Sense and Sensibility (1971) – Movie Review

I was quite excited when the news hit the blogosphere that the elusive 1971 mini-series of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was being resurrected from the vaults and reissued by the BBC. It originally aired in the UK, but had never jumped the pond until this re-issue. Now, I think I know why.

If you step back in time with me to the early days of the BBC and Masterpiece Theater television adaptations of literary classics and biographies you might recall such gems as The Six Wives of Henry VIII , Poldark or I Claudius. The scripts and actors were superior, but by today’s standards of movie making they appear a bit stage-playish and stilted. They are after all close to forty years old. If you can get past the slower pacing, video film recording quality and classically trained actors playing to the back row of a theater, they are well worth your entertainment time. This adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is from the same era, and suffers from some of the same stiffness and sluggish pacing. However, these faults could easily have been overlooked if the script had not been so severely altered from the original masterpiece. The plot line of Austen’s story remains, but unfortunately very, very little of her unique language is included. Newer adaptations by Emma Thompson in 1995 and Andrew Davies in 2008 do include Austen’s words, or a variation of them, and we have come to expect them.

Robin Ellis as Edward Ferrars and Joann David as Elinor Dashwood

Notwithstanding my frustrations with the dialogue, I did appreciate some of the performances, and laughed heartily over the costumes and hair styles. Here are some of the highlights:

The Yeas

Joanna David as Elinor Dashwood totally saved this production for me. Her solid and stoic Elinor is never overplayed, but totally understated and stealthily effective. Like Austen’s heroine she is a rock, an island of sanity in a social sphere populated with reprehensible characters used as a morality exercise to compare what should be proper behavior in the Georgian era and what is not. Besides being absolutely stunningly beautiful, her timing and delivery are spot on. It is easy for a reader or an audience to resent Elinor for pulling in the reigns of her family and her own heart, but I never once doubted Ms David’s characters choices. Bravo!

Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Jennings may be my favorite film interpretation of the character so far. In this instance playing to the back row really works as her character is way over-the-top and exaggerated just as Austen intended. Aptly, Routledge’s clothes are as outlandish as her personality; she waves her arms about like a conductor of a comic opera and spouts her errant romantic deductions and matchmaking schemes with her unmistakably unique sign-song voice with aplomb. Her performance alone is well worth the 3 hours of blunders.

The Nays

Robin Ellis as Edward Ferrars. This Edward has a bouffant hairdo and stutters through his lines. This character trait is not in Austen’s novel (that I can remember) and may have been added as an emphasis to show that he was truly not suited for making speaches in Parliment, the profession that his mother aspires for him. We also saw slight stuttering by Hugh Grant in the 1995 production. Is this a trend? Unfortunately, I never felt any chemistry between this Edward and Elinor which made their romance rather flat. This was a big disappointment, since the proposal scene in both the 1995 and 2008 adaptations actually were the highlight of the films for me and amazingly an improvement on the original novel. Honestly, I can’t think of anything positive to say about this Edward beyond the fact that he was an eligible bachelor and he married above himself.

Ciaran Madden as Marianne Dashwood. Oh my! This is a love hate reaction to this interpretation of Austen’s most dramatic of heroines. This Marianne was a frenzied mess, down right selfish and does not care one fig about her family. She whines a lot, throws away anyone else’s opinions like dead flowers and comes off like a spoiled brat. When she finds Willoughby at the Ball in London with a new paramour she is a mad woman, yelling and flailing about. It reminded me of the mad scene in Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Hard to know if this was the director’s choice of character interpretation or the actress’. Either way they missed the point and she out weighed the balance of the sense vs. sensibility dichotomy of the two sisters. Marianne’s descent into despair is engaging, in a “sick and wicked” sort of way, and is hard to not watch with some amazement, but you are duly forewarned.

Marianne di Lammermoor’s mad scene!

The costumes and hair: pictures can say so much more than I, so take a gander. Beyond the non-period bouffant hairdos for both women and men, the matching pelisses for Elinor and Marianne really made me roar with laughter.

 Chartreuse and pink twin pelisses!

The hair Louisa!

