To begin on a positive note, there were several aspects that I liked about the 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Both Elinor and Marianne seemed pretty close to the right age for their parts. The character Anne Steele made it in and was delightfully funny. There was some very pretty scenery and the music (by Martin Phipps) was beautiful.
The acting was good in this miniseries, though not excellent. Marianne acts like the fifteen or sixteen year old girl that she is, and Charity Wakefield does a good job of portraying her vulnerability, as well as her irritability and enthusiasm. She has at times, however, an artificial quality to her voice that is annoying, and her crying when she receives Willoughby’s letter (wasn’t it nice of him to send all of those lovely flower petals with his letter?) seems fake. She lacks the refinement, the elegance, the charm that Marianne had. Hattie Morahan plays a sensible Elinor, though with a little more of a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense manner than I imagined Elinor having. I can’t think of anything in particular that she did wrong, but somehow I found her characterization of Elinor to be rather uninspiring. There were a number of good scenes with her, however.
Dan Stevens played an Edward who was at times exuberant and confident, and at other times brooding and almost morose. He was handsome and dashing, but he wasn’t from the book. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, played a rather non-dashing Willoughby. He seemed more of a spoiled kid than a romantic hero. He portrayed Willoughby’s impetuousness and selfishness and his love for Marianne well, though. David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon was interesting, although he brooded too much. His character was given several distasteful things to do, and I had to get over seeing him as Bradley Headstone (a part he acted in 1998 ‘Our Mutual Friend’), but other than that he was fine.
None of the comic characters besides Anne Steele were as funny as they ought to have been, though at times Sir John was quite amusing. Mrs. Jennings and the Palmers were very disappointing in the comedy department. None of John and Fanny Dashwood’s doings came across as amusing.
One of the advantages to this movie is that it is a mini-series and able to include a great deal of the book that the 1995 version was obliged to leave out. Here we are treated to views of a suitably apathetic Lady Middleton and her (albeit very tame) children, young Harry Dashwood (if you can call it a treat in this version), and a properly stiff and rude Mrs. Ferrars. We get to see Willoughby offer Marianne a horse, and take her around Allenham. We get to see Anne Steele spill the beans about Edward and Lucy in a delightfully funny scene. Even the duel is included!
What I thought strangest about this version were the number of elements that it shares with the 1995 version but that are not in the novel. The conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood about what to do for his step-mother and sisters takes place in a carriage on their way to Norland, instead of after she joins him at Norland. Margaret is made into a bit of a tomboy. Elinor explains to Margaret that houses go from father to son, that men inherit, not women — an oversimplification, as I discussed in my review of the 1995 version. Marianne’s hair is curly, while Elinor’s is not, and Fanny has little curls plastered around her forehead. There is a scene in the Norland library that involves Edward, Fanny, Margaret, and Elinor. Edward hits it off with Margaret (riding his horse with her in this version, sword fighting with her in the 1995 version, &c.). Edward gives Elinor a gift (his handkerchief, a book), and later Elinor sits (or stands) brooding by herself over this item. Edward actually seeks a private interview with Elinor before she leaves Norland, instead of avoiding being alone with her as he does in the book, and in both versions it is made to sound at first as if he is going to propose to her. Margaret does not want to go on the walk with Marianne that ends with Marianne spraining her ankle in the rain. Edward does not immediately notice Lucy when he comes to visit Elinor and Marianne in London. Marianne takes a walk in the rain at Cleveland and is rescued by Colonel Brandon. When Margaret announces that Edward is coming, in a scene near the end of the movie, everyone hurries out of aprons, &c. and rushes to the parlour to meet him. Since none of these elements are in the book, it looks as if in many ways the 2008 version was just copying the 1995 adaptation.
There were quite a few other bizarre facets to this version, as well. Marianne calls her sister-in-law “Aunt Fanny”, Fanny addresses her mother-in-law as “Mary”, and John Dashwood refers to Edward as Elinor’s “cousin”. Colonel Brandon seems to know something against Willoughby right from the beginning, and later asks him what his intentions towards Marianne are (to which Willoughby very reasonably replies, “What right have you to ask me?”). The single word “Willoughby” is enough to explain why a young woman is acting distressed. Fanny refers to Marianne as possibly being “damaged goods”. Marianne has time to fall in love with and get engaged to Colonel Brandon before Lucy marries Robert, thereby releasing Edward. (One wonders where they’ve been all this time.) Willoughby and Colonel Brandon are both given to acting like medical men — with Willoughby’s “I have experience in these things” and assurances to Mrs. Dashwood that Marianne’s is only a minor sprain and giving her the number of days it will take to heal and Brandon’s advice on how to take care of Marianne at Cleveland: “I’ve seen this too many times”. Mrs. Ferrars eats what appears to be gold-plated food.
The scene at the beginning of this mini-series was unnecessary and inappropriate. (It is a scene of Willoughby seducing Eliza.) Also inappropriate was having Colonel Brandon beginning to unfasten Marianne’s clothes when she is ill at Cleveland. He stops quickly, and leaves her to her sister, but it’s still repulsive. Also unpalatable was the whole Colonel Brandon taming Marianne theme at the end, where she is compared to a wild horse that will follow him because of his kindness and to a hawk that comes when he bids.
Besides the seduction scene at the beginning, other bad content includes some low cut dresses and a bit of swearing. There is also mention of a young girl having a child out of wedlock, mention of a young woman being “damaged goods”, and that sort of thing.
All-in-all, I was disappointed in this version. Though interesting to watch a few times, for me it is not a definitive version. It doesn’t even come close, and there are some aspects of it that really detract from its enjoyableness, as far as I’m concerned.