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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A Cheat

It was impossible for her to be insensible of Mr. Crawford’s change of manners. She had long seen it. He evidently tried to please her: he was gallant, he was attentive, he was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated them . . . (Mansfield Park, Chapter XXVI)

A Cheat is “a person who behaves dishonestly in order to gain an advantage” (New Oxford American Dictionary, 2005-2007 Apple Inc.); “a person who cheats; one guilty of fraud by deceitful practices” (American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, 1828). To cheat is to “deceive by any artiface, trick or device, with a view to gain an advantage contrary to common honesty”, “to impose on, to trick” (American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, 1828). Mr. Willoughby cheats at cards when he falls in love with Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility: “When he was present she had no eyes for any one else. Every thing he did, was right. Every thing he said, was clever. If their evenings at the park were concluded with cards, he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get her a good hand.” (Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Chapter 11)

Did Henry Crawford cheat Maria and Julia Bertram of their tranquility as John Willoughby cheated Marianne of hers? Well, Willoughby and Marianne let their feelings run away with them to such an extent, that Willoughby was able to do much more damage to Marianne than Crawford did to either of the Bertram girls—at least at first. Crawford, in courting two women—one of them engaged—right under the eyes of their mother, aunt, brothers, and the fiancé of one of them, (not to mention each other), was forced to be much more discreet.

Mr. Crawford did not mean to be in any danger: the Miss Bertrams were worth pleasing, and were ready to be pleased; and he began with no object but of making them like him. He did not want them to die of love; but with sense and temper which ought to have made him judge and feel better, he allowed himself great latitude on such points. (Mansfield Park, Chapter V).

The season and duties which brought Mr. Bertram back to Mansfield took Mr. Crawford into Norfolk. Everingham could not do without him in the beginning of September. He went for a fortnight—a fortnight of such dullness to the Miss Bertrams as ought to have put them both on their guard, and made even Julia admit, in her jealousy of her sister, the absolute necessity of distrusting his attentions, and wishing him not to return; and a fortnight of sufficient leisure, in the intervals of shooting and sleeping, to have convinced the gentleman that he ought to keep longer away, had he been more in the habit of examining his own motives, and of reflecting to what the indulgence of his idle vanity was tending; but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example, he would not look beyond the present moment. The sisters, handsome, clever, and encouraging, were an amusement to his sated mind; and finding nothing in Norfolk to equal the social pleasures of Mansfield, he gladly returned to it at the time appointed, and was welcomed thither quite as gladly by those whom he came to trifle with further.

Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, and doomed to the repeated details of his day’s sport, good or bad, his boast of his dogs, his jealousy of his neighbours, his doubts of their qualifications, and his zeal after poachers, subjects which will not find their way to female feelings without some talent on one side or some attachment on the other, had missed Mr. Crawford grievously; and Julia, unengaged and unemployed, felt all the right of missing him much more. Each sister believed herself the favourite. Julia might be justified in so doing by the hints of Mrs. Grant, inclined to credit what she wished, and Maria by the hints of Mr. Crawford himself. Everything returned into the same channel as before his absence; his manners being to each so animated and agreeable as to lose no ground with either, and just stopping short of the consistence, the steadiness, the solicitude, and the warmth which might excite general notice.

Fanny was the only one of the party who found anything to dislike; but since the day at Sotherton, she could never see Mr. Crawford with either sister without observation, and seldom without wonder or censure; . . . (Mansfield Park, Chapter XII).

Crawford hurt the Bertram girls in varying degrees. When Julia finds out that he prefers her sister, this is what is written about her feelings:

Julia was a sufferer . . . . Henry Crawford had trifled with her feelings; but she had very long allowed and even sought his attentions, with a jealousy of her sister so reasonable as ought to have been their cure; and now that the conviction of his preference for Maria had been forced on her, she submitted to it without any alarm for Maria’s situation, or any endeavour at rational tranquillity for herself. She either sat in gloomy silence, wrapt in such gravity as nothing could subdue, no curiosity touch, no wit amuse; or allowing the attentions of Mr. Yates, was talking with forced gaiety to him alone, and ridiculing the acting of the others. (Mansfield Park, Chapter XVII).

