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April 11, 2008
Review - " Sense and Senibility " (BBC) - By Roland Hansen
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Sense and Sensability - Elinor Dashwood & Marrianne Dashwood - BBC movie poster
Sense and Sensibility  
Directed by John Alexander
Based on the novel by Jane Austen, Adapted by Andrew Davies
Starring: Hattie Morahan (Elinor Dashwood), Charity Wakefield (Marianne
Dashwood), David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon), Dan Stevens (Edward Ferrars),
Dominic Cooper (John Willoughby)

How can a woman who has never married write the quintessential romance novels
of her time?   In “Revenge of the nerds” Robert Carradine is asked why, being a
nerd, he is so good in bed. His reply “Jocks only think about sports, nerds only
think about sex.”  Can it be that, like the nerds, having never truly known romance,
Jane Austen obsessed about love and thus was able to put pen to paper and
produce, in fiction, what she lacked in life?

“Sense and Sensibility” takes place in the early 1800’s. It is the story of two sisters,
nineteen-year-old Elinor and seventeen-year-old Marianne Dashwood, one
prudent, the other romantic. They are left impoverished by the death of their father
whose grand estate, Norland, is inherited by his son and daughter-in law, John
and Fanny, leaving next to nothing for his wife and daughters. While at Norland
Elinor falls for Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars. A match Edwards mother will most
certainly appose. Marianne does not believe in hiding her emotions. She often
says whatever she thinks without regard for propriety or the feelings of others.
Elinor feels as deeply as Marianne but governs her emotions with intellect and
sensible behavior. With their mother and youngest sister they move from the
estate of Norland to a poor cottage in the country. It is there that Marianne meets the dashing young Willoughby. Her
romantic idealism leads her to fall for the charming scoundrel. Since women of genteel birth from that time period cannot
embark on any career it is incumbent that they marry well in order to secure their future. “Sense and Sensibility” is essentially
about their loves and heartbreaks.

Andew Davies has a great deal of experience adapting Jane Austen for film. He wrote the screenplays for the BBC production
of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey and the Pride & Prejudice inspired Bridget Jones Diary. With “Sense and
Sensibility” he once again does a fine job of remaining faithful to Austen’s original work. Although far superior in all aspects to
the 1981 British miniseries it lacks the polish of Emma Thompson’s 1995 Hollywood adaptation. The 2008 BBC version of
Sense and Sensibility seems often miscast or misdirected (or both). The character of John Willoughby is supposed to be
charming and handsome. In this part, Dominic Cooper (History Boys) is neither. He comes across far too sleezy. He would
have been far better cast as Happy Potter’s professor Snape than Jane Austen’s smooth charmer. In contrast Dan Stevens is
TOO charming as Edward Ferrars. He shows none of the awkward shyness that the part calls for. David Morrisey’s Colonel
Brandon is played with a bit too much anger and not enough of the reserved dignity of Alan Rickman’s portrayal. This can
easily be blamed on the writer and director. Morrisey (The Waterhorse, The Other Boleyn Girl) certainly has the acting chops
and presence to play the part as it should be. Hattie Morahan is good as the eldest Miss Dashwood but shows her emotions
on her face far too much for the staid Elinor. This is no doubt the fault of the director. The one notable exception is Charity
Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood.  Marianne is all passion and romantic notions. Charity’s portrayal of the wildly romantic
teenager is magnificent. She gives us a self-absorbed upper class adolescent living out the highs and lows of her passions
while oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of those around her. It was a major mistake to show Marianne having such a high
regard for Colonel Brandon early in their acquaintance rather than rejecting his attentions at the start. The big reveal at the
end of the 1995 version made audiences stand up and cheer. In contrast, Marianne’s “Please don’t be angry with me”
confession to Elinor in their bedroom lacks the oomph and feels somewhat anti-climactic.

The scenery was shot beautifully. The exterior and interiors of the mansions gives you the old world feel of the early
nineteenth century. The estates of Norland, Barton Park, & Delaford are particularly well displayed. They are beautiful &
grand without being overly ornamental or ostentatious and provide an air that people of wealth and consequence reside
there. The contrast between the elegance of Norland and the simplicity of Barton Cottage illustrates the extent to which the
Dashwood’s fortunes have fallen.

Fans of Jane Austen’s works and/or period pieces will find this film captivating and enjoyable.