Wednesday, November 12, 2008

S&S v. S&S

Yes, that's right, it's this:

versus this!

Sort of. Okay, let's start this properly.

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.

Of course, in spite of all the bleakness and heartbreak, Austen's brilliant wit and humour are still very evident in S&S, particularly in the wonderfully witty and ironic dialogue given to Elinor Dashwood.
Now, there have been three major screen adaptions of S&S produced in recent years: the 1983 BBC version which I have yet to see, the much acclaimed 1995 version, and most recently the 2008 BBC miniseries.

There are certain pros and cons to both versions.

S&S95 Pros:

* 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?


Anonymous said...

The 1995 one. I liked Dan Stevens but come off it, he aped Hugh Grant in that role so much as well! Hugh gets unnecessary stick imo. If he wasn't famous as the 'Hugh Grant character' he wouldn't be criticised as much - in fact, he would probably be praised if he was some unknown actor playing that part.

Mamselle Clare Duroc said...

Overall I prefer the '95 version. If for nothing else, Patrick Doyle's score. So, so beautiful.

I had some quibbles with the '08 version, as well, though. Like you said, Willoughby was dreadful. Ugh. I thought he was supposed to impress us as a charming fellow when we're first introduced. He looked shifty-eyed and snaky from the start.

The other '08 casting I didn't like was Edward, sorry to say. I wish I could find a happy medium between the two... one is far too stiff and awkward, and one is far too loose and dashing.

Though I don't have huge objections to the '08 Elinor, her acting was very young. She lacked the maturity and experience of Emma Thompson's performance. I don't know whether to fault this to her or to the script, but her uptight playing of Elinor was really bothersome to me. I'm very similar to Elinor in a lot of ways, and I cannot stand to see her played uptight, because I feel it's a complete misinterpretation of her character. The '08 Elinor could never let herself simply have a good cry. When Marianne is presumably dying she sits there dashing her tears away as if she's ashamed. Eh? Elinor didn't think emotion was something to be ashamed of! As the oldest daughter and the only adult in the family who wasn't overly-emotional, she felt the need to step into the leadership position and remain serene for the sake of her mother and younger sisters. And, of course, in the whole Lucy Steele fiasco, she was bound to keep her hardships to herself. But she was not uptight.

One cast member I definitely preferred in the '08 version was Lucy Steele. She carried off both sweet and poisonous very well, unlike the '95 gal, who was simply obnoxious from the start. And, in the '08, we got to see the other Miss Steele! She's so silly, but so cute and funny.

So, yes, overall I prefer the '95 version, but I'm quite fond of both.

And S&S is my favourite Austen novel, as well. ;)

The Editrix said...

Anonymous, you have a point there, and that brings to mind one of the other things that struck me about S&S08 - many scenes are copied straight from S&S95, even the ones that aren't in the book! For instance, Colonel Brandon carrying a drenched Marianne in his arms in the rainstorm. It isn't in the book, but it is in both film versions! I think that this is all evidence, not that S&S08 was deliberately copying S&S95, but rather that the 95 version got it all right in the first place, hence if the 08 version was going to be good, it was bound to copy 95 in places!

Clare - I totally agree with you about Lucy Steele! I am also very glad that Anne Steele was included in the 08 version. From what I remember, she has some of the funniest lines in the book, so it was a real bonus that they had the time and inclination to include Anne. . .

BTW, Sense and Sensibility probably isn't my favourite, favourite JA novel - but I still love it! :)

Theresa said...

Oh, I have to say that I liked the 08 version better!
I thought that Elinore 08 was so much better than the 95 one. Sure, Kate Winslet was awesome, but I could never really get past that hair...
Hehe, I took that Jane Austen heroine test and came out as Elinore! I had taken it ages ago and came out as Lizzie. Hmm... strange.

The Editrix said...

Yeah, I remember taking that quiz in the past, and I came up as Elinor. . . then another time I think I came up as Marianne. Then on another quiz at a different site I was told that I was Cathering Morland!

My mother liked the '08 version better, and I think most of my brothers and sisters also prefer the new version! It seems I am the odd one out. :)

Isabella Clinton said...

I like the 08 one best!

LadyBug-Laurie said...

S&S is a great choice for favorite JA novel. It would be mine too if I did not love Northanger Abbey and Persuasion just a bit more.

I agree that it is the most melodramatic of her novels and I've always thought that it is in part because it is her first published novel. I think S&S doesn't have the same polished quality as say Emma or even P&P, it still has quite a few traces of the early letter form and a taste of her Juvenalia about it.

One of the best parts is Willoughby, I am absolutely fascinated with him as a character and a villain. I've even thought of writing about his life story.

I love both films and also S&S1 is very good definitely see that version I love Marianne's melodramatic air in that one and Elinor is lovely and sensible.

I agree with not liking Dominic Cooper as Willoughby he's so very dark you dislike him from the start and he's not very charming. I did like Greg Wise even though he was too old.

I think I prefer S&S08 now as an adaptation of the book itself it captures the youthfulness of the story in the cast and scenery. I loved both Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan before I even saw the film! Lucy is perfect and Anne is perfectly ridiculous which I loved. The Palmers could have been better (love Hugh Laurie and Imogen & Imelda Staunton in S&S95!) as could Mrs Jennings. I loved Sir John in this one though and also Mrs Ferrars was wonderful. Dan Stevens could have been better had he not smiled so much especially at first, he acts too quickly in some scenes. And I wish Willoughby would have found forgiveness from the Dashwoods as he does in the book (and is S&S1).

