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Fun Friday–Sense & Sensibility: A Character Throwdown

Friday, September 10, 2010

When new film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are made, there is no sense in pretending we don’t compare the actors and actresses from the various versions. I thought about including the 1981 BBC miniseries, but since I’ve had the DVD of it for a few years (purchased as part of a set) and have never watched it, this will focus on just the 1995 Emma Thompson version in comparison to the new Andrew Davies version. (This is a slightly revised version of the post I originally wrote for the Jane Austen Today blog in 2008 when the miniseries aired during the Complete Jane Austen series on PBS.)

Elinor Dashwood: Emma Thompson vs. Hattie Morahan

In looks, Emma Thompson has Hattie Morahan beaten, hands-down, at least with the way they were made-up/styled in these films. In speaking ability, Emma also has the edge—Hattie has a bit of a lisp at times that makes her sound a bit less refined and intelligent than Elinor is supposed to be. However, in all other respects, including interpretation of the character, I’m going to have to give this one to Hattie Morahan. Morahan was only twenty-eight when filming this, while Emma Thompson was thirty-six. Neither were very close to Elinor’s nineteen when the story begins, but Hattie does look much younger when seen on the screen. Hattie also brings a little less maturity and assuredness to the role. Why is that a good thing? Because in the novel, Elinor is only nineteen years old. She doesn’t know everything, the way Emma Thompson portrayed her. Hattie also has a quietness about her that Emma Thompson tried to adopt but didn’t always manage. Winner: Hattie Morahan.

Marianne Dashwood: Kate Winslet vs. Charity Wakefield

While Charity looks younger, she was actually several years older than Kate during filming (KW was eighteen or nineteen). But age isn’t really the issue here. The better portrayal of this character is soundly Kate Winslet’s. Kate Winslet brought so much more heart and intensity and, dare I say, sensibility to the role. (She weeps better, too.) She also seemed much more comfortable with the lines that are straight out of the novel, whereas Charity was much more believable with the dialogue written by Andrew Davies (not that his dialogue was bad, just not what Jane penned). But I do have to say, I like the warmth that Charity as Marianne initially shows toward Colonel Brandon—the smiles when he’s turning the pages of the music for her, and thinking him the only person in the neighborhood one could have an intelligent conversation with. And I know that tumbled, curly hair is supposed to be a “sign” of the wild, carefree character, but poor Charity’s hair tends to look more frizzy (especially around her face) than a wild tumble of curls. I know that’s probably more true-to-life, but with as refined as everything else is in this film version, it’s somewhat distracting to me to see a close-up of her and have her look like she just woke up and hasn’t styled her hair yet. Winner: Kate Winslet.

Mrs. Dashwood: Gemma Jones vs. Janet McTeer

Though Gemma Jones was only fifty-three when filming the 1995 version of S&S, she looks much older than Janet McTeer who, at forty-six at the time of filming, possessed the looks of the early-forties that Mrs. Dashwood is supposed to be. However, Gemma Jones’s portrayal edges her out for me. Janet McTeer towers over the actresses playing Elinor and Marianne, and comes across as very robust. Gemma Jones brought a palpable sadness and fragility to the role, fitting for a woman newly widowed—and also something that points to the same fragility that Marianne shows later in the story after her heart is broken. Winner: Gemma Jones.

Edward Ferrars: Hugh Grant vs. Dan Stevens

He didn’t have to have piercing blue eyes, a mellow baritone voice, and a nice substance to his carriage for Dan Stevens to edge out Hugh Grant in this comparison for me. (And can I just admit that until I put these two images side by side, I didn’t realize how much Dan Stevens favors Hugh Grant?) Yes, Jane describes Edward as plain, with not much grace—and Dan Stevens is far from plain—but she also described Edward as solemn and somber, not comical and flirtatious, which is how Hugh Grant’s bumbling, stuttering portrayal comes across. Winner: Dan Stevens.

