Sense and Sensibility is one of my favourite Jane Austen novels. Actually, every Austen novel is my favourite Austen novel, if that makes any sense - it probably doesn't. (If I had to pick an all-time fav. JA novel, it would probably be Persuasion.)
Seriously though, let's take a look at some of the reasons why Sense and Sensibility stands unique among the pantheon of JA books.
* It is the darkest of Jane Austen's novels. A light-hearted romp through Regency society this is not. The opening premise of the book is not a happy one: a man dies, leaving his wife and three young daughters at the mercy of their half-brother and his selfish, scheming wife. The four women have to leave their home and move to a run-down little cottage in the middle of nowhere (Devonshire. No offence to modern-day residents of Devon, I was only implying that Devonshire would have seemed like the middle of nowhere to the four Dashwood women.) As the story runs its course, the two elder daughters both fall in love and subsequently have their hearts broken. Yes, it is at times quite a depressing book to read, even though it (fortunately) has a happy ending. . .
* It is also the most melodramatic of Austen's novels.
* It is (possibly) the most utterly romantic JA book. Pride and Prejudice fans will no doubt take exception to this. :-) I think this impression of romance springs from the fact that, within the pages of S&S dwell two of the most 'hopeless romantics' ever created by Austen - Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon. . . one might also include the Byronesque John Willoughby, although, as Marianne discovered too late, it was Brandon, not Willoughby, who was the "true romantic". . .
* It is the most "Bronte" of Austen's novels.
* Emma Thompson's Academy Award-winning screenplay. Simply brilliant, especially when you consider that she had to squeeze all of Sense and Sensibility into a two-hour running time.* Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood. She is absolutely gorgeous, and she portrays the innate sweetness and luminosity of Marianne's character very well.
* Emma Thompson, while obviously too old to play Elinor, is nonetheless a great actress with a strong presence. Her performance was very good. Alan Rickman, while also a little too old, made a lovely Colonel Brandon.
* Lavish and beautiful production values. Everything - from costumes, musical score, scenery, all are exquisite. I though the London ballroom scenes and the scene where Marianne goes out walking alone in the direction of Combe Magna were particularly well-done.
* Ang Lee was the director.
* Hugh Laurie as Mr Palmer - one of the best things about this film.
* Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars. Ugh! I don't like that man.
* As I mentioned earlier, Emma Thompson was about 15 years too old to play Elinor Dashwood, and the same goes for Alan Rickman as Brandon. Certain other characters, including Mrs. Palmer, Sir John Middleton, Lucy Steele, and Mrs. John (Fanny) Dashwood, also looked older than they are in the book.
* Several minor characters were omitted. These included Anne Steele, Lady Middleton and her children, and Mrs. Ferrars, who is mentioned but doesn't appear onscreen.
Now, for S&S08.
* The cast were, in general, a good bit younger than the cast for S&S95, so a lot of the characters looked closer to their proper ages (e.g. Elinor is supposed to be 19, Marianne 17, Edward 24, and Colonel Brandon no older than 35-6).
*This was a miniseries, not a movie, hence more time was available for filling out the details of the plot. It also meant that they were able to include more of the minor characters from the story.
* The scenery is absolutely stunning. The soundtrack is also good - it is by Martin Phipps, who also composed the musical scores for Persuasion 2007 and North and South (2004).
* Dan Stevens (Edward Ferrars) had the advantage of not being Hugh Grant. Some of my fellow Janeites complained that he was too good-looking to be Edward, and perhaps he was, but he captured the character of Edward very well, I thought.
* David Morissey was wonderful as Colonel Brandon. Hattie Morahan, while not the actress Emma Thompson is, did a good job playing Elinor nonetheless.
* The little kid who played Harry Dashwood - absolutely priceless!
* I loved the duel between Brandon and Willoughby. :) I am very glad they chose to include it.
* Dominic Cooper as Willoughby - wrong, wrong wrong! This was probably the single major jarring note in this production, for me. Willoughby is supposed to be tall, handsome, and completely charming. Cooper's Willoughby was simply not as charming or attractive as he is supposed to be, making it very difficult to fathom why Marianne would fall for him.
* Screenwriter Andrew Davies messed up in several places, most notably in the infamous opening scene with Willoughby and Eliza. I was very disappointed that this scene was included. I thought it was distasteful and unnecessary, and it mars what would otherwise have been a fairly family-friendly series that I could have watched with my younger brothers and sisters without worrying about scenes to fast-forward through. I still watch it with them, I just have to be sure to skip past that bit. The wood-chopping scene was also rather silly and unnecessary in my opinion.
* Mrs. Jennings was not nearly as boisterous and loud and hilarious as she is supposed to be.
Well, there are a lot of good points and both points to both versions. Sense and Sensibility 1995 has been my favourite Jane Austen movie for some time, so it was always going to be difficult for S&S08 to overtake it. . .
The first time I saw S&S08, I didn't like it very much. Here's an excerpt from my journal, written after I watched the first couple of episodes online in January 2008:
Andrew Davies is truly an extremely aggravating man. Who does he think he is, taking such liberties with my beloved Jane's books. But I really think [the problem is] not so much his script as the cast. Nearly every one of the actors is dreadfully miscast. With a few notable exceptions. Lucy Boynton is gorgeous as Margaret, Hattie Morahan makes a lovely, luminous Elinor, and David Morissey (arguably the most skilled actor in this production) does an admirable job in portraying Colonel Brandon. . .
Finally, I actually like Dan Steven [as Edward]. . .But I am afraid that even the best Edward in the world cannot atone for the worst Willoughby AND Marianne. . .
The final consensus: 3 out of 5 stars.
Since writing that earlier this year, I have changed my mind on several things. . . I have softened a good deal in my opinion of Charity Wakefield as Marianne, even though I still don't like Dominic Cooper as Willoughby. I can't say how or why, but Sense and Sensibility 2008 continues to grow on me. . . S&S95 still remains as my favourite version of Sense and Sensibility, but I would now recommend both versions to anyone. I would now give it a 4 out of 5 rating - maybe even 4 1/2 out of 5.
So, my advice: rather than trying to pick just one, buy both versions, if you don't already have one or both of them on dvd! :-)
So - what was your favourite version of S&S?