Sarah and I recently just re-watched the 1995 and 2008 adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and I decided to take on the monstrous task of trying to compare my opinions of the two movies.
With Pride and Prejudice I found the "which movie adaptation is better" question to be an easy answer. (The 1995 is as near perfection as could be wished, and I hold a loathing disdain for the 2005. I hear there are other adaptations, but I highly doubt they could come close to my beloved 1995.) Sense and Sensibility was slightly more difficult because the 1995 adaptation is fairly faithful to the novel, and my parents greatly enjoyed it when it first came out. I didn't enjoy it as much, because I thought everyone seemed really old, except for Margaret, of course. When I finally read the book and realized they weren't supposed to be old (Elinor is NOT a spinster!) I was much more happy with the story, but even less happy with the movie. When the Sense and Sensibility 2008 miniseries came on Masterpiece, I watched in delight as nearly everything I hoped for an adaptation came true! I eagerly awaited the next episode each Sunday night (having to wait a whole week was torture!) and it's definitely my favorite. But I can't loathe and abhor its rival, as the 1995 does have its moments.
Emma Thompson's Elinor is not one of those moments. I appreciate Emma Thompson, but she was not right for Elinor. She over-dramatized too much for me, besides looking too old. I didn't like the scene when Marianne finds out she knew about Edward; Elinor shouldn't get MAD at Marianne! I also thought it was a little too much when she was tending the sick Marianne, and her excessively loud sobbing was quite distracting during Edward's proposal scene at the end.
Hattie Morahan in the 2008 was perfect for Elinor. She looks more like a 19-year-old, and kept her calm, gentle, kindness through the whole movie. I am all praise for her performance. I only wish they had done something a little nicer with her bangs...
Hugh Grant. Not Edward. I like him very much in Notting Hill (which is a cute movie, in spite of some inappropriate spots) but he is just too awkward for Edward. Hugh Grant seems always to play sweet, bumbling, semi-intelligent fools and that's not what I want for Edward.
Austen describes Edward as: "not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. ... when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understand was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. .... All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life."
|"... the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good..." - Elinor, Sense and Sensibility, the novel|
By that description, perhaps Dan Stevens could be considered a little too handsome and immediately likable for Edward, but I won't complain! I like him very much as Edward. The scene where he meets Elinor is, of course, completely inauthentic for the time period, and quite uncharacteristic for a man who is naturally shy, but I like it nonetheless.
|"Would you like some help? With the carpet beating?"|
Dan Stevens and Hattie Morahan as Edward and Elinor might be my favorite part of this mini-series (although there is so much more to like as well!) Besides being perfect individually for their roles, they worked well together.
Kate Winslet as Marianne was very good. I may have liked her better than Charity Wakefield this time around. I don't think she quite looked 16, but I think she portrayed Marianne's romantic and dramatic nature better.
Charity Wakefield's Marianne is a little stiff sometimes, and a lot of her lines chafed me with their briskness. I think she could have been more girly and romantic in general, speaking more elegantly and gently, even when she's passionately expressing her feelings.
While I'm on the topic of Marianne, my favorite scene from the 1995 is definitely this one:
|"I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him..."|
This scene was very much like the book, and I love Marianne's indignant response: "Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment." - book quote. I don't remember exactly what the movie quote was, but it was delivered excellently, and I know that one of my favorite words, "insipid" was inserted. In the 2008, the similar scene was fairly disappointing by comparison.
Alan Rickman's Colonel Brandon (besides being too old) was a little too depressed and dull in my opinion. I liked David Morrissey much better. He was quiet and reserved without being dull and serious without being depressed.
Finally, the issue of Willoughby. The most common complaint I hear about Dominic Cooper's Willoughby is that he's too obviously a bad guy. That's not completely his fault, the screenplay lets the audience in on the secret immediately by showing him to be avoiding the Colonel, and hinting that the Colonel has a reason not to like him. This is something that Jane does not mention in the book, and I believe Colonel Brandon has no reason to (except jealousy) to dislike Willoughby until his hasty removal to London to care for his ward, but the script seemed to imply that Willoughby already had a reputation, and Brandon knew about it. If that were true, he should have taken measures to protect Marianne, like warning her mother. I don't think Colonel Brandon would stoop to treating a rival poorly from jealousy, so either way they meant it, I didn't like that little twist to the script.
Again, the 1995 Willoughby (Greg Wise) was too old. Other than that, I probably like Greg Wise a little better. I personally think that Dominic Cooper is a little more attractive, but there is something about him (and I don't think it's just his acting, because if you see any pictures of him, he almost always has that sultry, smug, brooding expression) that seems weird.
|Typical creepy face.|
So I definitely prefer 2008's Colonel Brandon, but possibly the 1995 Marianne and Willoughby. It's very close, and I still enjoy their performances in the 2008.
All the other characters are better in the 2008. I like Mark Gatiss as John Dashwood, and greatly prefer the Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret. The 1995 production also left out some characters that I missed. I don't know why they killed Lady Middleton and left Sir John a widower. Lady Middleton's cold insipidity is a small part of the 2008, but I like her so much that I imagine the actress when I'm reading the book. I wish little Henry Dashwood had been included instead of that dog. I also enjoy Anne Steele's big-mouth presence and the opportunity to see the formidable Mrs. Ferrars.
|The hilarious Steele sisters.|
|Blackpool Mill Cottage as Barton Cottage.|
Interesting side note: Blackpool Mill Cottage in Devon is actually available to rent, and all that wonderful surrounding landscape is actually part of the location! I want to go!
Andrew Davies raises such conflict for me, because I think in general he does a great job of faithfully keeping to Austen's original story, but then he intentionally inserts unnecessary sensual scenes, like the very beginning of the 2008. We always skip it though, so I almost forget it's there. Then there's also the scene when Willoughby shows Marianne his aunt's house. In spite of that tendency, I think he makes the best Austen adaptations, and I wish he would do Mansfield Park, it needs a really good adaptation.
|I do like the chopping wood scene, so I can't complain too much about Davies's original ideas.|
Willoughby's discussion with Elinor after Marianne's illness is left out in the 1995. I'm glad it's included in the 2008, I like the way that it closes that chapter of Marianne's life. In the 1995, Willoughby's sad face intrudes on our happiness at Marianne and the Colonel's wedding, and I didn't like that at all.
Jane Austen's wonderful novel gets the treatment it deserves in the 2008 adaptation, and the lesson I see in the story comes out very well. Marianne is the girl that I tend to be; Elinor is the woman that I want to be. We see in Marianne a girl who lets her feelings rule her, she is buffeted by them, and led into inappropriate conduct by following her feelings. Elinor is not devoid of feeling, as Marianne sometimes thinks, but while feeling deeply, is still in control of herself.
Elinor: "Do you compare your conduct with his?
Marianne: "No. I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours."
|I love this shot!|
Edward and Elinor both behave as they should (well, excepting Edward's incautious friendship with Elinor in the first place) - and in the end their honorable actions are rewarded by an end to their suffering and separation, and they live happily ever after. Yet another wonderful work from the pen of Jane Austen, adapted admirably. The end of the 2008 is just perfect, it's such a sweet scene, Elinor bursts into surprised, happy tears when she finally discovers that Edward isn't lost to her forever after all, but not so wildly as to detract from Edward's proposal. It might not be exactly like the book, but I find it completely satisfactory.