However, it is later said of Julia,

She had submitted the best to the disappointment in Henry Crawford. After the first bitterness of the conviction of being slighted was over, she had been tolerably soon in a fair way of not thinking of him again; and when the acquaintance was renewed in town, and Mr. Rushworth’s house became Crawford’s object, she had had the merit of withdrawing herself from it, and of chusing that time to pay a visit to her other friends, in order to secure herself from being again too much attracted. (Mansfield Park, Chapter XLVIII).

Maria, on the other hand, has a much more passionate nature than Julia. She actually expected to marry Crawford. When he came to visit the Bertrams before leaving for Bath, Maria’s feelings are expressed:

A few moments of feverish enjoyment were followed by hours of acute suffering. Henry Crawford was again in the house . . . . and Maria saw with delight and agitation the introduction of the man she loved to her father. Her sensations were indefinable, and so were they a few minutes afterwards upon hearing Henry Crawford, who had a chair between herself and Tom, ask the latter in an undervoice whether there were any plans for resuming the play after the present happy interruption (with a courteous glance at Sir Thomas), because, in that case, he should make a point of returning to Mansfield at any time required by the party: he was going away immediately, being to meet his uncle at Bath without delay; but if there were any prospect of a renewal of Lovers’ Vows, he should hold himself positively engaged, he should break through every other claim, he should absolutely condition with his uncle for attending them whenever he might be wanted. The play should not be lost by his absence. … Maria, who wanted neither pride nor resolution, was preparing to encounter her share of it [this conversation] with tolerable calmness.

To her he soon turned, repeating much of what he had already said, with only a softened air and stronger expressions of regret. But what availed his expressions or his air? He was going, and, if not voluntarily going, voluntarily intending to stay away; for, excepting what might be due to his uncle, his engagements were all self-imposed. He might talk of necessity, but she knew his independence. The hand which had so pressed hers to his heart! the hand and the heart were alike motionless and passive now! Her spirit supported her, but the agony of her mind was severe. She had not long to endure what arose from listening to language which his actions contradicted, or to bury the tumult of her feelings under the restraint of society; for general civilities soon called his notice from her, and the farewell visit, as it then became openly acknowledged, was a very short one. He was gone—he had touched her hand for the last time, he had made his parting bow, and she might seek directly all that solitude could do for her. Henry Crawford was gone, gone from the house, and within two hours afterwards from the parish; and so ended all the hopes his selfish vanity had raised in Maria and Julia Bertram. (Mansfield Park, Chapter XX).

Later, Crawford, despite being in love with Fanny Price, attempts to “make Mrs. Rushworth Maria Bertram again in her treatment of himself”:

In this spirit he began the attack, and by animated perseverance had soon re-established the sort of familiar intercourse, of gallantry, of flirtation, which bounded his views; but in triumphing over the discretion [of Maria Rushworth] which, though beginning in anger, might have saved them both, he had put himself in the power of feelings on her side more strong than he had supposed. She loved him; there was no withdrawing attentions avowedly dear to her. He was entangled by his own vanity, with as little excuse of love as possible, and without the smallest inconstancy of mind towards her cousin. (Mansfield Park, Chapter XLVIII).

He runs away with Maria. Her father attempts to induce her to leave Crawford, but

She was not to be prevailed on to leave Mr. Crawford. She hoped to marry him, and they continued together till she was obliged to be convinced that such hope was vain, and till the disappointment and wretchedness arising from the conviction rendered her temper so bad, and her feelings for him so like hatred, as to make them for a while each other’s punishment, and then induce a voluntary separation.

