Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sense and Sensibility (2008)

This post will be a review of the 2008 BBC miniseries. This is a three-hour adaptation of Jane Austen's novel that was written by Andrew Davies. Initially I was very apprehensive about watching this miniseries because I'm a huge fan of the 1995 film. Much to my surprise though I really liked it! It might not be as good as the 1995 film in my eyes but it's still an excellent adaptation and very enjoyable. Believe me, this is a huge thing coming from me considering how much I love the 1995 film!

Possibly my favourite thing about this miniseries is that it's an hour longer than the 1995 film and it can therefore include characters from the book that the 1995 film was forced to leave out. In this miniseries you get to see Brandon's ward Eliza Williams, John and Fanny Dashwood's son Henry, Sir John Middleton's wife and children, Mrs Ferrars, and Lucy Steele's sister Anne. Most of these characters didn't actually get to say or do all that much but it was still really nice to see them. We even get to see the duel scene between Willoughby and Brandon which is only briefly mentioned in Austen's book. You get to see Willoughby's "woe is me" speech to Elinor in this version too.

This miniseries has lots of other things going for it as well. It's beautifully-filmed and there are some stunning location shots of Devon. The music is lovely in places and there are some really nice costumes. I still prefer the 1995 film though because of the acting. That's not to say that the acting in this version is bad though. There are some great performances in this.

I really loved Hattie Morahan's Elinor in this version. She's a much more age-appropriate casting choice than Emma Thompson in the 1995 film. Although I do really love Emma Thompson's performance in that film, there's really no getting around the fact that she's much older than Elinor is supposed to be in the book. Emma Thompson was 36 at the time whereas Book Elinor is 19! Thompson was almost old enough to play the 40 year old Mrs Dashwood! Morahan may have been 28 at the time this miniseries was filmed but she's still much closer to Book Elinor's age than Emma Thompson. She does a great job with the character as well and she gives a truly excellent performance. Her Elinor is clearly mature, sensible and practical but she isn't at all cold and is very likeable. You can tell when she's struggling to control her emotions, you can sense her deep love and affection for her family at all times, and she's warm and kind. She's pretty too. *Trivia: Morahan is engaged to Blake Ritson in real life, who has been in Mansfield Park and Emma adaptations.*

I must say that I really loved Edward Ferrars in this version too! He's played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame. Stevens' acting is excellent and he definitely makes for a much fitter Edward than Hugh Grant! Edward's character is made more appealing in this miniseries too. He's more cheerful, charming and assertive - especially in Episode One. This isn't really true to Book Edward at all but then again I'm not really a fan of Book Edward so that's perfectly alright with me!

Other actors give great performances in this version as well. I loved Janet McTeer's Mrs Dashwood. She has a backbone and she's clearly a good mother who really loves her children even if she occasionally needs guidance from Elinor. McTeer is also closer to the book character's age than Gemma Jones from the 1995 film. I really enjoyed Mark Gatiss and Claire Skinner as John and Fanny Dashwood. I didn't find Mark Williams' Sir John Middleton as funny as Robert Hardy's from the 1995 film but he still did a really good job. Daisy Haggard is great fun as Anne Steele. She does an over-the-top West Country accent for comic effect and is pretty hilarious. The scene where she blurts out Lucy and Edward's secret engagement to Mrs Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood is the funniest scene in the whole miniseries. Jean Marsh is very stern and intimidating as Mrs Ferrars - I certainly wouldn't want her as my mother! Much to my surprise I thought David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon was pretty good too. Alan Rickman's shoes are big ones to fill but Morrissey makes the character his own and is really good. I still think Rickman is more attractive and acts the part better though.

Some of the acting wasn't to my taste in this miniseries though. I suppose Charity Wakefield isn't bad but her Marianne often comes across as selfish and whiny, and she simply can't hold a candle to Kate Winslet's performance in the 1995 film. Winslet just brings so much passion, emotion and sensibility to the role - she became Marianne! Winslet has a lovely singing voice as well and we never get to hear Marianne singing in this version. I didn't like that Marianne had her hair down in some scenes either although that's not Wakefield's fault of course. I guess that since Marianne is still only 17 that they thought they'd be able to get away with it? Having said that Mrs Jennings wears her hair down in some scenes as well and there's no excuse for that!

Speaking of Mrs Jennings, I was disappointed with her portrayal in this miniseries too. Mrs Jennings is one of my favourite Austen characters. Linda Bassett's acting is by no means bad either but she was too quiet for my liking and her character didn't seem all that interesting. I much prefer the jolly, funny, over-the-top Mrs Jennings of the 1995 version! Anna Madely was disappointing too. She was alright as Lucy Steele but she just wasn't sly or bitchy enough. In all of her talks with Elinor, Lucy seems really sweet and sincere about her affection for Edward. If I hadn't already read the book I think I'd have felt sorry for her. Of course her real character is revealed at the end but this wasn't enough for me. I found the child actress who played Margaret a bit annoying as well and I really missed Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton as the Palmers. The Palmers don't get very much screentime in this version at all and they don't make an impression.

By far the worst casting choice in this version though is Dominic Cooper as Willoughby. I mean, just LOOK at him! He's a terrible Willoughby! He's nowhere near handsome or sexy enough. OK, I know this is quite subjective of course but he isn't handsome enough in my opinion. I certainly didn't find him anyway near as attractive as Dan Stevens or Greg Wise from the 1995 film. Also he's so shifty-looking! How were the Dashwoods completely fooled by him?! Yes, Willoughby is sinister and shifty on the inside but he's not supposed to look it! In fact Willoughby is so obviously up-to-no-good in this version that even people who haven't read the book wouldn't be surprised when his true character is revealed. Cooper is nowhere near charming enough for the role and is simply very badly miscast.

This version has other faults too. With some scenes in this miniseries it felt like Andrew Davies was simply ripping-off the 1995 film. For example: Margaret - who is quite a minor character in Austen's book - had an expanded role in the 1995 film. Margaret's role is also expanded in this miniseries. That wouldn't have bothered me if some of her scenes hadn't been such blatant copies of scenes from the 1995 film. Just like in the 1995 film, this miniseries has Margaret hiding at Norland and having a friendship with Edward. This version also has Brandon rescuing Marianne from the pouring rain and carrying her off to Cleveland, just like the 1995 film did. These are such obvious rip-offs that it was quite annoying!

Also, as you'd expect from an Andrew Davies adaptation, this version is sexed-up. We even get an actual sex scene in it. At the very beginning of Episode One, right before the opening credits, there's a scene of Eliza getting seduced by an unseen Willoughby. I hated this scene and it was completely pointless! A newcomer to the story wouldn't know who these characters are and would be confused. And then there's the obligatory "sexy shot of the male love interest". You know how the infamous pond scene in Pride and Prejudice was gratuitous and a blatant attempt to get women everywhere swooning? Well in this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility we get Edward chopping wood in the rain, witnessed by Elinor, in Episode Two. Oh yeah, I'm sure Edward chops wood all the time! Seriously, I didn't actually mind this scene as much as the pond scene from Pride and Prejudice because it wasn't completely gratuitous and it at least showed Edward's anger and frustration - but really? My final issue with this adaptation is the fact that Davies compares Marianne's growing love for Brandon to the breaking-in of a wild horse. Eeew! That's downright unpleasant!

Overall I did enjoy this miniseries despite its faults and I'm sure I'll be watching it again in the future, although I do prefer the book and the 1995 film overall. I recommend this version to Austen fans because it is excellent on the whole and is definitely worth watching.

Rating: 4/5

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