Colonel Brandon: Alan Rickman vs. David Morrissey

I know there are some people out there who feel as adamantly about Alan Rickman in the role of Colonel Brandon as they do about Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. So, since I’m 100 percent in favor of equal opportunity, I’ll go ahead and offend the Alan Rickman lovers to say I feel he was completely miscast as Colonel Brandon. (Side note trivia: the first name Christopher was made up for that version of the movie.) Yes, he’s a wonderful actor, and did a good job in the role. But he wasn’t the Colonel Brandon who appears in the book. The biggest problem is that Colonel Brandon is meant to be thirty-five years old. Though David Morrissey (at forty-three) was closer to the age of Alan Rickman when he filmed the role (forty-nine) than Col. Brandon’s thirty-five, the age difference between Morrissey and Rickman definitely shows in their faces—David Morrissey is mature without looking old. Alan Rickman just looked old, not to mention the fact that to me, Alan Rickman sounds like he just came from the dentist and the Novocaine hasn’t worn off yet—and he might still have some cotton stuffed up in his mouth. (It also helps that I watched the 2008 version of S&S before I saw David Morrissey’s creepy turn ten years before as Mr. Headstone in Our Mutual Friend.) Winner: David Morrissey.

Mr. Willoughby: Greg Wise vs. Dominic Cooper

Aside from the fact that Marianne is sixteen or seventeen years old and susceptible to an unexplainable infatuation with a dashing young man, in the new adaptation I cannot understand how she could possibly choose Willoughby over Brandon. Because the film is much more drawn out, we see Willoughby in more scenes, but rather than seeing his humor and charm, he just comes across as sinister and conniving. He rarely smiles; and lines that Greg Wise spoke with a lilt and a bit of a laugh in his voice Dominic Cooper speaks with a petulance that makes him come across as rude. And, personally, I just think Greg Wise is better looking. Winner: Greg Wise.

Head to head, there are no actors that are truly just awful in their roles. But I do have my favorites. I hope you do, too!

  1. Thursday, November 3, 2011 10:41 am

    I agree on most of those, but I really preferred Charity Wakefield to Kate Winslet as Marianne. One, she looked younger, but I felt that where her actions as Marianne seemed to have the naive immaturity of a seventeen year old who has not yet learned that silence can be better than words and reserve better than openness at times, Kate Winslet’s physical maturity and beauty, as well as a lack of fragility in form and action, came across more as brattiness instead of the headstrong and innocent passion for romance and living that makes Marianne so charming.


  2. JamaGenie permalink
    Sunday, March 18, 2012 6:50 pm

    I just watched the 1995 S&S, which isn’t my favorite but when one needs a Jane Austen fix and has too recently OD’d (again!) on the 2005 P&P, that version of S&S had to do in a pinch. Of course, now I’m also totally under the spell of that delicious Dan Stevens from two seasons of Downton Abbey, so Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars is even more pathetic than I thought he was in S&S 95 before DS came along and did Edward ever so much better.

    And I love, love, love Emma Thompson as **anybody but** Elinor Dashwood. In that role, it’s hard to remember she’s Marianne’s not-very-much-older sister and not her mother. So my Elinor vote also goes to Hattie Morahan.

    As for Alan Rickman, your suspicion he’d just come from the dentist was an apt description of his acting style in general. I was never all that impressed with him as Col. Brandon, and even less so after seeing David Morissey in the role. Rickman was perfect as the villain in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and should’ve stuck to that type of role. Morrisey as Brandon was strong yet compassionate and sympathetic; Rickman just came off as pathetic with a capitol “P”.

    Perhaps I’ve seen Kate Winslet in too many other roles (without the tight curls) to accept her now as an over-romantic 16-yr-old. Sure, Charity Wakefield portrayed Marianne with less over-the-top passion than KW, but much as I love KW my vote for best Marianne has to go to Charity. She was simply more believable.

    But I’m with you 100% on Greg Wise over the wimpy Dominic Cooper as Willoughby!


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