My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [2008]

250px-s26s_dvd_cover_2008Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

Release Year: 2008

Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Hattie Morahan

Marianne Dashwood – Charity Wakefield

Colonel Brandon – David Morrissey

Edward Ferrars – Dan Stevens

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

The biggest difference between this movie and the 1995 version is the added length. It has at least an hour of extra running time which allows the story to both add in scenes and characters that were cut from the book as well as create some unique scenes that, for the most part, do enhance the story. That said, there were also a few mishaps in these added scenes and in the characterization of Willoughby. But overall, I think it did more right than wrong, in this aspect. Watching the two adaptations back-to-back was an entertaining process. It was clear that as much as this story was attempting to be faithful to the novel and be its own thing, the 1995 version was too beloved to completely ignore. There were several scenes or character beats that were clear mirrors to similar ones in the older movie, like some of the early scenes with Edward, Margaret, and Elinor in the library. It wasn’t a scene in the book, so it was a clear nod to the earlier, beloved movie.

I’ll go into more detail below, but I think I liked both actresses in both movies about equally. But the heroes are more split. I preferred Dan Stevens’ Edward here much more than Hugh Grant’s take on the character. Some of this is due to my own dislike of Hugh Grant, but some of it is also simply due to the choices that were made with the character here. Colonel Brandon is a tougher call. I think Alan Rickman’s is probably better, but the added time, again, does a lot for the character here and David Morrissey is still a good fit.

I really liked the use of the dramatic scenery in this movie. There are several moments when nature itself is used to highlight or mirror the internal emotions of the characters. The waves crashing, the driving rain, even the quiet of a seaside cave. It was all beautiful, and paired with a lovely score, the overall tone of the story felt perfect.

I’ve definitely watched this version more than the 1995 version. As I said in that review, I had almost forgotten how much I liked it and will likely increase my re-watching of it in the future. However, I think this one will likely to continue to beat it out overall, if only because, being longer, there’s just so much more of it to enjoy.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Both actresses are superb in their roles. They also both bring very different vibes to the characters than Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet did to theirs in the 1995 version. Morahan’s Elinor feels a bit more in line with the character, perhaps. Emma Thompson was almost a bit too perfect, making Elinor, a character who already walks the line of being unbelievable in her perfection, stand out even more above those around her. The solemnity of Morahan’s Elinor is combated by her wide-eyed bewilderment and innocence to the failings of many of those surrounding her. Wakefield leaned in strongly to the lively aspect of Marianne’s character. Due to the increased run time, more of the original lines from Marianne that highlight some of her more extreme romanticisms were included which helped flesh out her character here. Winslet’s version was a bit more refined, I think, but both are enjoyable. I’d have a hard time picking favorites between the four versions and can only really say that I enjoyed them all thoroughly in the adaptations they were in.

The longer running time was also nice in that it gave the story more room to focus on the the small moments in the Dashwoods family. We see a lot of added scenes with Elinor and Marianne, Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood, and even Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret. The movie was very successful in making the viewer feel that this was a real family with real relationships between them that were just as important, if not more so, than the romantic ones that are developing before us.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Like the 1995 adaptation, we see the most changes to the original text with how the heroes are depicted. Edward is given many more actual scenes interacting with Elinor in the beginning of the story, and, due to the increased length of this adaptation, we gain back a few scenes with him that were cut in the 1995 version, such as his visit to the Dashwoods about halfway through the story. I particularly liked this inclusion again as it helped keep Edward in the front of the mind (in the 1995 version he kind of fades into the background, making his reappearance towards the end of the movie a bit jarring). It also allowed for an additional small moment where we see him working off his feelings while cutting wood for the Dashwoods. He comments about how little help they have at the cottage and cuts himself off from saying more, though it is clear to the viewer that he is thinking about what he could do for them if he was free to marry as he wishes. I think it works really well as a wholly original added segment, giving viewers a better peak into Edward’s current mindset.

Colonel Brandon, too, benefits from the added time. We see more moments between him and Sir John while they’re hunting, a nice insight into Brandon’s friendship with characters who, on the surface, it would seem are not the type to attract his attention. The movie also adds back in the duel with Willoughby and a few added scenes between these two characters. Unlike the Edward moment, I’m not sure if these added scenes worked as well. I’ll go into more about the Willoughby/Brandon problems below, but even the duel was a bit strange. It seemed out-of-step with the rest of the movie and a Jane Austen story as a whole, feeling too dramatic and too unecessary. Nothing is actually resolved from this duel, it’s never mentioned again, and it doesn’t provide any insights into either character, except, perhaps, lowering Brandon to the level of petty dueling which feels amateurish and boorish and more inline with Willoughby than Brandon overall.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

One of my biggest criticisms of this adaption is the character of Willoughby. There are several things working against it for me, but two really stand-out: the choice of actor and several added scenes to the script. As I have more conflicted feelings about the latter choice, I’ll begin with the first. Dominic Cooper is routinely type cast as villainous characters. He’s not super well-known, of course, but for anyone who is familiar with him, it’s an instant giveaway for Willoughby’s being bad. He’s also type cast this way for obvious reasons, he’s simply excellent at being sleazy! So much so, however, that it’s almost impossible to buy his love for Marianne as being anything other than nefarious. This, in turn, makes her own blindness towards him (as well as her mother’s and Elinor’s as well) harder to understand and sympathize with. In the 1995 version of it, it’s easy to see the appeal of Willoughby, and Winslet’s Marianne is blithely shrouded in easy-to-understand youthful naivety.

