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Sense and Sensibility (2008)

“Happy Elinor, you have no idea what I suffer!”

Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Austen story. It felt like a rough draft of Pride and Prejudice and Marianne was always over the top to me. That being said, this miniseries is an utter delight.

This version reunites the 1995 Pride and Prejudice screenwriter Andrew Davies with the work of Jane Austen. It also features Doux favorites such as David Morrissey (The Walking Dead’s Governor), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Dominic Cooper (Agent Carter, Preacher), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), and Mark Williams (…everything).

As I said before, it’s not my favorite Austen novel but it may have my favorite beginning. Fanny and John are the most comical villains, if we can call them that, of Jane Austen’s oeuvre. The way John is talked down from a gift of £3000 to an occasional present of venison over the course of a short series of scenes is so funny.

And then…enter the romance. Edward and Elinor have the cutest meet cute over rug beating (not a euphemism, get your mind out of the gutter, this is Jane Austen). I haven’t really cared for Dan Stevens since he left Downton but he stole my heart as Edward. He’s just so…earnest. The way he treats Margaret (here dubbed “Meg”) is always a big reason Elinor (and the audience) fall for Edward. Never more so here. It’s honestly a wonder that he came from the same family as his rude sister and repulsive brother.

One of the weaknesses of the story, in my opinion, is that Edward is removed from the main action for so long. It’s not as discernible here with the miniseries’ truncated timeline but the time between the Dashwoods’ departure from Norland and Edward’s visit seems like ages in the book and it’s followed by another long absence.

Edward is a tricky character for modern audiences to understand because his behavior seems so odd, though it was perfectly mannered for the time. Why didn’t he just leave Lucy? Isn’t it weird for him to stay engaged to her for four years even after their affection had died away? There’s a simple answer for that. It wasn’t within his power. Of course men were legally allowed to break off engagements but it really wasn’t done. Women could (Jane Austen herself did). So it’s really Lucy’s responsibility to end the relationship and, her goals being what they were, she wasn’t likely to do that.

And then, why should Edward have gotten engaged to her in the first place? She’s so mean and petty. I have no answer for this and it’s always annoyed me. Others have theorized that it was a form of youthful rebellion or that Edward was just so happy to be away from his family it rendered her more (in Austenian terms) amiable. I just…don’t see it.

Far easier to see is Marianne’s attraction to Willoughby, cad that he ends up being. He’s everything her novels and poetry have taught her to value in a man. Their canonical meeting is reproduced exactly here (Edward and Elinor’s was invented for the miniseries). It’s so…romantic and Romantic. Mysterious, handsome stranger saves young damsel. Obviously she falls for him. I don’t know if it’s the writing or Cooper’s performance but the miniseries seems less harsh on Willoughby than the novel or the 1995 film. Even with the opening scene of the seduction of Eliza (it should surprise no one that specific scene wasn’t in Austen’s novel), he seems less hatable than he perhaps should seem. Or maybe I just have a crush on Dominic Cooper.

As for the romance between Marianne and Brandon…I have to admit, it’s part of the reason I don’t love this novel as much as Pride and Prejudice or Emma. The age difference weirds me out. It was normal for the time as Mrs. Dashwood says point blank but it’s still a bit gross to me. There’s a large age difference in the main romance of Emma, too, but Emma’s a bit older at the time. Marianne is seventeen. Seventeen. That’s…weird.

But, moving on from that, David Morrissey does a splendid job as Brandon, which can’t have been easy, having Alan Rickman to live up to. Striding about all brooding and still grieving his long lost love, he’s the true Romantic hero of the narrative, as Marianne will eventually come to realize.

And I haven’t even mentioned our main actresses yet. Both Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield acquit themselves beautifully and neither Dashwood girls are easy roles. One has to communicate so much emotion with so few words while the other needs to make Austen’s most over the top heroine believable.

Every actor really embodied their character perfectly in this piece. There’s no one who strikes a false note. Mark Williams deserves a special shout out for being pitch perfect as the jovial but embarrassing Sir John Middleton. The score is lovely, the show is shot beautifully, I honestly have no complaints about the miniseries aside from those I have of Sense and Sensibility in general.

four out of four engagements


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