Saturday, 19 February 2011

SENSE & SENSIBILITY BICENTENARY CELEBRATION - Sense and Sensibility on film by Alexa Adams + Giveaway!

 After Jennifer Becton's Men, Marriage and Money in Sense and Sensibility, here's our second monthly issue for The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration on My Jane Austen Book Club. February  is for Alexa Adams, author of the highly delightful, First Impressions. A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice and blogger at First Impressions  . She has chosen to write about Sense and Sensibility in Film .  Join  Alexa Adams in the discussion of the several different adaptations. 

Leave your comment and e-mail address to get the chance to win a region 1 DVD  (USA, Canada, Bermuda , U.S territories) of Sense & Sensibility 1995 starring Emma Thomson, Hugh Grant,  Kate Winslet , Greg Wise and Alan Rickman in the main roles. The name of the winner will be announced on 28 February. Open to readers from the areas mentioned in brackets above.Good luck!

I consider Sense and Sensibility to be one of Austen's novels best suited for film adaptation, an opinion premised largely in the fact that all four of the cinematic versions of it succeed in both entertaining and sticking to the story. This book doesn't seem to be a candidate for the kind of misinterpretation that Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey have been subjected to, the heroine of the former frequently being massively altered, while film makers cannot seem to resist the lure of the Gothic the latter inherently mocks. I have pondered what makes Sense and Sensibility so appropriate for the visual medium and have landed upon two notions: the balance of having two heroines that embody opposite personalities traits which, conveniently, also convey the story's theme, and the variety of settings the novel provides, each projecting a distinct emotional experience for our characters. 

These facets of the tale make it easy for film makers to translate it to the screen while staying true to form, be it in the matter of our earliest adaptations, the two mini-series produced by the BBC in 1971 and 1981, which only slightly deviate from the novel, or in that of the later versions, Hollywood's 1995 production and the BBC's 2008 mini-series, which embrace what Austen scholar Daniel R. Mangiavellano calls “adaptation as elaboration” in his 2008 essay, “A Thoroughly Elinor Sort of Way: Elinor's Sensibility in Masterpiece’s Sense and Sensibility” (Persuasions V. 29, No. 1). This means that these newer films not only include details just hinted at in the novel, but also create entirely new scenes premised in the film makers' individual interpretations of the story. For purists, this posses problems (Mangiavellano points to the opening scene of the 2008 film, in which Willoughby's seduction of Eliza is dramatized, as an example), but for those who find the slow, methodical pace of the BBC adaptations made in the 70's and 80's tedious, it is a strength: though a degree of accuracy is sacrificed, the result is a richer cinematic experience.
We all have our biases regarding these films (mine fully rest with the 1995 version), and I could use this opportunity to debate their relative merits, but I think it more in keeping with the nature of this bicentenary celebration to dwell on what all do well, like the vitally important aspect of properly casting our heroines. The earliest Elinors (Joanna David in 1971 and Irene Richard in1981) do such a good job of capturing the character's pragmatism that they were chosen to play two equally practical Austen creations, Mrs. Gardiner (1995 Pride and Prejudice) and Charlotte Lucas (1980 Pride and Prejudice). Their respective counterparts, Ciaran Madden and Tracey Childs, both capture Marianne's destructively passionate nature, the former putting more emphasis on her melodramatic tendencies while the latter focuses on her disdain for the lack of sensibility in others. 
Arguments abound about Emma Thompson's age appropriateness for the role of Eleanor in 1995, but most can agree that she performs it magnificently, as did Hattie Morahan in 2008. Both actresses display the passion Elinor buries within her, revealing that her sensibilities are equal to Marianne's, only kept in check. Kate Winslet (1995) and Charity Wakefield (2008) provide similar interpretations of Marianne, emphasizing her similarities to the modern teenager – unrestrained, determined, and self-centered – without sacrificing those qualities that make her so sympathetic to audiences. All four films play Elinor and Marianne against each other, just as Austen does, in order to strike that essential balance between the title characteristics, creating, by the end of the story, perfected heroines; Elinor is freed to indulge her sensibilities, while Marianne has learned to weigh hers with sense. 
Barton Cottage ( 2008 )

