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A Sense of Closure

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I promised I’d post my thoughts on the second part of Sense & Sensibility, as well as final ruminations on The Complete Jane Austen series. Even though I haven’t had the time to sit down with the DVD (which came Tuesday) and pull some screen captures, I figured I’d better go ahead and post this, since I’ve got people bugging me for it. 🙂

Sense & Sensibility Part 2: Hattie Morahan really won me over in the second part of the movie. I’ll freely admit I was wrong to call her “so plain as to be nearly homely.” I can mark the change in my attitude toward her portrayal of Elinor from the scene when Lucy Steele reveals to Elinor that she (Lucy) has been secretly engaged to Edward for four years. I also quite enjoyed the symbolism of the scene following when Elinor escapes to a cave to mourn the loss of Edward—and even then cannot allow herself the weakness of tears. That may be one of my favorite parts of this new adaptation.

One of my least favorite parts of the new adaptation is the Palmers. Except for the fact that they must be introduced because Elinor and Marianne stay at their home when Marianne is so ill, I didn’t really see the point in having them in this film at all. Of course, I already knew that they would never be able to compare with how the characters were played in the 1995 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson version by the incomparable Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie. Aside from the fact that both of them are fabulous comic actors, the script they were given allowed them to pull in much of the humor that Jane Austen built through the absolute ridiculousness of those characters in the book. I do like the new Mrs. Jennings—probably because we get more of her character, and she’s not as over-the-top as the character in the 1995 version.

As I said before, this adaptation at times felt like merely an expansion of Emma Thompson’s script for the 1995 version, so I wasn’t really surprised to see almost the exact same interaction and dialogue between Marianne and Mrs. Jennings’s butler in London, the only difference being that he was amused rather than annoyed by her. 

Charity Wakefield’s hair continued to bug me (as did Elinor’s bangs, since that wasn’t the style)—even when they went to the assembly, Marianne’s hair looked unkempt. But at least Elinor’s was less severe, as if she’d taken time to try to style it rather than just pulling it back in a bun. In the 1995 version of the film, the assembly is crowded, just as described in the book—where there are so many people, they’re pressing around them from all sides. In this new adaptation, the assembly was well attended, but not crowded. They were able to move around with ease, without having to squeeze through a mass of people. Marianne’s fainting, in the book, is attributed (by everyone but Elinor) to the “press” of the crowd and the heat generated by so many bodies so close together. Also, Col. Brandon was not at the assembly in the book. 

Not only did I not like Dominic Cooper in the second part, he came across as nothing but sinister and creepy.  I understand why Andrew Davies was tempted to pull Brandon into the assembly scene, to give Marianne even more reason to soften to him because he was there to help her when Willoughby disappointed her, however it made the dueling scene confusing. I wonder how many people who’ve never read the book believe that they dueled over Marianne, not over Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza. In the book, the duel takes place off-page. We only learn about it when Brandon tells Elinor the whole story about his ward and Willoughby’s part in ruining her. Also, in 1811, which is when the book was published, unmarried girls like Elinor and Marianne and the Steele sisters would have worn white to the assembly, not colored gowns. Colored gowns were worn by married women, matrons, and old-maids (like my Julia in Ransome’s Honor).

There also seemed to be quite a bit of confusion over who was related to whom and how. I was very disappointed in Andrew Davies in this aspect. Marianne calls Fanny “aunt,” when Fanny is her sister-in-law. Sir John Middleton calls Lucy and Anne Steele “our nieces” and then introduces them to Elinor and Marianne as “your cousins.” The Steeles were distant cousins of Lady Middleton, and would therefore not have been considered relations of Elinor and Marianne, since they were only related to Lady Middleton by marriage. Then, the worst offense of all, someone refers to Edward as Elinor’s cousin. Edward and Elinor are not related at all, with the exception that Edward’s sister is married to Elinor’s half-brother.  Again, it concerns me that this would be quite confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the story as to how all of these people are connected with each other, since the screenwriter couldn’t even keep everyone straight with the right relationship titles.

The two best additions to this adaptation, which were left out of the 1995 version, were Mrs. Ferrars and Anne Steele. Both came across just as I’d imagined them in the book, and the scene when Anne lets slip the truth of Lucy and Edward’s engagement was priceless. And the actress playing Lucy, though insipid instead of humorous, was actually pretty enough to believe that Edward would have fallen for her, unlike the one in the ’95 version. The score for this adaptation was written by Martin Phipps, who created the music, including a heart-rending cello piece, for the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, as well as the newest adaptation of Persuasion. There were a couple of times, especially in the second part, when, if I closed my eyes, I could have been watching N&S, because the theme and instrumentation of the music was so similar.

