opinion.  The actors are not overly glamorous, nor do they over-act (like in some tongue-in-cheek adaptations of Jane Austen).  Yes, there are a few moments of humor, but the issue at hand is serious.  Love (and life) may pass these characters by if they don’t communicate and take some action to hook up!  Check this film out if you’re looking for an adaptation that is intelligent.  I’ve seen it several times, and consider it the best adaptation of Austen on film (aside from the Pride and Prejudice mini-series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle).  This film gives modern audiences a view into Austen’s characters’ minds.

 

The Complete Jane Austen on PBS: “Sense & Sensibility” (Part 1)

ss2.jpg 

I think this adaptation is going VERY well- I REALLY like the scenery and Col. Brandon (David Morrissey)!  The Dashwoods are (quite literally) removed from their grand house to face the effects of wind, rain, and sea in this production.  The mother is a MUCH stronger character in this film, partly because of the GREAT acting/stature of Janet McTeer (who brought much-needed humor to the dark Wuthering Heights several yrs back).  The cast is very young (as they should be according to the book).  Willoughby gets a scene where he gets to show his sadness/vulnerability before leaving for London (as his aunt wanted).  Can’t wait for the second episode…

Click below to see some cool behind-the-scenes stuff!

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/senseandsensibility/index.html