Norland (1995)
While the earlier films are both financially and technologically hampered, they still manage, like their successors, to tie the developing emotional status of our heroines to their changing locations. In the book, Norland Park symbolizes the security the Dashwood ladies loose upon their father's death. It is therefore presented on film as a solid, imposing edifice, conveying a sense of the wealth and stability that defined their lives up to this point. In comparison, Barton Cottage is very humble, but it is also picturesque, appropriately representing their fluctuating emotions and social status. In regards to the 1995 film, Austen scholar Sue Parrill, in her 1999 essay “What Meets the Eye: Landscape in the Films Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility” (Persuasions, No. 21), points to a deliberate “contrast between Norland and Barton Cottage, and scenery that would suggest the melancholy feelings of the Dashwoods, who have lost father, husband, lover, and home.” In both this film and the 2008 version, this effect is increased by making Barton Cottage far less 
comfortable than Austen portrayed it, for whom intimate knowledge with William Gilpin's theories regarding of the picturesque were sufficient to create this atmosphere without subjected the Dashwoods to actual physical discomfort. The 2008 film takes the element of environment even further, transplanting the cottage to the coast in order to take advantage of crashing waves and rocky promontories as a means of increase the emotional tension. 
We next find Elinor and Marianne transplanted to Mrs. Jennings' home in London in which, while commanding all the modern comforts, they are distinctly guests, corresponding to their alienation while in the capital, as enforced by their treatment in the hands of Mrs. Ferrars, John and Fanny Dashwood, and Lucy Steele. Appropriately, Mrs. Jennings home is always portrayed rather starkly. Despite its luxury, formality defines the space. Finally at Cleveland, where they are literally trapped influx, somewhere between London and home, the house and grounds are portrayed as combining the qualities of town, Barton, and Norland. This is where all our oscillating emotions begin to come full circle. The style of house invokes Norland, improvements such as a Grecian temple resembles the atmosphere of London, but the more wild landscape, where Marianne takes her walks, invokes Barton. This is best captured in the later films, as their budgets allowed, and the turmoil of the moment is further enhanced in both by rain, which not only adds to the sense of climax but also helps to rationalize Marianne's subsequent illness. It is Austen's masterful use of scenery that paves the way for the film makers' elaborations, and no matter how much each movie differs, all are grounded in the framework her locations create, making it nearly impossible to stray far from the novel's intentions.
Marianne and Elinor (2008)
I would love to write at length about all of Sense and Sensibility's attributes, particularly the novel's other characters, that have been brought to life on film. We have had so many marvelous Edwards, Brandons and Willoughbys. Similarly, the more minor players that provide so much texture to this tale (like Fanny Dashwood, Robert Ferrars, Mrs. Jennings, and Charlotte Palmer) have been phenomenally captured by magnificent actors, and I could analyze their different interpretations endlessly. 

Instead, I will point the interested to the reviews I have posted on my blog of all four films (links are below), as well as to my Sense and Sensibility Mashup, in which I composed my ideal cast, comprised of performers from each adaptation. I cannot emphasize enough how well-worth watching all the versions are, each invoking the Janeite's passion for the story, adding to its dimensions, and increasing  its accessibility to a wider audience. All have their triumphs and their problems, but what is paramount is that each succeed in that most important function of any literary adaptation: paying respectful and loving homage to a masterful work of fiction.     

Reviews -

Mashup -

A lover of Jane Austen since her childhood, Alexa Adams is the author of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice and writes about Austen at her blog of the same name. Currently she is working on the sequel to First Impressions as well as a series of short stories, published serially on her blog under the title Janeicillin, in which she extends the ends of Austen’s novels by imagining events as they might have occurred between the proposals and the weddings. She lives in the Delaware Valley with her husband and two cats, and the whole family eagerly anticipates the arrival of their first child, a daughter, in June.


Alexa Adams said...

Thanks for having me Maria! It was great fun, as always.

Maria Grazia said...

