Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sense and Sensibility Adaptations

I know I've been remarkably lax in the one reading challenge I entered this year. I confessed in January that Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Austen book, but still, I felt I should re-read it before I started reading and watching various adaptations.

Well, the Sense and Sensibility group read at Indiejane.org just finished yesterday, so now I'm ready. We started our read by hosting a virtual movie night--the '95 movie--in our chat room, and then last week I finally watched the newer BBC production. I'm going to compare them today, knocking off two items for the challenge!

There are two major areas that affect the way an adaptation strikes the audience: casting and script. Both productions have pros and cons on both.


I do not care for Hugh Grant in the role of Edward. Dan Stevens was far more suited to it, and I realized as I watched how much Grant's demeanor affected my opinion of the character--keeping in mind that the movie was my first introduction to the story and characters.

Until I watched Dan Stevens as Edward, I truly disliked the character. I could not forgive him for his behavior at Norland, for not leaving once he realized he was in love with Elinor. I couldn't understand how Elinor could accept it! Why wasn't she angry when she found out he'd been engaged the whole time? Looking back on the story, I think it was Grant's delivery of the apology which struck me wrong. Stevens was just pitch perfect in all those scenes, including... ah, but that is part of the script, is it not?

On the other side, for me, Alan Rickman is Colonel Brandon. I didn't dislike David Morrissey, but once you've seen a portrayal you love so much, it is hard to accept anyone else in the role. My favorite scene is at Cleveland when he begs Elinor to give him something to do to keep his mind off Marianne's illness. It strikes just the right note of barely restrained despair that I imagine him to feel.


Something odd happened here. Usually, I prefer the mini-series version of Austen novels, as there's simply too much to fit into a feature length film. However, despite the things that were cut or only hinted at in Thompson's script, I feel she did a better job, for one reason: she use a much larger percentage of Austen's dialogue.

Jane Austen wrote superior dialogue. It moves the plot along, it defines her characters, and it is charming and witty. Why write other lines that only attempt to say the same thing hers did? I was surprised to find this problem, because the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, also by Sir Andrew Davies, did an amazing job at sticking to the dialogue in the book.

I have to wonder if the shorter length played a part here. Sense and Sensibility is only half as long as Pride and Prejudice, and it's possible he felt there simply wasn't time to use Austen's dialogue. There were certainly some very choppy scene changes, such as when Mrs. Jennings announced they were all removing to Cleveland.

There were four places where I really appreciated the new script:

  1. The beginning. Mildly salacious (which Davies seems to prefer), it goes a long way toward displaying Willougby's character. However, on further reflection part of the plot of the book is the whole mystery--is he a rogue or an honorable gentleman? Showing his seduction of Eliza in the first five minutes of the film is like reading the last chapter of a mystery first.
  2. The duel. I loved actually seeing this. It's one of those little things you might not even be aware of if you skim over that chapter of the book, but Brandon does indeed call Willoughby out. However (again, a caveat!), I thought the way they filmed in and where they placed it made it seem like he was calling him out over Marianne, not Eliza. If one hadn't read the book before, they would certainly get that impression.
  3. Edward's first apology. Though I don't believe for a minute that Elinor and Edward would have had a conversation that came that close to acknowledging what their relationship was while he was still engaged, I absolutely loved his question--"Why don't you think badly of me?" (Um... paraphrasing here!) That sincere admission of guilt and repentance did more to win me over to the character than anything else. 
  4. Willougby's horrible excuse for an apology. Okay, Austen purists. I admit, this is one thing I really don't care for in the book. Why does he get to come back and explain away all his bad actions? Why does Elinor give him time to do so, and then accept at the very least, he always loved Marianne and will regret her? Why doesn't she just say, "Hey! You lost your chance because you were too selfish to do the honorable thing. Get out!"? These are things Nancy wants to know, and the abbreviated apology in the mini-series (which is completely omitted in the film) gave me some small bit of satisfaction.
All that being said, the film script wasn't perfect. As mentioned, it omits Willougby's apology altogether. There are times when dialogue moves from mouth to mouth, most notably when Marianne gives Elinor's quote about how Willougby might soon have learnt to rank the demands of his pocketbook above those of his heart. Since this quote is given by Elinor in answer to Marianne's doubt that Willoughby was truly selfish, it is really out of place in the film. 

Also, I don't think it's just Hugh Grant's delivery that makes Edward's explanation and apology at the end fall flat. It's just... off. Like, it doesn't sound like his voice. Also, it didn't sound really apologetic, more like... "Hey, I know things didn't go so well earlier, but now that I'm free, what do you think?" which really made me hate him.

Okay, I know this was long, but I thought it would be easier to do them both in one blog post. These are my second and third completed items for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.