The other day I came across the first film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility on a DVD - what better way to celebrate the bicentenary of its publication!
The TV series from 1981, dramatised by Alexander Baron and directed by Rodney Bennett, is probably the least known of all the three notable adaptations. Like its contemporaries, it has a somewhat dated feel to it, with little background music and drab costumes, ill-fitting coats and hairstyles that are clearly an early 80’s representation of Regency fashion. The actors’ performances border the theatrical, with rolling r’s and such like. Nonetheless, as a Jane Austen fan I enjoy watching any adaptation of her work and this one, too, kept me engaged for hours on end.
What I liked about this version was that the theme of the novel was very clear from the very first scene. Marianne sits with her mother in a coach, on the way back from Mr Dashwood’s funeral. Both the ladies express their indignation at having to leave Norland, the family estate.
The sensible, less emotional Elinor who sits opposite, suggests finding another suitable place to live.
Marianne asks her, “Where are your feelings?”, to which Elinor replies, “I govern them”. The screenplay may not follow the original text faithfully, but stays well within the framework of the novel.
Marianne, played by Tracey Childs, is not that different from the later representations of the same character. Here, too, she is shown to be passionate and emotional and she always speaks her mind with fervour.
Marianne despairs at having to leave her beloved Norland.
Elinor, on the other hand, governs her feelings until the very end, but Irene Richard’s lack of expression and “toothy beauty” fail to convince me.
“Sense will always have its attractions for me.”
Enter Edward Ferrars. Bosco Hogan as Edward lacks the looks and the charming awkwardness that his character demands. We are rushed too quickly into the next scene to understand how their feelings develop into love.
On the other hand, Willoughby, played by Peter Woodward, compares to the later versions and has both the looks and the charm.
Attractive Willoughby rescues Marianne.
He also has a good singing voice to boost!
This rather bushy version of Colonel Brandon, played by Robert Swann, makes me miss Alan Rickman!
The series does have its advantages. We get to see a more thorough portrayal of the minor characters, such as the unbearable Lucy Steele, the motherly Mrs Jennings (less comic in this version) and the conniving Fanny Dashwood.
Lucy Steele tells Elinor that she has finally managed to get into the good books of Mrs Ferrars.
In this ludicrous scene, Fanny is in hysterics when she hears about Edward and Lucy’s engagement.
The scene where Edward proposes to Elinor is very governed, indeed (and it’s slightly distracting to see his hair styled like Mr Collins’).
As for Marianne, the series ends in an anti-climax when Colonel Brandon gives a chest full of books for Marianne to read. No proposal, and no wedding!
Well, it is hard to beat Ang Lee’s beautiful 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility, with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson in the lead. I’ve grown up with it and seen it too many times to dissociate myself from it. The newer adaptation by Andrew Davies from 2008 comes as a close second, with excellent acting and a realistic touch to it.
Which is your favourite adaptation of Sense and Sensibility?
1995 (Ang Lee)
2008 (Andrew Davies)