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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Exploring the First Film Adaptation of Sense and Sensibility


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?

  1. 1981 (Baron/Bennett)

  2. 1995 (Ang Lee)

  3. 2008 (Andrew Davies)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Delightful Creature to Appear as a Doll

Jane Austen was clearly proud of her creation of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, saying famously that Elizabeth was “as delightful a creature to have ever appeared in print”.

I have always liked Elizabeth and have created a page for her in one of my scrapbooks.

Do you remember playing with paper dolls as a child? I found this beautiful paper doll with its clothes and accessories on the Internet, painted them, and stuck them with blu-tack on the page with a sketch of Longbourn as a backdrop.

You can print these dolls here.

JaneDoll JaneDoll2

The site seems to have started to charge for printing, but it’s very inviting as there are so many familiar characters from Jane Austen’s books as well as other classic heroes and heroines.

Perhaps Mr Darcy will get his page next…?!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Revisiting the Regency House Party


I have just finished watching the Regency House Party. The 4-part series was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004, and is available to watch on You Tube in 36 parts.

The Regency House Party is a reality TV show, bringing together five gentlemen from the modern world and five ladies with their chaperones to spend a summer (9 weeks) is a Regency country house.  Brought back to the year 1811, the idea is to pair off the amiable bachelors with their beautiful counterparts, with match-making efforts made by the ladies’ chaperones.


                                     Guests arriving at Kentchurch Court.


                                          Staff welcoming the guests.

The Regency House Party is a very well-designed production with plenty of period detail down to chamber pots and a Regency-style shower. The costumes are fantastic, some of which have been recycled from earlier period dramas. The men in the show, in particular, look stunning in their long coats, breeches, cravats and top hats. The country house, Kentchurch Court, which is located in Herefordshire, has been decorated in 19th Century style and really brings the Regency period into life.


                 Miss Braund and her chaperone inspecting their bedroom.


                     Guests at dinner - the highlight of the Regency day.


                   The highest-ranking gentlemen leading the way to church.

We follow the ladies and gentlemen, as they get used to living according to the Regency decorum and etiquette, with various degrees of success.  The series shows that life was fun-filled for the idle gentlemen, who get to drink all day long, take snuff, splay sports etc. while the women are obliged to sit indoors with their books and needlework.


                     Ladies feeling bored while the men are allowed to play.


          Miss Hopkins struggling to come to terms with her Regency identity.

Initially, the women struggle living within the confines of the Regency etiquette and throw fits at their chaperones, finding the environment oppressive. Perhaps, it would be difficult for a modern woman to lead a Regency life for as long as 2 months; few of us are as ‘accomplished’ as the Regency ladies, who could easily switch between needlework, French and Italian literature and playing the harp. Personally, I would love to have some time out to attend an experiment like this. Instead of sitting around and moaning, I could imagine spending my time perfecting my skills at the piano, writing or painting, not having enough time to hone my skills given the hectic modern struggle of work/life balance.  


                                             Ladies in muslin.

The ladies and men have been assigned particular roles, matching their real-life personas to roles they might have had within the Regency society. The casting has been carefully done and most of the people seem very well suited to their roles, coming from privileged backgrounds themselves, with posh accents to match. A real-life industrial heiress, Victoria Hopkins, plays a newly rich heiress Miss Hopkins. Countess Griaznov is a countess in real life, with limited powers. One the other hand, the musician, James Carrington, has the role of a Regency charmer, with plenty of sex appeal and little money.


                   Mr Gorell-Barnes writing a letter. Image from Channel 4.

The men are certainly very well adjusted to their roles from the very beginning of the show (apart from a hairdresser turned army officer who leaves early). The Mr Darcy of the show, Mr Gorell Barnes, is a very good host, and so like Mr Darcy in his manners that he rarely smiles or shows emotion. Captain Glover is a charming Regency gentleman, with manners and personality to boost.  The handsome Mr Carrington with his dimples makes a great Wickham/Willoughby, with plenty of charm but few prospects on his side. 


                               Captain Glover in his naval uniform.

I found Miss Hopkins quite crass for a Regency lady, but incidentally she turns out to be very popular with the men who are obviously used to strong-minded, independent modern ladies.  Some of the personalities in the show can be quite annoying, and they have probably been cast on purpose to bring out some drama in the show.