Thanks to YOU, Alexa, for this thoroughful post and all the links you provided. I can't choose between the two latest adaptations of S&S, I haven't seen the two older ones yet. I love the natural setting they chose for 2008 Barton Cottage. Stunning! I love Willoughby and Marianne 1995, I know it can sound awkward but I prefer the younger sister to the elder one, and the rogue to the shy clergyman. I'm a rather improper middle-aged girl.

Juliet Archer said...

Great post! I especially enjoyed the interpretation of the different locations within the novel. The 1995 film is my favourite too.

Unknown said...

Great posts! Thank you for the links to reviews! Thought I enjoyed the newer version of Sense and Sensibility, the 1995 film still stands as my favorite!


Alexa Adams said...

Maria - Willoughby is definitely my favorite of Austen's rogues (perhaps because he actually has real feelings for Marianne?) and Edward is almost my least favorite Austen hero, only surpassed by Edmund Bertram. Marianne is undeniably charming, and I cannot think you so very "improper" in your preferences. Her romance with Willoughby is one of the most passionate Austen depicts. I think only Anne and Wentworth can compete.

Juliet - Thanks! You have excellent taste (which comes as no surprise).

Cait - Thanks, and you're welcome! I agree completely. Good luck in the giveaway!

Linda said...

Very interesting post. I've only seen the Emma Thompson film, but just added the 2008 dvd to my Netflix queue.

Claudia said...

I prefer the Ang Lee movie too, as the most of you. Kate Winslet as Marianne was definitely perfect. Anyway, very accurate review. Thanks! Best regards,

Meredith said...

Yay for more S&S!! I agree with you that S&S has been one of the most successful in the film interpretations. I think I remember Lindsay Doran (producer of the 1995) said she thought it was one of the hardest! Maybe because so much happens off screen? Or maybe because it took Emma Thompson five years to adapt??

Greatly enjoyed your musings, Alexa!

Alexa Adams said...

Linda - I think you will very much enjoy the 2008 movie. Although I do have my issues with it, Andrew Davies' love for Austen is made beautifully apparent in the screenplay. Good luck!

Claudia - You are very welcome! I agree that Kate Winslet could have stepped out of the book, she was such a fabulous Marianne.

Meredith - I was not previously familiar with that quote from Doran, and while she has produced many excellent films (so many of which star Emma Thompson!), since she has only taken on Austen once, I'm not sure this is an area in which her opinion holds a lot of weight. I would love to hear Davies' opinion on the matter. It's a fascinating topic for debate.

Kirk said...

I love the 95 S&S(seen it many times). I enjoyed the 08(seen it twice, enjoyed much more the 2nd time). I'll try the earlier ones if my library network has them. Thanks!

Regina Jeffers said...

This was quite interesting. Your emphasis on the use of "landscape" enthralled me. I had not thought of the brush strokes that the films' setting created. Thank you for pointing out the obvious. I have watched the '95 adaptation several times of late because I led the movie discussion on Austen Authors on the film. We discovered among us many areas where attributes of one character were given to another, especially those of Willoughby to Colonel Brandon. Next month, we hope to look at the "making" of Edward and Brandon as heroes.

Laura Ferrari said...

I've watched all versions and my favourite is the 2008 adaptation. I loved S&S 1995 as a kid (it was actually my first taste of Jane Austen, I was 7 and that movie forced me to read all her books and lately watch all movies and series) but, after reading the book, I couldn't enjoy it in the same way. Emma and Gemma Jones are just way too old for their characters. Hugh seems a bit out of place, almost as if he's trying to understand what's going on. The best are Kate and Alan: they ARE Marianne and the Colonel.
The 2008 BBC adaptation is more faithful, the actors are perfect for their roles and finally I've managed to feel something for Edward! I mean, ok he's not Colin Firth, but the wet shirt scene was genius (not surprising since it's Andrew Davis)! And the I have problems deciding which one is more touching.

Alexa Adams said...

Hi K - Please do see if you can get your hands on copies. They are stylistically very different from the new films, but I enjoy them despite their retro quality.

Hi Regina - My pleasure! I completely agree that Brandon has been rather Willoughby-ized in an attempt to make him more romantic. I'll keep an eye out for your ongoing discussion.