Clive Francis as Mr. Willoughby. Swoonable?

Milton Johns as John Dashwood, truly a weasel!

Kay Gallie as Fanny Dashwood, skinflint!

Image from Sense and Sensibility 1971: Richard Owens as Col. BrandonImage © BBC Warner 2009

Richard Owens as Col. Brandon, unrequited until the end!

Image from Sense and Sensibility 1971: Isabel Dean as Mrs. Dashwood and Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Jennings © BBC Warner 2009

Isabel Dean as Mrs Dashwood with Patricia Routledge as Mrs Jennings

If I seem a bit cynical about this production, please take it with a grain of salt. Firstly, I had heard tale of its charms for decades. Overall it is amusing in an historical perspective sort of way, but it was not what I was expecting and did not do justice to Austen’s plot or characters. Secondly, I am glad that it is now available and that I have experienced it. My curiosity duly quenched, I can now return it to NetFlix after three months of struggling through it in small doses. In conclusion, this Sense and Sensibility does show us how far historical drama has evolved in forty years, but sadly reminds us how far we have to go in perfecting interpretations of Austen’s prose on screen.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Sense and Sensibility (1971)
Directed by David Giles
Screenplay by Denis Constanduros
Distributed by BBC Warner, (2009)
DVD, 178 minutes
ASIN: B002DY9KR0

Images courtesy © BBC Warner 2009

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for September

According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in September, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.  

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

According To Jane, by Marilyn Brant 

Here is a bright new face on the Austen sequel/inspiration market. In this contemporary novel, Jane Austen’s ghost inhabits teenage Ellie Barnett’s thoughts, guiding her through all of life’s romantic and unromantic dilemmas. Since we all know that Auntie Jane never steered any of her heroines in the wrong direction, Ellie has excellent advice, or does she?  (Publisher’s description) It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. From nowhere comes a quiet ‘tsk’ of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go – sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love – perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. Kensington. ISBN: 978-0758234612 

Darcy and Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst (2009)Darcy and Anne: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst

Another Pride and Prejudice sequel which I am I happy to say is focused on the emancipation of Miss Anne de Bourgh, a minor character who sorely deserved a make-over. (Publisher’s description) It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne. When a fortuitous accident draws Anne away from Rosings and her overbearing mother’s direct influence, she is able to think and act for herself for the first time ever. In the society of her cousins Darcy and Georgiana, and, of course, the lively Mrs. Darcy, Anne reveals a talent for writing and a zest for life. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine is determined to choose a husband for Anne. But now that Anne has found her courage, she may not be so easy to rule. Anne de Bourgh is a sympathetic character whose obedience and meekness were expected of women in her day. As she frees herself from these expectations, Anne discovers strength, independence, and even true love in a wonderfully satisfying coming-of-age story. Sourcebooks Landmark. ISBN: 978-1402224386

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely (2009)Murder at Longbourn: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely 

Ready for a cozy mystery with a Pride and Prejudice theme? This debut novel by Tracy Kiely just might do the trick. Set in contemporary Cape Code, her Elizabeth Parker is as clever, witty and spirited as Jane Austen’s original Lizzy Bennet, but in addition to dealing with her love life, she is in the throws of a murder. (Publisher’s description) Planning New Year’s resolutions to rid her life of all things unhealthy, Elizabeth Parker has dumped fatty foods, processed sugar, and her two-timing boyfriend. Indeed, the invitation to join her Aunt Winnie for a How to Host a Murder Party on New Year’s Eve at Winnie’s new Cape Cod B and B comes just in time. But when the local wealthy miser ends up the unscripted victim, Elizabeth must unearth old secrets and new motives in order to clear her beloved aunt of suspicion. The suspects include the town gossip, a haughty rich woman, and an antiques business owner much enamored of his benefactress, a Mrs. Kristell Dubois. If that isn’t bad enough, Elizabeth must also contend with her childhood nemesis, Peter McGowan—a man she suspects has only matured in chronological years—and her suspicions about his family’s interest in Winnie’s inn. Minotaur Books. ISBN: 978-0312537562 