The series does have its moments; seeing the men in breeches ride their horses, bombing French miniature ships to celebrate the victory against Napoleon’s army, Captain Glover making a life-size ‘be happy’ sign of hay and flower petals as a love token to Miss Braund, the ladies wondering whether Mr Everett is ‘good in the sack’ as he participates in a sack-race…


…let alone the wet-shirt scene with Mr Gorell Barnes, our true Mr Darcy!


The series does have its flaws, with some factual mistakes here and there, but is certainly fun to watch. I would love to enter an experiment like this, but perhaps attending the Jane Austen Festival would be more realistic to start with. Would you like to go on a show like this?

Have you seen the Regency House Party and did you enjoy it?


To watch the series on You Tube, click here.

To read an interview of Mark Foxsmith and Lady Devenport on their experiences at the Regency House, click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Supper Jane Austen Style

The other night I had supper that Jane Austen would have approved of: toasted cheese – in all its simplicity.


In 1805, Jane Austen wrote, "We were greatly surprised by Edward Bridge's company...It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper, entirely on my account."

To make toasted cheese in period style, I used the following recipe by Martha Lloyd, Jane Austen’s dear friend, who lived with her at Chawton.


Toasted Cheese
Grate the cheese and add it to one egg, a teaspoonful of mustard, and a little butter. Send it up on toast, or in paper trays.


I added some salt and pepper, poured the lot on the bread and roasted the bread in the grill. Voila! A tasty supper was ready - similar to what Jane Austen would have enjoyed having at Chawton.

Interesting to know that Regency people will have enjoyed simple comfort food as much as we do now…




Quote and recipe from: The Jane Austen Centre Online magazine

The recipe is originally from: Hickman, P. (1977).  A Jane Austen Household Book. David & Charles, Ltd.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jane Austen and the Prince of Whales

Although Jane Austen is often linked to the Regency period, she was not actually a product of the Regency. Jane Austen was born in 1775, when George III had reigned England for 15 years.


George III (from Wikipedia at

George III was of German lineage, but had British interests at heart. He was described as being modest and kind, with a genuine interest in the world around him. In 1810, the King who suffered from stress had a severe attack of mental illness, and was never to recover. The state was was in national mourning, and even Jane Austen dressed in black, although the King would live for another 9 years in seclusion.

During the King’s illness, from 1811 to 1820, the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales – George Augustus Frederick – became the Prince Regent who would reign the country in lieu of the King. On the one hand, the Prince was considered handsome, witty and intelligent, and became an enthusiastic patron of literature and the arts. On the other hand, he was extravagant and irresponsible, lavishing money on women and clothes and huge building projects for his residence at Carlton House. 


The Prince Regent (from Wikipedia at

Known for his gluttony, drunkenness and vulgar lifestyle, the overindulging  Prince Regent became an object of ridicule. Cartoonists would depict him as the Prince of Whales!


“A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion”  (From Wikipedia at

The Prince Regent also gained fame for his womanising. In 1785, the Prince had married Maria Fitzherbert without the King’s consent. 10 years later, in order to have his debts paid off, he bigamously married his cousin, Princess Caroline, but the marriage was unsuccessful from the start. The couple drifted apart and the Prince spent more and more time with his mistresses. They soon separated, but the public sided with Caroline, feeling that she was the innocent party who had been wronged.


Princess Caroline (from Wikipedia at

In February 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd as follows:

"I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales's Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband -- but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ``attached & affectionate'' to a Man whom she must detest -- & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad -- I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. --"

So when Jane Austen was approached by the Prince’s librarian, Rev. Clarke, for Emma’s dedication to the Prince Regent, we can only imagine how she would have felt about the suggestion. She  highly disapproved of the Prince’s profligate lifestyle, and the request must have placed her in a difficult position. However, in 1815, just before the publication of Emma, she added a dedication to the Prince Regent and sent a special copy to Carlton House.

The Regency era ended in 1820, 3 years after Jane Austen’s death, when George III died and the Prince became King.

Jane Austen was, in essence, a Georgian, brought up with Georgian values, morals and manners. It is in the fashions and style of her later characters that we get a taste of the Regency world.



Chapman, R.W. /Austen, J. (1985) Jane Austen – Selected Letters. OUP.

Le Faye, D. (2002) Jane Austen – The World of Her Novels. Frances Lincoln.