What’s more, the script makes no effort to keep Willoughby’s villainy a secret. The movie actually opens with the scene of his seduction of Brandon’s ward and her abandonment. Cooper’s face isn’t shown, but he does speak, so careful listeners are immediately alerted when he later shows up. The creator mentioned that this scene was added because they felt that the seduction of Brandon’s ward, a truly awful act, is often easily skipped over, both by book readers and viewers of the 1995 movie. But, while I do think this concern has merit, particularly where the book is involved, it does hurt the movie as far as Willoughby himself. This problem is only compounded when only shortly after meeting Willoughby, the movie adds a scene between him and Brandon in which Brandon asks what his intentions are. Willoughby is shady, Brandon is honorable, it’s all fairly easy to put together.

This movie does include the scene where Willoughby shows up during Marianne’s illness to explain his side of things. But, by token of highlighting the true villainy of his previous acts, the movie undercuts the sincerity of feelings that Willoughby expresses for Marianne. In the book, it’s easier to discern the grey areas in which Willoughby exists and that his decisions are ones that will truly haunt him with the loss of Marianne. Here, you’re too busy disliking him to care about any true regret he may have.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Like the 1995 movie, this version also flip flops the order of marriage proposals for Marianne and Elinor. It, too, recognizes the greater investment that the viewer likely has in Elinor’s relationship, thus using her happily ever after as the grand finale of the movie. While we don’t have Emma Thompson’s flamboyant crying, Morahan’s break down and frantic cleaning is perfect for the, up to this point, put together Elinor. I also liked how they showed the different circumstances of Marianne and Elinor once they’re married, with Marianne being romantically swept off her feet into a grand house and Elinor and Edward sharing a small domestic moment, laughing together as he chases chickens around their yard. It’s a nice coda to the different versions of love that they both have always aspired to. I also like how it helps highlight that while Marianne’s first choice wasn’t right and some of her extreme sensibilities were taken too far, she’s not “bad” or “wrong” for wanting the typical, romantic ending with the fancy house and grand husband.

This version also, like that earlier movie, makes more effort to show the growing love of Marianne for Brandon, unlike the book with its quasi “love will come with time but I kind of owe him this” approach. There are only a few short scenes, but they are compelling and classically romantic, highlighting the natural fit of Marianne and Brandon.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Since this version is so much longer, there was a lot of leeway to add back in characters who were missing in the 1995 version. This includes several characters who played pretty much solely for comedic purposes, like Lady Middleton and the elder Miss Steele. Miss Steele, similarly to her character in the book, has a bigger presence than Lady Middleton, who by definition is bland and uninteresting, and I was glad to see the character return. This also returns the story to the original version where she, not Lucy, is the one to reveal Edward and Lucy’s engagement. As vindicating as it was to see Lucy slapped down in the 1995 one, it did stretch the bounds of the imagination to think she’d be so taken in as to reveal a secret that she felt was important enough to have kept for 5 years prior. Her older sister, perfectly primed as a rather thoughtless blabber mouth, always made more sense, and it plays perfectly here.

While perhaps not “comedic,” I also enjoyed the extended scenes we get with their older brother, Mr. Dashwood. Mark Gastiss, who I knew of mostly from his role as Mycroft in “Sherlock,” is excellent in the role. He’s almost pitiable in how completely ruled he is by his wife, with his every small, good intention being quickly squashed by her.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Hattie Morahan and Dan Stevens appear together in “Beauty and the Beast” with him as the handsome prince/Beast (Edward is supposed to be plainish, so we can all agree that the “Beauty and the Beast” casting was better suited to Stevens’s natural good looks than Edward) and she as the Enchantress.

I knew of Dan Stevens first from “Downton Abbey,” so seeing him as a romantic hero was easy enough. David Morrissey, however, was more familiar as the Governor on “The Walking Dead,” so that was a bit of an adjustment. He also reportedly questioned whether another Jane Austen adaptation was necessary, but eventually signed on once he saw how much more action the men were given. Glad he came around, because he does an excellent Brandon here, a tough job after the superb Alan Rickman’s take on the character. But he shall never live down questioning the necessity of another adaptation!

There are a bunch of period costumes that are used repeatedly in Jane Austen adaptions. The actors, of course, are fun to spot popping up in various things, as I mentioned in the 1995 movie review. The re-used houses and locations are the next step of fandom obsession. But costume spotting between adaptations is truly where you know that you’ve arrived at perhaps an unhealthy state of re-watching. There were a bunch in this one, but the dress I did notice was a dotted dress that Marianne wore in this movie that Winslet’s Marianne wore as well in the 1995 movie. Apparently it’s also seen in “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion,” so I’ll look for it there, too, when I get to those.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

The script writer, Andrew Davies, is well-know for his work with many other Austen adaptations. In an interview, he mentioned that he felt pressure to do for “Sense and Sensibility” what he did for the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” which is commonly seen as the best adaptation of that work even today, going on 30 years later. To that purpose, he created this scene of Edward chopping wood in the rain in a flimsy white shirt to mirror the iconic scene where Colin Firth parades around in a similarly see-through shirt after jumping in a lake.

In two weeks, we jump into our next novel, the first half of “Pride and Prejudice!”

2 thoughts on “My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [2008]”

    1. I know! I told my husband that I want to have a delayed Valentine’s date night just so we could go to this movie for it! Will have to work in a review for that somewhere in my year-long plan for this review series! – S


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