Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Janespotting: Sense and Sensibility (2008 miniseries)

When PBS announced that they would be airing a new version of Sense and Sensibility as part of their Jane Austen season, I was very curious to see how it would turn out. (Actually, my first thought was, "Why bother?," but I suppressed that in favor of curiosity.) I was particularly interested when I discovered that this version was scripted by Andrew Davies, who also penned the 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Give him three hours, I thought, and surely we'd end up with something much more interesting than the 1981 series.

It was certainly more modern; this version opens with the seduction of Colonel Brandon's ward Eliza, tastefully (and briefly) shot by firelight, before moving on to the Dashwoods at the deathbed of their husband/father. Then we are allowed to linger over Edward's visit to Norland, getting a complete picture of his growing relationship with Elinor, including her puzzlement over his reluctance to speak his feelings. The remainder of the series is fairly faithful to the book, including two scenes that were omitted from the 1995 film: Edward's strained visit to Barton Cottage, and Willoughby's attempt to ask forgiveness during Marianne's illness. The latter scene is a bit changed from the novel, with Marianne overhearing Willoughby's confession. It's not the only little addition; besides a few extra scenes between Elinor and Edward and Elinor and Marianne—very nice for developing character—we also get a full rendering of the duel between Brandon and Willoughby that is only briefly mentioned in the novel. Finally, we get many more scenes between Brandon and Marianne near the conclusion, so that we can truly believe her when she says she is marrying him out of love and not just gratitude.

The production values are vastly superior to the older miniseries; best of all is the use of the Devonshire countryside, including the wild, rocky coast. The cast is full of British vets, including Oscar-nominated Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds, 1999) as Mrs. Dashwood, and they all perform very well. Hattie Morahan conveys Elinor's hidden emotions through a mere widening of eyes, and Charity Wakefield makes for a pretty and passionate Marianne who comes to realize she needs wisdom. David Morrissey is a strong and silent Brandon (who wins in a duel, taking care of that vile puppy—rowr!) and Dan Stevens is an amiable Edward. Strangely, he looks very similar to Hugh Grant's Edward from the 1995 film, which was a little distracting:

Still, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this version, which brought the novel to life—and perhaps a made it a little more lively than the original. I'm not sure I like it as much as the 1995 film, but I'll have to explore that when I'm done reviewing all the other S&S adaptations out there. Definitely, though, if you like the novel and haven't seen this version, you'll want to seek it out.


  1. I love Hugh Grant's movies, Sense and Sensibility included, so I noticed how similar Dan Stevens' portrayal was to Grant's. Stevens actually used many of the mannerisms that are uniquely Hugh Grantisms, which I found a cop out. I realize that actors often study those that have played the part before him/her, but they also need to make it their own portrayal. Stevens copied Grant way too much and that made me dislike this version a little less, but still, it was good and I got over it!

  2. I didn't notice that so much, maybe because Edward is such a retiring character that he doesn't have much scope for variation. At least, not if you want to keep him attractive and sympathetic—although it would be interesting to see a more nuance portrayal, which reflects his admission in the book that he was just playing around with Elinor at first, not thinking he was at risk of falling in love. Seeing a more cavalier Edward (he is a Ferrars, after all) would require showing him learning his lesson. Perhaps that would take too much focus of the Dashwoods, but it would be an interesting variation.