Page to Screen: Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility Adaptations

There are four Sense and Sensibility adaptations that stick to the original story. There are also a few modern adaptations, such as Scents and Sensibility (2011) and From Prada to Nada (2011), which I have no interest in. I was not able to get my hands on the 1971 BBC miniseries, but I will be reviewing the 1981, 1995, and 2008 versions.

1981 BBC Miniseries – Starring Irene Richard, Tracey Childs, & Peter Woodward

Sense and Sensibility 1981 Elinor and MarianneI only made it through one half hour episode before I bailed on this one. The casting is poor, the acting stale, and the picture has clearly not been digitally remastered. Throughout the episode, Elinor, played by Irene Richard, maintains this creepy doe-in-the-headlights look that is very distracting. I find that in general, film adaptations tend to overdramatize certain aspects of a book. In this case, the scene where Willoughby rescues Marianne is actually less dramatic than in the book. Bottom line: I do not recommend this version of Sense and Sensibility. It’s about as entertaining as waiting for Prince William to lose all his hair.

1995 Film – Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Greg Wise, & Alan Rickman

Sense and Sensibility 1995 Edward Ferrars Hugh GrantI greatly enjoyed this version. It spins Sense and Sensibility into something of a comedy and comes the closest of the three adaptations to accurately translating Austen’s sarcasm and social criticism on screen. The acting is absolutely brilliant. In particular, Hugh Grant makes Edward magnificently awkward, from the way he stands with his shoulders hunched to his bumbling speech. The scene when he tries to tell Elinor he is not engaged to Lucy is priceless. I also can’t say enough about Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Mr. Palmer and of course Emma Thompson is wonderful as always.

This is one of Kate Winslet’s earlier roles, and as such she is not the star of the show, but she does a decent portrayal of Marianne nevertheless. Rickman was a good choice for Colonel Brandon, but I have to admit that have a hard time keeping Harry Potter out of my mind while watching any Alan Rickman movie. I couldn’t stop thinking that the whole production would be infinitely more satisfying is Colonel Brandon whipped out a wand and avada kadavra’ed Willoughby. It was quite distracting. Also, doesn’t Willoughby remind you of Lockhart, that dandy Snape dueled in The Chamber of Secrets?

Sense and Sensibility 1995 Colonel Brandon Alan Rickman

The only other thing to note about this version is that all the actors (except Winslet) are about a decade older than the characters they play. This really doesn’t matter much, but I think it’s worth noting.

2008 BBC Miniseries – Starring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, & Dominic Cooper

I previously stated that I put off reading Austen for many years because of the impression I formed of her work based on some of the film adaptations. I’m sure this was one of the adaptations that contributed to that impression. It’s basically a sexed-up, overly dramatic version of Sense and Sensibility. That is not to say the acting isn’t good or the production high quality, but I can’t imagine Austen would have looked too favorably on this interpretation of her first novel.

The series opens with a highly gratuitous love scene between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon’s ward, with faces obscured so as to foreshadow without giving too much away. The series is still very PG, but there is definitely more sexual tension than one might expect in a Jane Austen film. It’s also a bit melodramatic. The scene where Colonel Brandon rescues Marianna has—I kid you not—electric guitar music playing in the background. Seriously.

Sense and Sensibility 2008 Elinor and Marianne Charity Wakefield Hattie Morahan

I will give the writers a little leeway because I understand that they had to do something very different from the award-winning 1995 film for this version to be a success. I also think the casting choices were excellent. In particular, Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan were exactly how I pictured Marianne and Elinor while reading the book. Also on the upside, Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays Edward Ferrars. On the downside, he’s really quite boring when compared to Hugh Grant in the same role.

The Verdict

The 1995 version wins, hands down. The script, cast, and acting are perfect. The 2008 version comes in a close second because it is very entertaining and well acted, but it just doesn’t capture the spirit of the book, even if the storyline is the same.

