I’ve been hit by a serious craving for some Jane Austen novels, so I re-watched the wonderful BBC mini-series Sense and Sensibility. I think I forgot just how amazing this adaptation is – this is perfection. Any Austen fan worth his or her salt no doubt knows of it or has seen it, but even people completely unfamiliar with the story will be delighted. If you think the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet movie adaptation from 1995 is good this will blow your mind.
For those of you unfamiliar with the novel the story talks mainly about two sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, their different views of the world and romance (titular sense and sensibility), their romantic disappointments and subsequent maturation. There are also lessons about duplicity, flighty love, and true romance and strength of feeling. What is not to love in the novel and in this masterpiece?
The costumes will make you itch for a period gown of your own – the fabrics and colours are wonderful. They range from subdued pastels and whites to more strong colours. The muslin dresses are especially pretty. I’m quite envious of the actresses. It must have been such an exciting experience – the feel of the fabric, the unfamiliar bodices and undergarments, the weight of the dresses and the hats – all that must have greatly contributed to their acting. The shawls too caught my eye and I would really like to get my hands on one of them. This series is such a fashion tease – tempting me with what I can’t have.
The beautiful, romantic, and even dreamy score will whisk you away to a different era. How different it must have been to not have music available to you all the time – I think I know why they were so easily bored at home. The piano never sounded better and since Marianne is a musician the pieces are especially well-suited for the story.
The scenery and the houses are equally beautiful. The cliffs and the sea of Devon are a great backdrop to the story, and even though there’s little of a garden to speak off by the cottage it is still a wonderful place. You’ll recognize a house or two from previous BBC productions but let that not distract you away from the wonderful architecture, antique furniture, and gardens of the more affluent characters in the story.
Although many events are the same, the way they are told differs considerably in tone and execution. The start of the series itself gives you a hint you’re dealing with something far different than your usual Austen fluffiness – there is an undeniable sexual undercurrent spanning the series. You will find seductions and secrets, disappointments and broken promises, but also personal integrity and true romantic love.
What about the actors?
The actresses portraying Elinor (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne (Charity Wakefield) take the roles and make them their own – you will forget Emma and Kate’s portrayal entirely. That they are closer in age to the novel’s characters is another plus. Their acting is subtle, which I liked immensely, and they capture the period manners and customs beautifully. They also appear to have a really close sister bond with their younger sister Margaret. She’s often just pushed aside in other adaptations, a mere side-note, but here she’s got a voice of her own and her small contribution to the story feels more important. I really like her here.
I also like this version of Mrs. Dashwood (Janet McTeer); she is still the romantic soul of the novel, but far more realistic. The actress portraying the chatty Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett) is a good casting choice. I like her and that fun-loving attitude of hers. She may be a woman delighting in gossip and gentle teasing, but she seems like a person I would love to spend an evening or two with. She also appears to have a good relationship going on with her daughter’s husband sir John Middleton (Mark Williams). He certainly is a character and a far better relation to the Dashwoods than their half-brother John (Mark Gatiss). It is unfortunate that Dashwood’s half-brother is under the thumb of his shrewd wife Fanny (Claire Skinner).
Other male roles felt very different here and I like their portrayal far better than any I’ve seen before – they are more active participants in the story, more in charge of their lives than in previous adaptations. Extending their parts makes for a far more balanced overall series.
Seeing Willoughby’s back story (which affects much of the events), adds a new dimension to the main conflict and gives the viewer something to agonize about. Will he do the same to Marianne, does he truly love her? The actor (Dominic Cooper) is a force of nature here – he did a wonderful job and I’m looking forward to his other projects.
Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens), Elinor’s love interest, is far more interesting and fleshed out here. We can see how he struggles with his feelings for her and what he knows is right. This conflict makes you truly feel for them especially since his sister Fanny does everything to keep them apart, horrid woman. Adding the seemingly innocent but in truth mercenary Lucy Steele into the mix, you can see his heart break.
Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) too is a good casting choice. Nothing against Alan Rickman, he’s a wonderful actor, but I like this colonel far better. We get to see different facets of him – the hunter, friend and neighbour, gentle guardian, kind friend… Somehow he’s the version of the man I’ve always imagined while reading the novel, so I’m truly grateful to the producers of the series for fulfilling my dreams.
All of the above combines into a series you’ll be tempted to watch again and again. Definitely recommended.