Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sense & Sensibility 1971


This BBC adaptation never before released in the USA arrived at my doorstep on September 27th, two days before Amazon's projected release date. I was so excited to see this oldest adaptation of one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. Below are what I liked and disliked about this S&S, if you've never seen this film before there may be some spoilers.


Big name actors are non existent in this adaptation many are stage actors which fits for this flick filmed mostly on sound stages with few outdoor scenes. Actress Joanna David (Pride & Prejudice, The Forsyte Saga, He Knew He Was Right, Bleak House) portrays a level headed but sweet Elinor Dashwood. Joanna at age 24 here is actually two years younger than Ciaran Madden who plays her younger sister Marianne Dashwood.
A clever Richard Owens disguises what might be a Welsh accent to portray a kind and loving Colonel Brandon who makes many appearances. And Robin Ellis plays a stumbling and sweet Edward Ferrars.


At first I didn't like Frances Cuka and Maggie Jones as the Steele sisters but I gradually warmed to the idea of Ms. Cuka's portrayal of a cold and calculating Lucy who's laugh and everything about her is faked. Lucy's costumes were perfect though, at one point she looks just exactly like a fashion plate from the Regency era with the pear figure and neat bonnet and muff. Other costumes were fairly well thought out and true to the period. The Dashwood ladies appear in mourning (whether full dress or just a black sash) for a good portion of the first two episodes. One drawback with the men's costumes was that they all seemed to be wearing the same white shirt with this crazy ruffle on one side that had the nasty habit of sneaking out from under waistcoats and overcoats. Colonel Brandon pulled off the ruffed shirt well but to see Edward and Willoughby in the same style shirt was too much.


The biggest reason I was looking forward to viewing this adaptation was to see talented Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Jenning and she did not fail me! Ms. Routledge is predigiously talented and captured Mrs. Jennings' meddling but motherly ways. At age 42 durring this preformance Ms. Routledge was perhaps a bit young enhanced only by the actresses playing her daughters who were too old for the parts.
Other high-fives go to Michael Aldridge as a very military and Devonshire bred Sir John Middleton who really played the part of brother to Mrs. Dashwood. Kay Gallie and Milton John were a perfectly paired John and Fanny Dashwood, calculating and caring only for money. A lovely preformance also by Esme Church who played the housekeeper Mary at Barton Cottage who welcomes the Dashwood ladies, loves to gosip and becomes almost one of the family.


Cleverly adapted by Denis Constandurous, this adaptation tells the story beautifully and features scenes you won't see in modern filmings. Elinor's interview with Edward in a cheap lodging house is one such scene and was well played on Elinor's part but Edward seemed too ready to talk about his feelings. Although Margaret Dashwood is never mentioned other minor characters do appear however briefly (such as Robert Ferrars' one scene). Mrs. Ferrars and Lady Middleton have a nice amount of screen time and Miss Grey also make a lovely ornament for Willoughby's arm at the London ball.


“No please! I insist on you hearing the whole of it. Please!” - Willoughby, S&S 1971

Other favorite scenes include Willoughby's confession at Cleveland, the finest scene for actor Clive Francis. The early story of his courtship with Marianne is seemingly hurried through and focus goes to Edward's visit at the cottage. On the whole Mr. Francis is not my favorite Willoughby being nither handsome enough nor clever enough for my tastes and he has a great quantity of 70's hair.


I enjoyed Colonel Brandon's gentleness and his brotherly affection shown toward Elinor while her sister is sick. I love the scenes where Mrs. Jennings and John Dashwood mistake Brandon's kindness as love for Elinor - too funny!


Though pretty, Marianne is quite annoying throughout this film, very passionate, silly and romantic. She gushes and makes much of Edward's visits acting quite improper at times. Her transformation after being sick is really quite lovely and her discusions on poetry matched by Brandon's is sweet. They turn out a lovely couple.


Elinor with her good sense and warm heart attracts a very caring, honorable is somewhat awkward Edward. I found their relationship in this film quite charming.
The film ends with the two engaged couples embracing one another and Mrs. Dashwood. It is a lovely scene of the regard between both Edward and Brandon that is forming up to be like a good brotherly relationship they had never had. And for Elinor and Marianne their sisterly love seems to only grow through trials.

I really enjoyed this adaptation and though it is not my absolute favorite I recommend it highly to any lovers of Jane Austen or period film.



Adriana Sales Zardini said...

Nice blog!!
Hugs from Brazil,

Adriana Zardini

Richard Owens said...

I must admit that I have a personal reason for finding your blog so encouraging and delightful but that aside , well almost, I have often thought that this adaptation has been sadly neglected , I think it is a very good adaptation great design and period costume , sensitively directed by my favourite television director David Giles and it has many happy memories for me...thanking old fashioned charming lady from an even more, I,m sure Old fashioned man ,best wishes Richard Owens

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

Mr. Owens,
Thanks you so much for your comment! It was a real treat to hear from a cast member of Sense & Sensibility and especially hear from "Colonel Brandon"! :)
My family and I have enjoyed several productions directed by David Giles.
Thank you again for your comment, this old-fashioned lady is very blessed!

Very Truly Your's,
Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm

Anonymous said...

I've just ordered a copy from Amazon after watching this through on Youtube. Having read several other reviews, I feel this adaptation does not receive its due.
One concern I've read of, which I can understand but not agree with, was Ciaran Madden as Marianne. Hers was easily the most daring interpretation of Marianne yet -- whether this was her choice or the writer's or director's I have no idea. Her Marianne was (to me) borderline unstable; the sort of person who, in a stable and loving environment (whether that was Norland at the beginning or Delaford at the end) could live happily and well. Place her in an adverse, threatening environment, and she's in danger.
Knowing a person who, in some ways, is strikingly reminiscent of Ciaran's Marianne, this portrayal strikes a chord with me and is not overacted, shrill, or any of the other aspersions that have been made against it. Sometimes I will agree it is overplayed a bit, but on the whole I think it's quite good and should be appreciated as a different approach, not a bad approach.
In particular, after she's spurned at the ball, her shell-shocked indifference so starkly contrasted against her former energy shows us how badly she's been hurt.
I liked this Brandon as well (Hello Mr. Owens!) but felt the script short-changed the character in at least one sense, which is that the story behind Brandon's connection to Eliza is never communicated, so his status as a wounded romantic, and the parallels this makes with Marianne, is never made clear. I thought this was a perplexing scriptwriting decision to say the least.
That oversight aside, I think this is a very good and faithful performance as Brandon without the romantic excess of the 1995 or 2008 versions. The chemisty between the two was believable at the end despite limited scenes together, although I will admit I like the 1981 adaptation of Brandon and Marianne's first conversation after her illness.
Thanks for the opportunity to post here!
Brian M

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