Sense and Sensibility 1981 Review

23 May

I viewed the 1981 version of S&S again yesterday as I took screencaps. I was not very fond of it originally but I found I actually liked it a lot more seeing it again so soon after the 1971 version. The two share the same screenwriter, who seems to have lifted a lot from the 1971 to use again in this version. Many scenes are virtually identical, or very close. Margaret was cut yet again but other than that it followed the book more closely than 1971. It lacked all the whacky 70s costumes and hairstyles that made the earlier one so crazy and seemed much more understated to me. Part of this also has to do with the acting, much of which was more low-key. Some of the casting was better, some was worse…It’s up to you to decide which you prefer!

The Characters

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood

Not my favorite actress in the role, I must say. I liked her better than Emma Thompson (but I really don’t like Emma for the part so that’s not saying much). She seemed a bit too cold for me at times, whereas Joanna David and Hattie Morahan showed more of the character’s warmth and her loving heart. I’m not saying Richards was exactly bad in the role or anything, just in comparison she didn’t measure up. I liked her better as Charlotte Lucas in P&P 80.

Tracey Childs as Marianne Dashwood

A vast improvement over Ciaran Madden. She was the right age for the character and really acted like a young girl full of sensibility- not a hysterical woman in her 20s (Madden was 26 when she acted the part, older than Joanna David). She’s actually my favorite Marianne! I also like the way her illness was presented, as a gradual decline she brought upon herself after having her heart broken.

Bosco Hogan as Edward Ferrars

The dullest, flattest interpretation of Edward on screen. Sadly, apart from being about 10 years too old for the part, was probably also the closest to the book Edward. And since I’m not the biggest fan of the book Edward, I didn’t really like this one either. And is that a toupee he’s wearing? I admit, I’m shallow…

Robert Swann as Colonel Brandon

I liked him better than the 1971 Colonel Brandon and they thankfully changed Eliza back into being his ward in this one. Her whole history was somewhat glossed over, but at least it was more accurate than in 1971, which still puzzles me. This version also has him support Marianne after Willoughby snubs her at the London party.

Peter Woodward as Willoughby

Okay, I thought he was handsome and charming enough, but I had one bit problem with this actor. He looks like he’s wearing makeup! Not foundation or stuff like that that all actors wear, but real makeup- blush, lipstick, eyeliner, the whole kit and caboodle. Was the feminine look intentional? This is the only adaptation to feature Marianne and him singing together.

Annie Leon as Mrs. Jennings

Another good Mrs. Jennings. This adaptation kept a little bit of her vulgar side but really stressed her kindness more, I felt. And she looked the part too, unlike Patricia Routledge (however brilliant the latter’s performance was.)

Julia Chambers (bottom) as Lucy Steele

Pippa Sparkles as Anne Steele

Much better than 1971. Although they look nothing alike (2008 was the best in this regard) at least they are the right age. You can tell Lucy is conniving but not overtly so as in 1971. She at least looks cute on the outside!

Diana Fairfax as Mrs. Dashwood

She was okay, but probably my least favorite in the role. She was just so quiet and almost stoic. The sensibilities Marianne supposedly took after from her were nowhere to be seen.


John Dashwood and Fanny were pretty good but I felt Fanny was too overtly rude to Mrs. Dashwood and vice-versa. There is a bit of John trying to set Elinor up with Colonel Brandon, which I can’t remember from the other versions (but may have been there…) This Mrs. Ferrars made more of an impact than 1971 and the debate over whether Harry Dashwood or the Middletons’ son William is taller was also included. Robert Ferrars picking out the toothpick case is not shown, but we do get to hear him talk about it to Lucy, which is the next best thing. I liked the Charlotte Palmer a lot because she was cute and silly. Mr. Palmer didn’t get much screen time. Sir John Middleton was alright but I felt Lady Middleton was a bit too out-going.

This production appears to have been shot entirely on film but that’s not to say the picture quality is any better for it. It looks okay on my not-so-new TV but on the computer it has a fuzzy quality if enlarged. Some of the pictures I posted I actually had to lighten up because they were a bit too dark to see!

Spoiler Alert!

I know I said the 1971 ending was fake and cheesy with both couples just happening to get engaged at the same time. This one is the total opposite. It ends quite abruptly after Elinor and Edward get engaged. Colonel Brandon comes over and lends Marianne The Mysteries of Udolpho… and that’s it! We do see that she has warmed up to him and so the general idea would be that they eventually get married but I would have liked some more closure.

My Rating: 6/10

One Response to “Sense and Sensibility 1981 Review”

  1. AJ (USA) May 18, 2012 at 7:01 AM #

    Thanks for the comprehensive review – my wife and I are watching all versions of Sense and Sensibility; so far we have watched the 1995 movie and are currently watching the 1981 version, the 2008 version is next on our list. I did not even know there was a 1971 version.

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