Hi Laura - As I said, we all have our biases regarding these films, which is why, other than disclosing where mine lay, I tried to make this post about what makes S & S work on film rather than why I prefer one to the other. Though most of the commenters here have likewise announced their '95 preference, I know many who feel like you do. However, if we are discussing the faithfulness of an adaptation, I have to say I think both the more recent films stray much farther from the text than do the earlier adaptations. Have you seen these films? I'd be curious to know what you think of them.

Laura Ferrari said...

I did but I find those adaptations more for theatre than tv, I've felt the same for P&P 1981, the actors were too "static".
Maybe I'm quite prejudiced because if the actors don't look like what I thought, I can't really enjoy the movie (I know it sounds shallow but that's the way it is).
For example, in the BBC 1995 P&P (I know I should be talking about S&S but, let's face it, nothing can top THAT adaptation) I don't feel Jane (Susannah Harker is a stunning actress but for me doesn't look like Jane and that sort of ruined the whole experience).
And Emma Thompson (whom I adore) was too old. I understand her love for Jane Austen (the screenplay was awesome) and desire to play Elinor, but Elinor is 19 and Emma looked at least 29.
I shouldn't have use the word "faithful" because it's true, the new version is a bit too "modern" (the almost seduction of Marianne, the actual seduction of Eliza, the duel, the wood chopping) to be faithful but, maybe because I'm only 23, that appealed to me.
And, I know I sound like a broken disk, the actors were perfect (except Colonel Brandon, I fell in love with Alan Rickman and true love last forever :-) at least until Colin/Darcy). Particularly Mrs Dashwood and Elinor.
Tonight I'm going to rewatch S&S 1981, maybe I don't remember it so well, it's been a while since I last saw it, and who knows, maybe it'll top my list :-)

Laura Ferrari said...

Alexa, I've just read your review of S&S08 and it's funny how your struggle to be "fair" resembles mine toward S&S95.
I suppose it's the problem with adaptations: they are never perfect because there's always something we don't agree with.
And my preference is probably due to my first approach with the books. I was 8 when I first saw S&S95 and I was so smitten that I asked for the book as a birthday present and my aunt gave it to me with P&P; and I made the mistake of reading P&P first, so I put the bar so high that I was actually disappointed with S&S, I was like "ok, where's the sparkle? why does Marianne fall in love with Col. Brandon? Why Edward is a hero?" and so on (remember, I was 8 and it was after Lizzie and Darcy :-)). And so S&S dropped at the bottom of my list, just one step before Northanger Abbey (which, at the time, I quite enjoyed :-) and I still enjoy Mr Tinley, he's such a flirt).
And I think this version is my favourite because it gives me that sparkle, that dark passionate romance I was looking for the first time I read it. And Edward is finally a hero I could be falling in love with: the beating carpet is a favourite of mine! and the wood chopping actually topped Darcy and the lake! :-D and his proposal?! ok, it's invented but God, it's awesome!! And Hattie is so gorgeous, she's not classically beautiful but in that scene she glows!
I love it!
I hope you purists will forgive me but I'm almost obsessed with this :-)
by the way I'm not writing to win the contest, I just really enjoy this :-)

Alexa Adams said...

Hi Laura - I can't imagine that your enthusiasm will be misunderstood, as you've found yourself amongst the similarly obsessed. Although I adore everything Austen wrote, S&S is actually my least beloved of her books (aside from Edmund Bertram, I find Edward Ferrars her most problematic hero). I actually enjoy the films more than the book, which is one of the reasons I chose this topic to discuss. I really love all the old BBC adaptations from the 70's and 80's (the MP from '83 is one of my absolute favorites) and while I am a bit older than you, I think it is precisely my love of theater which makes these older versions so appealing for me. I also find it very satisfying for the books to be reproduced almost verbatim, for no one can say it better than JA herself. This is why I can agree with you that the 95 version of P&P is the ultimate Austen adaptation, as it manages to do both, creating an excellent cinematic experience while staying true to the novel (wet shirt scene aside).

loveforbooks said...

I'd love to win a copy of this film. Love S and S!

loveforbooks said...

Oh, my e-mail address is