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TV Review: Sense and Sensibility on PBS March 30 and April 6

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I have to admit it has been a few years since I last read Jane Austen’s classic Sense and Sensibility. It’s a favorite of mine; maybe one of my favorite Austen’s – the story of two sisters seems to grow with the reader. The first time I read Sense and Sensibility, I was a teenager, and it was Marianne that I identified with, and then years later it was Elinor. Once older, and a bit wiser, I found it hard to believe I could ever have been as young and in love as Marianne.

You can’t mention Sense and Sensibility without bringing up Ang Lee’s 1995 version, starring Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, and nominated for seven Oscars, winning for the screenplay. It’s a fantastic movie and a wonderful adaptation of the novel. It’s hard not to draw some kind of comparison between this newest version and the older ones, though I have never seen the 1981 version done by the BBC as well.

What does this latest version — a two-part mini-series adapted by Andrew Davies and presented by PBS as part of Celebrating the Complete Jane Austen collection — have that the others lack? As LA-Story said, it’s “sexed up, not dumbed down.” Also, with a full three hours, you have the opportunity to really become involved with the characters and see more of the book brought to life.

When Mr. Henry Dashwood passes away, he leaves his wife (Janet McTeer) and three daughters dependent on John (Mark Gatiss), his selfish son from a previous marriage who is ruled by his wife, Fanny (Claire Skinner). Elinor (Charity Wakefield) is the oldest and most sensible of the small household, and becomes their anchor.

Then we have Marianne (Charity Wakefield), who is hopelessly romantic and very ready to be fallen in love with. Margaret (Lucy Boynton) is the youngest of the Dashwood girls, and wishing she were older and able to take part in the experiences of her sisters.

Norland Park, the Dashwood family home, passes to John and Fanny, who are especially eager to move in and move Mrs. Dashwood and her girls out. With John and Fanny also comes Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens), who seems to channel Hugh Grant in the same role, and who quickly becomes friends with all the Dashwood girls, particularly Elinor.

It is only a matter of time before Fanny digs her claws into the budding friendship of these two young people. Once that happens, Mrs. Dashwood whisks her girls away to Barton Cottage, offered by a distant relative, Sir John Middleton (Mark Williams). Though it is less than they expect, and the company offered by Sir John and his busybody mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett) seems a little much to bear, the four have soon settled in.

This is where we finally meet Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) and Willoughby (Dominic Cooper), two of my favorite men that Austen ever created. While Edward is quiet and endearing, these two have elements of the dark and mysterious about them: Colonel Brandon and his doomed love affair from his youth, and Willoughby with his libertine ways. They make for compelling reading. When they come alive on the screen, they’re hard to tear your eyes from.

Marianne inevitably falls in love with Willoughby just as Colonel Brandon falls in love with Marianne. Here you are treated to a clear view of the sisters and how one concentrates on sense and the other sensibility. Marianne believes no strong emotion should ever be concealed, and faces the consequences of her forward actions.

If you are a fan, you already know the ending. If not, I refuse to spoil it for you. All I will say is the bad end unhappily and the good happily, with all good things coming to those who wait. Even though you know the end (some of you), like who ends up with whom, it is still a pleasure to watch it unfold in this fresh, younger version.

I love the Steele sisters in this adaptation, especially the big-mouthed sister of Lucy, Miss Steele (Daisy Haggard). For me, Miss Steele stole the scenes in which she appeared. Daisy Haggard was bright and funny with some of the best lines in the whole production, and she played her character to perfection.

I enjoy Jane Austen for the complexity – the mix of manners and desires, of saving face while your heart is breaking. It’s a complex dance that is sometimes hard to bring successfully to the screen, but Andrew Davies, who also wrote the screenplay for the much loved Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, has made a successful attempt.

It does not seem to flow as smoothly, a few of the lines coming across as stiff, but that could always be blamed on the delivery by the actors. We also get treated to another gorgeous guy in a wet shirt when Edward is out in the rain splitting logs, which Andrew Davies did before with Colin Firth and a pond in Pride and Prejudice.

Something else that really appeals to me about this version is that you get to see Beth, the young girl whom Willoughby had seduced before he met Marianne. I’ve always been curious about her. The girl who was a character in the book, but without ever being present, she was someone who was mentioned in passing, the girl that Marianne could have become. Beth was Jane Austen’s cautionary tale, a warning to the foolish against falling in love with a charming rake. It was nice to watch her step out of the shadows and be given a convincing face and voice.

There are also some very nice visual touches throughout this newest version. Elinor changing the drawing above the fireplace in the cottage from a watercolor of Norland Park to a smaller one of Barton Cottage is the perfect vision of happiness finally taking hold, of home being realized. The settings are lovely and play a huge part in the story. The score is wonderful, the music becoming perfect punctuation for many of the scenes.

While not my favorite version of Sense and Sensibility, this newest BBC production is worth watching and enjoying again and again. It certainly has inspired me to pick up the book once more.

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About Katie T. Buglet

  • http://www.LA-Story.com Stevie

    thanks for the mention. I wasn’t the only one who commented about Sense & Sensibility in that manner. It seemed to be a much more accurate portrayal of the film/video presentation. Given the previous series– and what was done with Pride & Prejudice, this series had to surpass that 2 part presentation in fine acting, great direction and excellent scripting.

    Stevie Wilson

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