Darcy's Temptations, by Regina Jeffers (2009)Darcy’s Temptation: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Regina Jeffers 

Ah, Mr. Darcy. We can never get enough of him. In this creative Pride and Prejudice sequel, Darcy has lost his memory and has an adventure without Lizzy. Oh my! (Publisher’s description) By changing the narrator, Darcy’s Temptation turns one of the most beloved literary love affairs of all time on its head, even as it presents new plot twists and fresh insights into the characters’ personalities and motivations. The author faithfully applies Jane Austen’s fun-to-read style, suspenseful narrative, and sardonic humor to her own imaginative tale of romantic entanglements and social intrigue. Four months into the new marriage, all seems well when Elizabeth discovers she is pregnant. However, a family conflict that requires Darcy’s personal attention arises because of Georgiana’s involvement with an activist abolitionist. On his return journey from a meeting to address this issue, a much greater danger arises. Darcy is attacked on the road and, when left helpless from his injuries, he finds himself in the care of another woman. Ulysses Press. ISBN: 978-1569757239 

My Cousin Caroline: The Pemberley Chronicles No 6, by Rebecca Collins (2009)My Cousin Caroline: The Pemberley Chronicles Book 6, by Rebecca Collins 

You’ve got to hand it to author Rebecca Collins. She is one creative and persistent Janeite pumping out Pride and Prejudice continuations in rapid fire. Actually, she wrote the ten book series over several years. We are just now fortunate to have international publication through Sourcebooks. My Cousin Caroline is the sixth filly out of the gate in The Pemberley Chronicles series. (Publisher’s description) Mr. Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth’s cousin Caroline Gardiner take center stage. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Caroline develops from a pretty young girl into a woman of intelligence and passion, embodying some of Austen’s own values. Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and the Wickham’s all move through the story as Caroline falls in love, marries, and raises her children. Caroline rejects the role of a compliant Victorian wife and mother, instead becoming a spirited and outspoken advocate of reformist causes in spite of the danger of scandal. Caroline’s advocacy of reform, undaunted by criticism, demonstrates strength in a time when a woman’s role was severely restricted. Sourcebooks Landmark. ISBN: 978-1402224317 

Waiting for Mr. Darcy, by Chamein Canton (2009)Wating for Mr. Darcy, by Chamein Canton 

The description of this book just made me smile. For all you ladies of a certain age waiting for Mr. Darcy to knock on your door, this book will both charm and inspire you. The author’s advice – “Open your eyes and your heart. He may be closer than you think.” (Publisher’s description) Three friends over forty still wait for Prince Charming in the form of their favorite Austen character, Mr. Darcy. Not quite ready to turn in their hot chick cards for the hot flashes of menopause, they’d like to find a man who is charming, smug, intelligent and cute to share the primes of their lives with (even if one of them doesn’t know she’s looking). Together they navigate this brave forty-plus world and find out that Mr. Darcy is closer than they think. Genesis Press. ISBN: 978-1585713516 

Austen’s Oeuvre 

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (Collector's Library Edition) 2009Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (Collector’s Library Editions), by Jane Austen, illustrated by Hugh Thomson 

Oh yum! 720 pages of all Austen all the time and with colorized Hugh Thomson illustrations. What greedy Janeite could ask for more? (Publisher’s description) This title includes more than two hundred full colour illustrations by Hugh Thomson. All Jane Austen’s novels are presented in one volume. It features Jane Austen’s romantic world captured by her finest illustrator, Hugh Thomson. It also includes Thomson’s beautiful and evocative illustrations hand-coloured by Barbara Frith, one of Britain’s finest colourists. Barbara Frith’s renderings of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations have won the approval and commendation of both Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton and The Jane Austen Centre in Bath. This title contains extended biographical note and accompanying bibliography. It is presented in page size 270mm X 210mm; 720 pages; printed laminated case and dust jacket. CRW Publishing Limited. ISBN: 978-1905716630 

Nonfiction 

Reading Jane Austen, by Mona Scheuermann (2009)Reading Jane Austen, by Mona Scheuermann 

