Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Earlier this year I watched the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Up until then I'd had very little interest in the BBC's older Jane Austen adaptations. This version of Sense and Sensibility is a three hour long miniseries that was written by Alexander Baron. He would later go on to write the script for Jane Eyre (1983). This miniseries was also produced by Barry Letts. Whovians will know Letts as the executive producer of Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee era.

Sense and Sensibility isn't one of my favourite Jane Austen novels but I still think that it's a great book. It's brilliantly-written, intelligent, funny, dramatic, and it has some wonderful characters. But I've come to realise that I enjoy the 2008 adaptation just as much as the book and that I enjoy the 1995 adaptation even more than the book. I guess this might seem like a shocking thing for an Austen fan to admit to but then... disguise of every sort is my abhorrence *smirks*. The ending of Austen's book feels rushed to me and as a romance I don't find the book as satisfying as Austen's other novels. I don't think the male characters are very appealing. Willoughby is immoral. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are bland, especially Edward! I've read Austen's book multiple times and I still can't understand why Elinor falls in love with him! That's a big reason why I've enjoyed Sense and Sensibility's adaptations so much. They've made Edward and Brandon more interesting. I still really enjoy Austen's Sense and Sensibility but for me the book isn't up there with Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

This particular adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is now my least favourite version of the story. I'm not as attached to the book as I am with most of Austen's other novels but I still rate it far more highly than this miniseries. This adaptation is very far from horrible though. It's quite faithful to the book for the most part. The dialogue is often word-for-word accurate and it does include things that the other adaptations have left out. It shows Marianne and Willoughby singing together. It shows Lady Middleton and Mrs Ferrars arguing about whether John Middleton Jr or Harry Dashwood is taller. We don't get to see Robert Ferrars buying a toothpick case but we do get to hear him talking about it to the Steele sisters. When Marianne gets ill at Cleveland, Mrs Jennings stays behind to help Elinor nurse her back to health. But, like all of the other Jane Austen adaptations, this version does make a few omissions and changes. In this version there are only two Dashwood sisters because Alexander Baron chose to get rid of Margaret Dashwood. This is a shame but I can understand why he did it since Margaret is a very minor and underdeveloped character in Austen's book. And in this version Marianne's passion is for Gothic novels rather than Romantic poetry (Um, why?! Gothic novels are Catherine Morland's thing!)

Viewers who aren't accustomed to the BBC's older adaptations might find the low production values of this miniseries rather off-putting. The interior scenes are all filmed on cheap-looking sets and the production values pale in comparison to the 1995 and 2008 adaptations. I do consider this to be one of this adaptation's faults but then I've watched other BBC productions from the same era and have really enjoyed them so the low production values weren't that much of an issue for me. My biggest issue with this miniseries was that I simply didn't enjoy the acting very much. I was particularly disappointed with its main actress. Irene Richard isn't really bad in the role of Elinor but she seemed too cold, whereas Emma Thompson and Hattie Morahan show more of Elinor's sense of humour and her loving heart. Irene Richard also played Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice (1980) and I thought she was far better in that role. Her Charlotte is practical and sensible but she still manages to come across as warm and friendly. It's a shame that Richard wasn't able to put that warmth into Elinor.

The best performance in the entire cast came from Tracey Childs who plays the role of Marianne. Whilst hers isn't my favourite portrayal of the character - Kate Winslet ftw! - I still loved her in the role. Childs was very close to Book Marianne's age at the time, she's very pretty, and she really acts like a sweet young woman who's bursting with passion and feeling. Her portrayal of the character is actually quite similar to Kate Winslet's and that definitely helped in my enjoyment of her performance. Peter Woodward plays the role of Willoughby in this miniseries and he definitely gives the best performance out of the male actors. He's handsome and charming enough for the role too. Unfortunately he didn't get nearly enough screentime. Bosco Hogon as Edward Ferrars was flat and dull but sadly his portrayal is probably the most accurate interpretation of the character I've yet seen, although he is about 10 years too old for the role and is obviously wearing a toupee. Robert Swann's Brandon was also fairly flat and dull.

Another issue that I had with this miniseries was its ending. After Elinor and Edward get engaged, Colonel Brandon comes over to Barton Cottage to lend Marianne a copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And that's it! I know I've complained about the book's ending being rushed but this is far worse! At least in the book Austen tells us that Marianne eventually fell in love with Brandon and married him!

This adaptation is far from terrible. It's perfectly decent and watchable and there are some far worse Austen adaptations out there. But it's definitely my least favourite Sense and Sensibility adaptation. Watch this version if you're feeling curious but the 1995 and 2008 adaptations of the book are so much better.

Rating: 3/5
Viewer Certificate Rating: U


Hamlette said...

Edward is so... not there! The dude is not in what, 95% of the book? I honestly can't say I think he's dull because I get very little sense of what he's like at all. Elinor loves him because... Elinor loves him. The only Austen hero I connect less with is Edmund Bertram. Him I can very decidedly pronounce dull and oblivious.

Hannah said...

Hmm... I can see where you're coming from but I still think Edward's boring. There are certain fictional characters - I can't think of any particular ones off the top of my head but I know there have been! - that I've found absolutely fascinating even when the author has given barely any information about them. Somehow they've managed to make the characters mysterious and intriguing. I don't find Edward Ferrars mysterious or intriguing at all, therefore I consider him boring :) But to his credit he's not half so irritating as Edmund Bertram.

Hamlette said...

Nope, mysterious and intriguing he definitely is not. I guess what I meant was that he is so unpresent that I think of him almost as a non-entity. The movies are much better in at least giving him a face and usually some charm or niceness to connect to!