Sense and Sensibility 2008 Review

28 May

I love being out of school! I stayed up until 3 last night rewatching this miniseries. I thought I would be reading more on my break but instead I’ve been watching more movies.

Although S&S 2008 is now my favorite version of Sense and Sensibility, my thoughts were very different upon my first viewing! I saw it as it was airing in the UK on a poor quality streaming video, only able to watch bits at a time between classes. I just couldn’t wait for it to air here in the US. I was so disappointed and thought it was too dark and copied too much from the 1995 version, which I liked but was not entirely satisfied with (read my review to see why). It wasn’t until I got the DVD this past Christmas that I noticed everything that made me like it. It was dark, yes, but it was only the bad quality of the stream that made it hard to see! I watched a behind-the-scenes video that they hadn’t intended to make everything “dark and stormy” but there was bad weather all the time during filming and they decided to go with that look! As for the copying from the 1995 version, yes, there were some parts from it, not in the book, that Andrew Davies also included in this, and while I could definitely do without them, they don’t stop me from enjoying the show! On my rewatch I noticed so many other things that made me love it!

The Characters

The main thing that I love about this movie is its wonderful (with a couple exceptions), more age-appropriate cast. This version really excelled in its portrayal of the relationship between Elinor and Marianne, which is really the main focus of the book. In all the previous versions, one of the sisters always left me cold. This is the only one in which I like BOTH actresses!

Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood

My favorite Elinor. She was actually about 28 when filming but passes for a lot younger, thankfully. I remember thinking she was almost ugly when watching it on that awful streaming site. What was wrong with me? She beautifully portrays Elinor as level-headed, sensible, and rational without being cold. You sense her love for her family in all her scenes and you can tell she is doing her best to keep her own emotions in check. I love the scene where Marianne is sobbing over Willoughby and claims Elinor doesn’t understand her sufferings and Elinor chugs Marianne’s wine in one gulp (from the book!). Her performance moved me to tears in a few scenes- opening her heart to Marianne about how she’s known about Lucy and Edward’s engagement and suffered quietly,  the scene after Marianne recovers from her fever, and the ending proposal.

Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood

Not my favorite Marianne (that’s actually Tracey Childs, believe it or not) but she was good nonetheless and complemented Elinor well. I liked how much affection she had for her sister and after she learned of Edward and Lucy’s engagement she was ashamed of herself and comforted Elinor instead of berating her for having no heart. Her falling for Colonel Brandon was more believable than in some other versions because she thought favorably of him at first, until she learned he thought of her romantically! And Brandon is given a lot of scenes to show just how great a guy he is. I did not like how Andrew Davies alluded to her maturation as the taming of a wild animal, however. And I wish we could have heard her sing.

Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars

Andrew Davies beefed up the men in this deliberately and that’s very apparent with Edward. He’s cheerier and a little more outgoing, especially in the beginning. That’s not really true to the book Edward but I’m not all that crazy about the book Edward so it’s fine with me! I liked seeing him finally stand up to his mother- unfortunately it was to declare that he would defy her wishes and stand by Lucy, but hey, it was the honorable thing for him to do, after all.

David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon

My favorite Colonel Brandon!  He looked mature enough that you could understand why Marianne would think he was too old for her, but was also most certainly not an old man. You see him and Marianne fall in love and it felt natural. Plus, he was muy sexay in several scenes that showed his physical strength and vigor.

Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby

The biggest casting mistake, IMO! Just look at him! He’s not handsome enough and he’s so obviously sinister and menacing-looking it’s a wonder the Dashwoods were fooled by him! Yes, Willoughby is sinister and menacing, but he’s not supposed to LOOK sinister and menacing! It was so obvious he was evil from the beginning that I doubt anyone who hasn’t read the book would be surprised at learning his true character. His characterization was all over the place too. They made him so obviously evil and yet in his apology scene at Cleveland he actually seemed sincere and he actually really loved Marianne! Right…Oh well, I’m happy they at least included the Cleveland scene.

Lucy Boynton as Margaret Dashwood

Isn’t she cute? Her role was expanded a little in this version as well. I didn’t mind it, except for its unoriginality.

Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood

A good mother who really loved her children, yet you could see she still needed guidance from Elinor. I like that she’s close to the character’s age in the book (only 40).

Mark Williams as Sir John Middleton

Mr. Weasley! He was a more restrained Sir John Middleton. Still vulgar enough that you would be embarrassed by him too if you were Marianne, but he’s more believable as a close friend of Colonel Brandon’s. And I love the powdered wig he still wore in formal settings, showing he was behind in the latest fashions.

Linda Bassett as Mrs. Jennings

She was alright, but probably my least favorite Mrs. Jennings. She wasn’t BAD, she just wasn’t given much to do. Like Sir John, her performance is also more low-key than in other versions. While this was a good choice for Sir John, it made Mrs. Jennings almost boring to me. I prefer her to be a little over the top. And she didn’t stay to nurse Marianne at Cleveland either, which was a big disappointment.

Anna Madely as Lucy Steele

Underwhelming. She was okay, but not conniving or sly enough. The way she played the role made her seem almost sincere in all her talks with Elinor, to the point where I was on the verge of feeling bad for her rather than hating her. You do get hints of her real character, but they were not enough for me, unfortunately.