I will always appreciate Emma Thompson and her understanding of Austen, where she made changes in the story for the screenplay it was seamless and completely in keeping with what Miss Jane would have/could have written. Love the music, love Marianne, love Mrs Jennings' and Sir John's "winkling"! But I will now that I've read the book always see Emma Thompson's as an interpretation of S&S and not as adaptation.

Loved David Morrissey as Col Brandon too and even liked having Eliza in it though the first scene could have been handled more seemly than it was. Perhaps as Wickham and Lydia's scenes were in P&P95 with only glances across a drawing room and then Eliza saying "when will you come back? but when?" would have been more appropriate. But nothing's perfect - not quite. :)

The Editrix said...

Yes, that is something that has struck me too - you really can tell that S&S was one of JA's earlier works.

That's a good way of putting it -- '95 is an interpretation of S&S, while '08 is an adaptation. . .

And I should clarify that my favourite JA novel is Persuasion, not Sense and Sensibility! ;)

Now, I would really love to see the early 1980s version, but I haven't been able to find it online and I don't want to fork out $30 for the dvd. . . :( It would be interesting comparing it to the two more recent version. . .

Livi said...

Hmmm...that's a really tough question but I think I would have to say that S&S 08 is my favorite out of the two. Anne Steele cracks me up every time!! :)

The Editrix said...

:D She cracks me up, too!

Jessica NicDhòmhnaill said...

I am honestly torn between the two. And I agree with EVERY point you made about each! Mr. Palmer was the BEST thing about the first one. *grin* Hugh Grant was a ridiculous Edward Ferrars and the new Edward was *wonderful* as was the new Colonel.

AND I LOVED THE DUEL!!!!!!!!!!!! :-D Honestly, that completely won me over to the new one! LOL! :-D

Great post!!


Dawn Dancer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dawn Dancer said...

I absolutely adore the 1995 version, and am unwilling to call it "old". :-) However, I did appreciate parts of the new one, but I don't think I liked any of the characters better. The colonel wasn't bad, but I admit, I was biased, as I saw him in "Our Mutual Friend" playing a HORRIBLE villian. But, I really must say he did a good job, and, although some of my friends think that the scene where he catches her as she faints, is corny, I like it. :-) I guess the Marianne in me just likes sentimentality.

I agree, Mr. Willoughby was horrendous. He looked like a creep, and I know that if I was Marianne, I would NOT fall for him. The duel was great! My brothers were disappointed that Brandon didn't stab Willoughby. At least in the new version, I didn't pity Willoughby, which is a problem I have in the '95 one. Yes, I know. My sister accuses me of liking the bad guys. Yes, again, the Marianne in me. :-)

I like your blog! This post is very well thought-out. :)

The Editrix said...

Thankyou! :-)

I'm with you, I generally like the bad guys, too. . . although in this case I do genuinely like the Colonel better than Willoughby. :) I guess it's just as well that I haven't seen David Morissey in any other movie!

LOL - I can understand your brother's disappointment in Colonel Brandon's refusing to kill Willoughby, although in the end I am glad that he didn't. I would not have liked the Colonel so well if he had killed him.

The Editrix said...

Jessica--thanks!! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about. . . um, pretty much everything in the two S&Ss!

Jessica NicDhòmhnaill said...

David Morrisey does play this REALLY creepy guy in 'Our Mutual Friend'!!That was the only reason I had qualms about him when I heard that he was playing in the new S&S. I mean REALLY creepy...he proposes to this girl in a CEMETERY first of all and then when she refuses him he digs his knuckles into the headstone until they're full of blood and then rubs them on his mouth.
Um...gross? :-D
But I was VERY pleased to see that he is a good enough actor as to cause you to forget that he's "Mr. Headstone" from OMF for a few hours and just be Colonel Brandon. :-)

BTW, Even though he is creepy in is still a GREAT movie. :-D


The Editrix said...

In that case I'll have to watch it sometime! Hm, proposing in cemeteries--very creepy. . . although now that I've had time to think about it, I can just picture David Morissey in that sort of evil/creepy role. . . when you think about it, he plays a tortured soul in S&S, too--only he's a good 'tortured soul', whereas in OMF he is evidently a bad one!!

Dawn Dancer said...

Yes, and his name is Mr. Headstone! That is creepy in itself. I adore the Colonel in the '95 one, too, but I do pity Willoughby at the end. I WAS amazed that I liked the Colonel as well as I did in the new one, with the OMF prejudice and everything. BTW, OMF is wonderful movie!!

GreenSpaceGoods said...

I can't replace the '05 version. The age situation is the biggest flaw to me, but I have forgiven it simply because the performances are so good. I am also not a fan of Hugh Grant, but I do love the quirkiness he brought to Edward's character and I think he paired very well with Emma Thompson (who was just amazing). It's one of my favorite movies (and books) of all time. Even the characters that were omitted I didn't miss that much.

I cannot accept Charity Wakefield as Marianne. She seems rather flat while everything about Kate Winslet's version had so much fire and passion. She completely languished in the intensity of emotional extremes. She portrayed the very soul of Marianne perfectly in my opinion. I also thought the initial love scene with Eliza was unnecessary and distasteful.

Anonymous said...

G'day! I still can't decide which I like better. I think I like '95 and '08 equally. They balance each other out very well. BTW, I agree with you on nearly all your comments about SandS, especially when you mention that the book is the most "Bronte" of the Austen canon. :) On that note, I think '08 conveyed that "Bronte-ness" better than '95. Have you seen the '80s version yet? Love that part when Fanny Dashwood discovers her brother's engagement! '95's corresponding "feathers-and-nose-twist" part is nothing compared to that scream! :D