I just love Austen scholars. They keep pumping out treatise after treatise in the pursuit of the Holy Grail of Austen scholarship. This one springs from Austen as a moral barometer of her times. Jane Austen’s grand niece Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh wrote a biography of her great aunt admonishing those who thought Austen’s novels were written as moral lessons. Best that she avert her eyes on this one. (Publisher’s description) Reading Jane explores Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion against their historical and cultural backdrop to show precisely how Jane Austen sets out the core themes of British morality in her novels. Austen’s period was arguably the most socially and politically tumultuous in England’s history, and by replacing the novels in this remarkable era, Scheuermann sharply defines Austen’s view of the social contract. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-0230618770 

Austen’s Contemporaries 

A Simple Story (Oxford World's Classics), by Elizabeth Inchbald (2009)A Simple Story (Oxford World’s Classics), by Elizabeth Inchbald 

Elizabeth Inchbald, née Simpson (1753 – 1821) was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist who may be most famously remembered for her play Lover’s Vows which Jane Austen featured in her novel Mansfield Park. Both ladies wrote during the same time period, but their personalities and lifestyles appear complete opposites of each other. Austen lived quietly in the country and wrote about the country gentry she experienced, while Inchbald was an active performing actress touring Great Britain, writing plays and novels gently influenced by her radical political beliefs and desire of personal independence. A Simple Story is one of two novels she wrote. (Publisher’s description) When Miss Milner announces her passion for her guardian, a Catholic priest, she breaks through the double barrier of his religious vocation and 18th-century British society’s standards of proper womanly behavior. Like other women writers of her time, Elizabeth Inchbald concentrates on the question of a woman’s “proper education,” and her sureness of touch and subtlety of characterization prefigure Jane Austen’s work. Oxford University Press USA. ISBN: 978-0199554720 

Lord Byron Selected Poetry (Oxford World's Classics), by Lord Byron (2009)Lord Byron Selected Poetry (Oxford World’s Classics), by Lord Byron 

“I have read Corsair, mended my petticoat, & have nothing else to do.” Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 8 March 1814 

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, of Rochdale, (1788 – 1824) was a British poet and a prominent figure in the Romantic Movement. It is no surprise that Jane Austen mentions reading The Corsair in an 1814 letter to her sister Cassandra. As a writer also strongly interested in poetry, she would be keenly interested in new works. Byron was wildly acclaimed as a poet and scandalous social figure. His reputation as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” came from his well publicized affair in 1812 with the married Lady Caroline Lamb. Austen would later mention Lord Byron along with Mr. Scott in her novel Persuasion, as an example of superior writers when her characters Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss literature and poetry. This reprint of his selected poetry by Oxford was edited, introduced, and noted by Jerome J. McGann, John Stewart Bryan Professor of English, University of Virginia. (Publisher’s description) Lord Byron was a legend in his own lifetime and the dominant influence on the Romantic movement. His early fame came in 1812 after the publication of Childe Harold. Relishing humor and irony, daring and flamboyancy, sarcasm and idealism, his work encompasses a sweeping range of topics, subjects, and models, embracing the most traditional and the most experimental poetic forms. This selection of Byron’s works includes such masterpieces as The Corsair, Manfred, Bebbo, Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN: 978-0199538782 

Movie Adaptations 

Sense and Sensibility, BBC Miniseries (1971)Sense and Sensibility (1971) 

This elusive and never before aired in the US miniseries of Sense and Sensibility produced by the BBC in 1971 will be available on DVD on September 29th. Staring Joanna David (Mrs. Gardiner in P&P 95) as Elinor Dashwood and Ciaran Madden as Marianne Dashwood, this three hour miniseries should be a treat for Austen enthusiast in the US who have only heard tales of its existence. Its reappearance on the video scene now requires a re-numbering of Sense and Sensibility movie adaptations, since the 1981 version had been considered the first available – with no hope that this could ever resurface. Now, if the 1967 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries pops out of the vault, the fan numbering system will have to be re-mastered also. Special features include: Audio Commentary, deleted Scenes, interviews, outtakes and photo gallery. BBC Warner. UPC: 883929081202 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann