Sense and Sensibility: 1985

Sense and Sensibility Before Pride and Prejudice, there was Sense and Sensibility. Though written first, it was not the first version of Jane Austen’s work filmed. Instead, it was the capping production of the BBC’s 1970-1980’s spate of Austen adaptations. First shown in 1985, with a screenplay by Alexander Baron (known for his 1980’s productions of Poldark, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist and Vanity Fair...he seems almost to mirror Andrew Davies' proclivity!) and directed by Rodney Bennett (Dr. Who, Madame Bovary), this Sense and Sensibility is a much more complete or true to the book version than it’s 1995 counterpart. While entirely leaving out the character of Margaret Dashwood, this version does contain several other scenes which were cut for the Thompson version, including: Willoughby singing with Marianne, Edward visiting the Dashwoods for a week, and Willoughby attempting to see Marianne in the middle of the night. This last scene, I feel, is crucial to the story and I could not understand why it was omitted in the later version. As one viewer remarked: "The BBC adaptation of this novel tells the story in a more careful, smooth way, true to the novel, few thrilling scenes, but more charming ones. There is time to look at the characters, to feel with them, to see Jane Austen's English humour in some scenes and her feeling for romance. Sometimes I think there are real people on the screen, not heroes." The character of Elinor is played by Irene Richards, already a seasoned Jane Austen actress with her portrayal of Charlotte Lucas in the 1979 version of Pride and Prejudice. It is interesting to note the similarities in these characters: Sense and Sensibility
  1. Both were characterized by "sense", though Charlotte's lot seems a little grim from that respect. One cannot, however see Marianne marrying a Mr. Collins.
  2. Both married tolerably well off, though by no means wealthy parsons, who were dependent on their respective patrons.
  3. Both were "past their first bloom", however one is tempted to attribute Elinor’s "fade" to her brother’s imagination...she was only 23 compared with Charlotte’s 27.
  4. Both parsons had to be turned down in marriage by others before proposing to their respective wives.
Did Jane Austen do this on purpose? Of course, one will point out, Elinor had the opportunity, at last, to marry for love, while Charlotte had to settle for stability. Is it possible, however, that in four years Elinor could have become a Charlotte if she had had no other prospects? We may condemn Marianne for giving way to her "sensibilities", but surely sense can also be taken too far. Charlotte would no more throw propriety to the wind than Marianne would marry for anything besides love. Elinor is a happy medium, with the emotions of the one tempered by the maturity of the other. Tracey Childs portrayed Marianne. In many respects her performance mirrored that of Kate Winslet, however, this version "develops more the humor of Marianne's sensibilities as oppose to romanticizing them. Which is what Jane Austen wished to develop", according to a fan from Oregon. Tracey was also no novice on the costume drama scene with parts in Jane Eyre (also 1985) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1981 as Suzanne, with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymore). Sense and Sensibility Perhaps the biggest difference in these two versions would be the selection of male leads. While S&S2 was criticized for having an Edward who was too handsome, and scenes of "extra" Edward and Colonel Brandon, this version stays very close to the portrayals from the book. The comment was made on the Internet Movie Database that "Bosco Hogan did a very good job as the self-effacing Edward, and Donald Douglas' portrayal of Sir John Middleton was so lively that as far as the interpretation of this character is concerned, the later S&S actor seems to have borrowed heavily from prior precedent. Peter Woodward makes a dashing Willoughby, every bit as convincing as the more recent Willoughby." All in all, though not nearly as polished and "professional" looking as it’s counterpart, this version of Sense and Sensibility is very satisfying and for people who are sticklers for "staying true to the original", much more pleasing. N.F. Mendoza, reviewer for Amazon.com remarks, "Accurate detail is given to settings and costumes (if not the existence of Margaret) and it's easy to get swept away in this BBC version." One other note of interest: a television version of Sense and Sensibility was made in 1971, as well. Though not available on video, it looks as though it must have been fascinating, with Joanna David (Aunt Gardiner, P&P2) as Elinor and Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth Bucket, Keeping Up Appearances, and Hetty Wainthrop) as Mrs. Jennings. Sense and Sensibility, 1985, is available on video, but rather difficult to find. I would check Ebay for a Region 1 encoded copy (USA, Canada and Japan) or Amazon.co.uk for PAL format (Europe). It runs for 174 minutes, on two cassettes. Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

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