* CONTAINS SPOILERS
My expectations for the 2008 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility were not very high. I imagined watching the TV mini-series would be pleasant and a nice review of the book, and that’s that. Well, I was wrong and Sense and Sensibility is wonderfully different. From the cast to the scenery to the little surprises along the way, the mini-series is entertaining, romantic and made me smile, giggle and sigh. Exactly the kind of reaction you would want watching a Jane Austen adaptation.
I was delighted that Sense and Sensibility is quite faithful to Austen’s book, but also carries on the spirit of the 1995 movie by borrowing little touches of its humour and style, almost like a tip of the hat. The mini-series never stopped surprising me with either reimagined scenes or completely new scenes that do not appear in the book. I imagine some Jane Austen fans might find these changes disagreeable, but I was able to take it all in stride and enjoy this fresh approach.
The screenplay was written by Andrew Davies who also wrote the screenplay for the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. As luck would have it, I watched Sense and Sensibility on DVD which included an interview with Mr. Davies and producer, Anne Pivcevic, discussing how they took risks because they wanted to not only separate their adaptation from the 1995 movie, but to inject some new life into the story. I was very interested to hear Mr. Davies explain that he wanted to flesh out the Elinor/Edward and Marianne/Brandon romances because so much is left out by Austen, as well as beef up the male characters so that they are worthy of our heroines.
The Sense and Sensibility cast is superb. I have never seen any performances by Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield before seeing them as our beloved Dashwood sisters, but they are both very talented actresses. I thought Hattie Morahan was perfect as Elinor Dashwood. She is so incredibly natural in a role where the audience needs to read your eyes and expressions to understand the character’s state of mind. I liked Charity Wakefield as Marianne, although I found her a little tame compared to the spitfire we know from the book and sometimes I could tell she was acting. This may sound really silly, but I also had a lot of trouble trying not to stare at her chin when she was on screen.
I saved the best for last … the Sense and Sensibility men, oh mama. Dan Stevens (I love you Matthew Crawley!) as Edward Ferrars made me completely forget Hugh Grant. Dan is gentle, sweet and more tortured than Hugh’s stammering, awkward version. David Morrisey (before he became The Governor) is an acceptable Colonel Brandon with his incredible deep voice. The character is clearly a protector and provider which is what I think Marianne eventually grows into loving in both the book and this adaptation. Dominic Cooper as Willoughby was another great casting choice. He is handsome and has the kind of swagger you would expect Marianne to admire, but Dominic also brought a darker undertone to Willoughby that comes through in some scenes.
Although I can’t say whether this mini-series can beat the 1995 movie as the best adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, I enjoyed this version for being faithful to Austen’s book with a few, well-chosen liberties along the way. I understand how the producers weren’t trying to change the story or characters, but wanted to draw out what fans love about the book and translate it to the screen. By doing so, we get to feel even greater satisfaction when Elinor and Marianne are finally free to love the men they are meant to marry and I think this mini-series successfully gives us a happily ever after.