Sense and Sensibility: 2008 Movie Adaptation

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

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.

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This is a review of Sense and Sensibility 2008 – movie version, adapted by Andrew Davies.

Screencap of Marianne’s letters from angelfish_icons. Publicity shots from Period Films.

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Sense and Sensibility: Colonel Brandon’s Diary

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility from Colonel Brandon’s point of view. His diary begins shortly before his father forces his ward, Eliza Williams, an heiress, to marry his eldest son — Colonel Brandon’s elder brother. James Brandon, as Amanda Grange names the Colonel, has been in love with Eliza ever since he can remember, and she with him. James Brandon has just arrived at Delaford from Oxford for his holidays. Ten days later he is banished to the home of his Aunt Isabella after attempting to elope with Eliza. James’s father intends her — or her fortune — for his elder son, and, until he gains his point, James is banished and Eliza is shut up. It only takes a month of unkindness and seclusion to break Eliza down and she is married to Henry. After such treatment, James is determined not to live off his father’s money, so he leaves Oxford and purchases a commission in the army, and, less than a year later, he finds himself “on a ship bound for the Indies”1. Soon after, James’s father dies. In India, James attempts to forget his tragedies. A letter from his sister, however, informing him that their brother has divorced Eliza2 brings it all before him again. December 9, 1782, he is again in England—“at last able to take some leave”3 —and devotes himself to finding Eliza. He finally finds her4 dying of consumption in a debtors’ prison. He pays her debts and cares for her until her death,5 and then takes guardianship of her only child, a little girl also named Eliza Williams. July 9, 1792, James is informed of the death of his elder brother, and leaves India for England for good. There he meets Marianne Dashwood and her family.6

Colonel Brandon’s back story is told in one chapter (S&S, Ch. 31) of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. In Colonel Brandon’s Diary, his back story is fleshed out to fill nearly half (about 3/7ths) of the book. On December 21, 1782, in the midst of his search for Eliza, Brandon is introduced to Sir John Middleton.7 In his August 26, 1796 entry is the first mention of the Dashwoods,8 who, at that point, have yet to arrive at Barton.

Much of the dialogue is, of course, simply lifted from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Some of her narration, including descriptions of places, is also lifted and presented as coming from Colonel Brandon. There are a few errors that come up in the transition. For example, when Edward Ferrars becomes engaged to Elinor Dashwood, Mrs. Jennings claims that she never connected his name with Margaret’s claim that her sister’s beau’s name began with an “F”. In Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, it is stated, “With the assistance of his mother-in-law, Sir John was not long in discovering that the name of Ferrars began with an F. and this prepared a future mine of raillery against the devoted Elinor, which nothing but the newness of their acquaintance with Edward could have prevented from being immediately sprung.” (S&S, Ch. 18) After Edward’s visit, however “they had never dined together without his drinking to her best affections with so much significancy and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F—had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor.” (S&S, Ch. 21)

This is the second time that I have read Colonel Brandon’s Diary, and I actually enjoyed it a little more this time (in general, I do not particularly enjoy “fanfic”). It is not Jane Austen, but rather “fanfic”, however, as such, it is fairly good. It does not attempt too much, and is not overly dramatic or sentimental, but suitably restrained, as a man’s diary ought to be. Naturally, Amanda Grange gives Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood rather more conversation than Sense and Sensibility implies that they have. She also has Marianne fall in love with Colonel Brandon before he proposes to her. One thing, though, that I thought was odd was that Amanda Grange has Colonel Brandon propose to Marianne on September 11, 1797 (the same day that that she has Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars marry) but does not have them marry until October 7, 1798 — over a year later. To appropriate a “silent ejaculation” of Mrs. Jennings’: “This is very strange!—sure he need not wait to be older.” (S&S, Ch. 39)

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Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Thorndike Press, 2008), printed in the United States of America, Large Print edition.

1 March 24, 1779, p. 82.

2 May 24, 1781, p. 93.

3 December 9, 1782, p. 96.

4 June 27, 1783, p. 114.

5 August 15, 1783, p. 120.

6 September 9, 1796, pp. 158-162.

7 December 21, 1782, p. 109.

8 August 26, 1796, p. 151.