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  1. says

    Must disagree from a cinematic perspective, Kate. The 2008 version is “my” version of ‘Sense & Sensibility’ but I think the 90’s movie has great merits also (like *cough* Alan Rickman *cough*). That being said, I CANNOT stand Hugh Grant in the role of Edward. I mean, I get that he probably plays it well (never realized Edward wasn’t a handsome fellow until reading the book), but yeah, I didn’t care for him – nor do I like the dramatics involving the Elinor crying in the end. Plus as grand an actress as Thompson is, she should NEVER have played Elinor.

    Totally agree: Hattie and Charity are perfect in their roles in 2008!

    Fun post! Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      I definitely see your points about why the 1995 version isn’t as good. I do believe that the scene with Elinor crying was in the book though…

      I think if the 2008 version hadn’t had that awful guitar music and the gratuitous love scenes, it would have tipped the scales to a tie. And surprisingly I actually liked David Morrissey and Alan Rickman equally in the role of Colonel Brandon.

      • says

        Believe it or not, so did I, Kate! I expected to detest David in the role of Brandon (because he was in a Dickens movie and played a horrible villain) but he held his own quite well! That was probably the best surprise. He and Charity were really good together.

        To be honest I don’t remember if the scene of Elinor crying was in the book (just remember that the proposal wasn’t there) – for me, Emma played it way too dramatic and as a result it kind of becomes silly.

        Nonetheless, I respect your opinion and like I said – this was fun! :)

        • says

          They were great together–excellent chemistry.

          I saw the scene with Elinor as more funny than dramatic. I think it was supposed to be humorous, but that’s just my take.

          In the end I wouldn’t mind having both versions in my DVD library.

  2. says

    1995 was hands down my favorite, I also loved Pride and Prejudiced that Keira Knightly starred in, but shamefully I’ve never read an Austen book…:( I did manage to get through the works of The Bronte Sisters and loved the movie Wurthering Heights with Tom Hardy playing Heathcliff.

    • says

      I loved that version of Wuthering Heights too, but haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. I’m reading Pride and Prejudice now and am planning to watch the film adaptations soon. I’ve heard a lot of really strong opinions about the Keira Knightly version–both for and against it–so that will be interesting for sure.

  3. says

    1995 is my favorite version too. I just love the portrayals. I put off watching the 2008 version because I hated the new BBC versions of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2008 Sense and Sensibility although it doesn’t come close to Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant at all.

    • says

      Interesting that you didn’t like the BBC versions of Persuasion and P&P. I’m planning to watch those sometime soon (once I read the books). In general I like how the BBC doesn’t rush the storyline by trying to fit it into a 2 hour movie format, but they sometimes sacrifice in other areas. I really did enjoy the 2008 S&S version, but I couldn’t help but laugh when they tried to overplay the drama.

      • says

        I adore the 1995 Persuasion. It’s practically perfect. Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root are fantastic. The 2007 version has a few moments (Anthony Steward Head as Sir Walter is fabulous and I don’t mind the guy who played Captain Wentworth), but Sally Hawkins disappointed me, greatly. I’ll be very curious to see what you think of it. Laughably overplayed drama in parts.

        And the 2005 Pride and Prejudice? A film with some redeeming qualities, if and only IF you take Keira Knightley out of it. She ruined it for me.

  4. Terry says

    I like the music in the 1995 version more than the music in the others. Patrick Doyle also wrote the original music in Gosford Park. I don’t know that I’ve heard much else of his that I remember well. (Checking on IMDB, he wrote music for other movies I’ve certainly seen, e.g., Bridget Jone’s Diary and one of the Harry Potters, but I guess the music didn’t impact me to remember it was him.)

  5. says

    Well, I’m glad I’ve been watching the good one all along. 😉 I’ve only seen the 1995 version with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and Kate Winslet, and I just love it. Thanks for doing the hard work for us. :)

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