Daisy Haggard as Anne Steele

Delightful! She was really played up for comic effect and was hilarious. Her heavy accent added to her vulgarity, in contrast with Lucy who kept hers a bit more polished. I also liked their similar hairstyles and thought they really looked like sisters.

Jean Marsh as Mrs. Ferrars

She was so scary it was no wonder Edward was intimidated by her. I liked the touch of her eating nuts covered in gold leaf.

Claire Skinner as Fanny Dashwood

I wanted to slap her, which means she was doing something right. It’s implied in the beginning she uses her prowess in the bedroom to control her husband! She spoils her brat, Henry to borderline child obesity and thinks he’s such a fine boy. (Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter?). The hair people seem to have copied the 1995 Fanny’s style of tiny curled bangs clinging to her forehead, though you can’t see from this picture.

Mark Gatiss as John Dashwood

A doofus. He almost cares a little about his half-sisters, but it’s not enough to actually help them.

Morgan Overton as Harry Dashwood

The first time we see little Harry on screen! He is only mentioned in the first two versions and 1995 cuts him out completely. He spends all his scenes mutely munching on cheesy poofs or playing with his toys as his mother gazes at him fondly. He unfortunately witnesses his family’s selfishness and greed throughout the movie and I really pity him that he’ll turn into a fat version of his papa or uncle Robert.

Other Characters

Lady Middleton, the Palmers, and Robert Ferrars are all included but don’t do much. Lady Middleton is funny just by not doing anything and she kind of resembles Morticia Addams. I think Mr. Palmer only has one line but they were okay. Robert was good but I really just want to see the toothpick case scene! This is also the only version in which we get to see Eliza and her baby onscreen, which I liked. It further showed how Willoughby was a scumbag seeing how young, innocent and naive she was (she thought he would come back if he saw the baby).

Eliza and her baby

What I Liked

The music is really nice and the costumes are vivid and colorful, which helps balance out the sometimes dreary backgrounds. Some of my favorite scenes include:

“Colonel Brandon, give me a living?

My favorite version of this scene on film. They’re standing so far away from each other and it is so full of repressed emotion. It was funny to hear in the commentary that the extreme close-up profile shots were to hide Dan Stevens’ neck, which was swelling due to tonsillitis. I think it came out really well.

The Duel Scene

The duel (over Willoughby impregnating and leaving Eliza)  is from the book, but Colonel Brandon only mentions it to Elinor. I loved seeing it in action! It was probably fought with pistols originally but it wouldn’t have been exciting just to see them shoot and miss.

The final scenes which show the two sisters post-marriage and happy never fail to put a smile on my face, mirroring Elinor’s in the very last shot. Elinor and Edward are perfectly satisfied chasing the chickens at their small home and the Colonel easily carries his bride across the threshold, unlike Willoughby who struggled to carry her when she sprained her ankle at their first meeting.

What I Didn’t Like

Scenes copied from 1995 version

I wasn’t crazy about a lot of the stuff lifted from 1995- Margaret hiding at Norland, Edward playing with Margaret, and most of all, Colonel Brandon rescuing Marianne from the rain at Cleveland. At least Andrew Davies did not have her go look at Combe Magna (walking 30 miles like that would probably make me sick too) but this was such an obvious rip-off that it was pretty annoying. He claimed he watched the 1995 version to make sure there was nothing from there and not from the book that he included in his script, but he didn’t do a very good job!

Margaret Hiding

The Evil Rain!

Sexed Up Scenes

Oh, Andrew Davies. He can never seem to resist adding a few sexed up shots in all his adaptations. Even if they are completely gratuitous (and they usually, if not always, are) or just plain wrong. In this version, he starts with an unseen Willoughby seducing Eliza. Thankfully I was warned about this so I didn’t press stop immediately, but it was still pretty irritating. It’s just so useless! You can’t tell who the characters are anyway and it does nothing but create confusion for anyone who hadn’t heard about it beforehand. And then there’s the usual “sexy shot of male lead” character, Edward chopping logs in the rain, witnessed by Elinor. Right. I’m sure Edward chops wood all the time. I don’t mind this scene as much as the P&P 95 pond scene (sorry, but that pond water was disgusting) because it sort of showed Edward’s frustration, but really? Must AD constantly insert these “wet shirt” scenes into everything he writes?

Eliza Watching Willoughby Ride Away

Manly Man Edward

Final Thoughts

I’m interested in hearing what other people think. Agree? Disagree? Best? Worst? In between? This is one of my top 5 Austen adaptations, but it doesn’t bother me if other people don’t like it too. It does bother me to see someone bash the PEOPLE who like a certain adaptation, but not the adaptation itself. It keeps things interesting.

My Rating: 9/10

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One Response to “Sense and Sensibility 2008 Review”

  1. Julie May 30, 2010 at 3:14 PM #

    As you know, it’s my favorite S&S also, and for many of the same reasons.

    I’m so glad you pointed out about Fanny being good in the bedroom — it makes perfect sense when we think that John is whipped. It’s a wonder she lets him out of her sight because she really is the brains in that family.

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