I did read somewhere that Charity Wakefield (Marianne) is an accomplished and professionally trained pianist and singer. They could have made much more use of this.

The resolution of the Marianne/Brandon relationship bugged me in this adaptation. Firstly, why, if Brandon has his horse right there, would he walk back to the house carrying Marianne after she collapses in the rain? And secondly, the whole comparison between Brandon’s courting Marianne and his taming a horse and training a hawk was borderline offensive. What I want to know is when someone is going to get the timeline of the relationships right. Edward and Elinor are married long before Marianne and Brandon’s relationship begins to mature to the point that they marry. Marianne is courted by Brandon for about a year as she, along with their mother and Margaret, visits Elinor and Edward at their vicarage at Delaford.

Final Thoughts on The Complete Jane Austen Series
I said when I reviewed it that I had a feeling that the new version of Northanger Abbey which aired a couple of months ago would probably be the triumph of the season, as far as the new adaptations go. I will now confirm that—at least in my opinion. While I really like this new version of Sense & Sensibility, for me, it was the new version of NA that really brought something fresh and new to the table. Perhaps because there have never been any other definitive versions made of that film—and because I’ve only read the book once or twice—but it stands out to me as the best new adaptation. However, the 1995 Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root version of Persuasion remains firmly entrenched at the top of my list of favorite Jane Austen films. The new adaptation of Mansfield Park was a fiasco and the only one of the films that I’m not going to waste money on (yes, I purchased the new Persuasion, even with as much as I disliked it). I can still take or leave Emma, though I’m really happy that they showed the A&E/ITV version of it, which I prefer to the Gwyneth Paltrow version. And there will probably never be another version of Pride & Prejudice made that will be able to compete with the 1995 miniseries, even if I don’t like Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. 🙂 (Had to get that out there one more time!)

But perhaps my favorite new film shown during The Complete Jane Austen series was Miss Austen Regrets. That came with my “collector’s set” (which included Sense & Sensibility and the new Persuasion), and I am greatly looking forward to viewing it again this weekend. (BTW, isn’t it interesting that PBS used an image of Sally Hawkins as Anne from Persuasion in their banner instead of Olivia Williams as Jane from Miss Austen Regrets?)

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a “preview” of this week’s Masterpiece Classic, A Room with a View. Adapted by, you guessed it, Andrew Davies from the E.M. Forster novel by the same name. I’m really looking forward to seeing this. I’ve never seen the Merchant-Ivory production, nor have I read the book. So this will be totally new to me. 

  1. Thursday, April 10, 2008 10:51 am

    YES!! My bugging worked. 😉

    I also loved the scene of Elinor mourning the revelation about Edward’s engagement in the cave – I thought that moment was beautifully and powerfully rendered.

    The new Palmers were a huge disappointment – but as you say, who could possibly beat Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton?! Their role in the new adaptation was so truncated it felt really unnecessary.

    I also agree with you about the duel scene – I wish the lead-up to that scene had been more fully explained/explored. This would’ve been especially nice given the little added scene of Brandon visiting Eliza. Why add such a scene if you’re not going to explain that Brandon was going after Willoughby in the duel because of Eliza?! Hmmm…wonder if Davies wanted to subliminally suggest that the duel was really over W.’s treatment of Marianne, because he thought that would be more compelling or something…

    I thought Jean Marsh was absolutely inspired in her portrayal of Mrs. Ferrars. I also liked the fact that Anne Steele was included in this version.

    Absolutely second your opinion on the whole hawk/horse training thing. What the heck was up with that?! *bangs head on keyboard in frustration* 😛

    Also completely agree with you on Northanger Abbey being the “winner” of the season. It was new and fresh and fun, and didn’t feel like a rehash or an expanded version of anything I’d seen before. (I also thought it was very weird that Sally Hawkins was used in so many of the promo banners, etc., to advertise The Complete Jane Austen.)

    I’m really looking forward to A Room With a View! And Cranford in May…that should be fabulous (*fingers crossed*).


  2. Thursday, April 10, 2008 10:58 am

    Don’t forget, My Boy Jack comes on between them!

    The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that S&S was the first Andrew Davies historical I’ve seen where I feel disappointed in his script.


  3. Thursday, April 10, 2008 3:24 pm

    Quit picking on Colin =P I agree wholeheartedly with you on all counts–and I liked this Lucy much better. Now I really do want to read the books.


  4. Friday, April 11, 2008 8:27 am

    Something else I just thought of in the dueling scene . . . the casting worked out well for it, with David Morrissey being taller and overall more robust looking than Dominic Cooper. In the 1995 version, it’s a good thing that they didn’t show the duel, as most viewers wouldn’t have believed that Alan Rickman could have beaten Greg Wise.



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