She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happiness in Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him than that she had divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mind in such a situation? (Mansfield Park, Chapter XLVIII).

Here Crawford is here able to hurt Maria in a way that Willoughby did not hurt Marianne.

She [Marianne] felt the loss of Willoughby’s character yet more heavily than she had felt the loss of his heart; his seduction and desertion of Miss Williams, the misery of that poor girl, and the doubt of what his designs might once have been on herself, preyed altogether so much on her spirits, that she could not bring herself to speak of what she felt even to Elinor; and, brooding over her sorrows in silence, gave more pain to her sister than could have been communicated by the most open and most frequent confession of them. (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 32)

Willoughby, of course, intended to marry Marianne, until it became near financial ruin for him to do so, and so he abandons her. Actually, he begins by

“. . . trying to engage her regard, without a thought of returning it.—But one thing may be said for me [Willoughby]: even in that horrid state of selfish vanity, I did not know the extent of the injury I meditated, because I did not then know what it was to love. But have I ever known it?—Well may it be doubted; for, had I really loved, could I have sacrificed my feelings to vanity, to avarice?—or, what is more, could I have sacrificed hers?— But I have done it. To avoid a comparative poverty, which her affection and her society would have deprived of all its horrors, I have, by raising myself to affluence, lost every thing that could make it a blessing.” (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 44).

Marianne is not the first woman Willoughby paid attentions to without any intention of being faithful to. He seduced Colonel Brandon’s ward, Eliza Williams, and then left her, never returning. Willoughby admits, “Her affection for me deserved better treatment, and I often, with great self-reproach, recall the tenderness which, for a very short time, had the power of creating any return. I wish—I heartily wish it had never been.” (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 44).

In Emma, Frank Churchill pays attentions to Emma Woodhouse that he has no intention of fulfilling—he is in love with and engaged to another. When his engagement becomes known, Emma tells Mr. Knightley, “He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me.” (Emma, Chapter XIII). However, Frank Churchill, notwithstanding how wrongly he acted, never meant to engage Emma’s affections. As Emma says, “He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real situation with another.—It was his object to blind all about him; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself—except that I was not blinded—that it was my good fortune—that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from him.” (Emma, Chapter XIII). Frank Churchill writes to his step-mother to explain the circumstances of his secret engagement, and mentions Emma:

“With the greatest respect, and the warmest friendship, do I mention Miss Woodhouse; my father perhaps will think I ought to add, with the deepest humiliation.— A few words which dropped from him yesterday spoke his opinion, and some censure I acknowledge myself liable to.—My behaviour to Miss Woodhouse indicated, I believe, more than it ought.— In order to assist a concealment so essential to me, I was led on to make more than an allowable use of the sort of intimacy into which we were immediately thrown.—I cannot deny that Miss Woodhouse was my ostensible object—but I am sure you will believe the declaration, that had I not been convinced of her indifference, I would not have been induced by any selfish views to go on.— Amiable and delightful as Miss Woodhouse is, she never gave me the idea of a young woman likely to be attached; and that she was perfectly free from any tendency to being attached to me, was as much my conviction as my wish.—She received my attentions with an easy, friendly, goodhumoured playfulness, which exactly suited me. We seemed to understand each other. From our relative situation, those attentions were her due, and were felt to be so.—Whether Miss Woodhouse began really to understand me before the expiration of that fortnight, I cannot say;—when I called to take leave of her, I remember that I was within a moment of confessing the truth, and I then fancied she was not without suspicion; but I have no doubt of her having since detected me, at least in some degree.— She may not have surmised the whole, but her quickness must have penetrated a part. I cannot doubt it. You will find, whenever the subject becomes freed from its present restraints, that it did not take her wholly by surprize. She frequently gave me hints of it. I remember her telling me at the ball, that I owed Mrs. Elton gratitude for her attentions to Miss Fairfax.— I hope this history of my conduct towards her will be admitted by you and my father as great extenuation of what you saw amiss. While you considered me as having sinned against Emma Woodhouse, I could deserve nothing from either. Acquit me here, and procure for me, when it is allowable, the acquittal and good wishes of that said Emma Woodhouse, whom I regard with so much brotherly affection, as to long to have her as deeply and as happily in love as myself.” (Emma, Chapter XIV).

