Sense and senbility : two adaptations

mercredi 2 mars 2011

A little comparison between the two most recent adaptations of Sense and sensibility :

Among the Janeites, each version has its followers. I’ll try and give my own impressions, before my verdict. (and sorry for the clumsiness of my translation from the french)

Ang Lee’s version

When I first discovered Ang Lee’s version in 1995, I loved it, although a two hour and ten movie isn’t enough to do justice to the intrigue. As a consequence, the various love stories seem a little rushed and we lack time to see the characters’ feelings develop. It takes away some of the couples’ credibility. But this is unavoidable when such a novel has to be converted into a movie.

A critic has often been made concerning this adaptation : the actors are much older than the characters they play. Emma Thompson, who was 35 at the time, embodies a 19 year old Elinor, and Hugh Grant, 33, is ten years older than Edward. (Marianne and Willougbhy’s interprets are younger actors Kate Winslet and Greg Wise). But I really don’t feel it matters : I think Emma Thompson is doing fine (thanks to a heavy make-up, as she herself confessed). I think the acting is a strong point of this movie : Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet are perfect, Greg Wise has all the slightly listless charm of Willoughby, Alan Rickman is very convincing as colonel Brandon, and the supporting actors are all excellent (with a special mention for Hugh Laurie as Mr Palmer). As for Hugh Grant, he is without doubt too handsome to play Edward. But I like the boyish touch he gives the character, with his funny clumsiness : we can understand that the too sensible Elinor should fall for this charming awkward young man (I do, but in real life Emma Thompson fell for Greg Wise, who is now her husband...). The only actress I’m not convinced about is Imelda Staunton (Charlotte Palmer), excellent but far too old to play the part of a young mother.

As far as the settings are concerned, everything is fine. The english countryside is well filmed, the dresses look genuine, nothing in the scenery looks cardboard, which is the least we could expect from such a production.

But in the end the greatest quality of this adaptation is due to the excellent script written by Emma Thompson (who won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay). It’s a lively, light-hearted version, going through the story with a steady pace, which has us turning from laughter to tears, from emotion to gaiety, and the last wedding scene of which resumes all its freshness.

BBC 2008 version

The version produced in 1981 by the BBC was a bit dated, and had been overshadowed by Ang Lee’s movie, that’s why the respectable english house decided to take again the matter in hand. This new version, which I discovered through Alice’s excellent blog Jane is my wonderland, has its own good points.

First of all, as it develops in three one hour parts, it has a little more time to enter into the story details. As a whole, the script very logically uses most of the scenes already filmed by Ang Lee, sometimes to the point of imitation : for instance the hilarious conversation between Mr and Mrs John Dashwood concerning the inheritance takes place in both movies in a coach, and the scene that Thompson invented of Colonel Brandon rescuing Marianne is "copied" by the BBC version. Then this adaptation follows Thompson’s script in giving Margaret the younger sister more importance than in the novel.

On the other hand, some characters are presented in a different light : the Dashwoods have a little boy, in accordance with the novel (instead of a dog in the 1995 version) and the Palmers are less present. Then Andrew Davies, the script writer, chose to underline the "overtly sexual" aspect of this "drama" : the mini serie opens with a prologue showing ( although quite modestly) Willoughby seducing Brandon’s young ward, which I found a bit un-austinian. Likewise, this version dedicates a scene to the visit made by Marianne and Willoughby to Allenham, and insists on the trouble experienced by the two young people in the deserted house. But in emphasizing what Andrew Davies calls ’the dark underbelly of the book", I think this version ends up lacking lightness and humour.

For the actors, the job was not easy : how to outdo the brillant Thompson, Winslet, Grant, Rickman ? Hattie Morahan (Elinor), Charity Wakefield (Marianne), Dan Stevens (Edward) and David Morrisey (Brandon) all manage to get out of the fix quite well and have the advantage of being generally of a more suitable age. I confess nonetheless that I find them duller than their predecessors. As for Dominic Cooper (Willoughby), I find him a lot less convincing than Greg Wise, who composed a less rough, more subtle seducer. I don’t like much either the actress playing Mrs Dashwood the mother.

Concerning the settings and dresses, here too everything is fine. The dresses often pinkish or mauve, are maybe a little low cut as for Marianne’s. The cottage where Mrs Dashwood and her daughters find a new home is far more rustic than in Ang Lee’s version ( and in the novel, where Austen describes it as "comfortable... regular...not been built many years... in good repair") and stangely located near the shore.

You can see here the page dedicated by the BBC to the movie.

And the winner is...

As you will have understood, I enjoyed both versions. Nevertheless, if I am to choose, it’s the 1995 version which I like best, essentially because it is more in tone with my reading of Austen, with its lively atmosphere, which emphasizes more the comedy than the drama.

But of course, nothing is better than reading the book...

Pour lire la version française de cet article, cliquez ici

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