This, of course, does not excuse Frank’s behaviour. He himself admits later in his letter, “I behaved shamefully. And here I can admit, that my manners to Miss W., in being unpleasant to Miss F., were highly blameable. She disapproved them, which ought to have been enough.—My plea of concealing the truth she did not think sufficient.—She was displeased; I thought unreasonably so: …. But she was always right.” (Emma, Chapter XIV).

In Pride and Prejudice, George Wickham persuades Georgiana Darcy to believe herself in love with him. Mr. Darcy writes to Elizabeth,

“I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish to forget myself, and which no obligation less than the present should induce me to unfold to any human being. Having said thus much, I feel no doubt of your secrecy. My sister, who is more than ten years my junior, was left to the guardianship of my mother’s nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and myself. About a year ago, she was taken from school, and an establishment formed for her in London; and last summer she went with the lady who presided over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily deceived; and by her connivance and aid, he so far recommended himself to Georgiana, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child, that she was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse; and after stating her imprudence, I am happy to add, that I owed the knowledge of it to herself. I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement, and then Georgiana, unable to support the idea of grieving and offending a brother whom she almost looked up to as a father, acknowledged the whole to me. You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure; but I wrote to Mr. Wickham, who left the place immediately, and Mrs. Younge was of course removed from her charge. Mr. Wickham’s chief object was unquestionably my sister’s fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds; but I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me was a strong inducement. His revenge would have been complete indeed.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 35).

Later Wickham pays attentions to Elizabeth Bennet and then to Miss King, solely for mercenary reasons. When Elizabeth learns of his behaviour to Miss Darcy, she conjectures,

His attentions to Miss King were now the consequence of views solely and hatefully mercenary; and the mediocrity of her [Elizabeth’s] fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes, but his eagerness to grasp at anything. His behaviour to herself could now have had no tolerable motive; he had either been deceived with regard to her fortune, or had been gratifying his vanity by encouraging the preference which she believed she had most incautiously shown. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 36).

And then, the perfidious Wickham ends by running away with Elizabeth’s sister Lydia without any intention of marrying her. Darcy, upon discovering the whereabouts of Wickham, thinks, “it only remained . . . to secure and expedite a marriage, which, in his [Darcy’s] very first conversation with Wickham, he easily learnt had never been his design” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 52).

What were Henry Crawford’s intentions toward Fanny Price? When his sister learns that he plans to make Fanny Price in love with him she exclaims, “Fanny Price! Nonsense! No, no. You ought to be satisfied with her two cousins.” He replies,

“But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart. … I will not do her any harm, dear little soul! I only want her to look kindly on me, to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair for me by herself wherever we are, and be all animation when I take it and talk to her; to think as I think, be interested in all my possessions and pleasures, try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I go away that she shall be never happy again. I want nothing more.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XXIV).

Instead of harming Fanny’s heart, however, Crawford falls in love with her himself. He tells his sister, “I am fairly caught. You know with what idle designs I began; but this is the end of them. I have, I flatter myself, made no inconsiderable progress in her affections; but my own are entirely fixed.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XXX). But Fanny has every reason to think ill of Crawford’s principles, and has no intention of marrying him. Her distrust of him is justified when he runs away with Maria. When Edmund comes to love Fanny, she is able to give him a heart totally committed to himself alone. When he finds that Fanny did not love Crawford, Edmund is relieved. “‘Thank God,’ said he. ‘We were all disposed to wonder, but it seems to have been the merciful appointment of Providence that the heart which knew no guile should not suffer.’” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XLVII).