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31 March 2008 @ 02:30 pm
Sense and Sensibility, part one  
Did anyone watch the first part of the new Andrew Davies S&S last night? Did anyone else feel like they'd basically just replaced Margaret's atlas with a library, and the fencing scene with horseback riding? And that they'd hired someone whose hair was almost as floppy as Hugh Grant's?

I don't think this would have bothered me quite as much if Davies hadn't been going around in interviews saying how different his adaptation would be from the Ang Lee film, and how he was going to put the men much more to the forefront of this adaptation (which, uh, the movie already did), and all that. Margaret--whom they've made younger in this adaptation just as in the movie--especially fulfills the exact same role as in the earlier film: childishly expressing the repressed sentiments of the older sisters, saying that which shouldn't be said, giving Edward a way to show his good nature and endear himself to Elinor. She even spends a good deal of time up trees (though no treehouse, at least not yet)! It's odd to me, given the evident concern on display that the Davies S&S be different from the Ang Lee, that the responsible parties should choose to include (in the first part, at least) so many elements that come not from the novel, but from the film: Margaret being young and cheeky, the "allow me the liberty to feel your ankle" bit, the Dashwoods coming to a cheerless cottage instead of one already prepared by their servants.

Also, the whole adaptation seems to be suffering from P&P3-itis, in that they've ramped up the Romanticism in places it really doesn't belong, particularly the landscape, and people standing out in the wind with their hair whipping about in a picturesque fashion. In a way this makes a *little* more sense than in P&P3, because S&S *is* so concerned with the picturesque, but... oh, here. Edward Ferrars would like a word with the filmmakers:

"'I call it a very fine country--the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug--with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility--and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you [Marianne] admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque.'" (Oxford ed., p.83)

Barton Cottage isn't out in the middle of beautiful, desolate country (btw, there's a whole Celtic thing going on in the conjunction of landscape and music that really makes me want to go back and read Katie Trumpener again). There may be picturesque aspects, as Edward acknowledges--but the Dashwoods can also see Barton village from their window, and the village is close enough to walk to, as Edward does at least twice in the novel (most memorably at the end, when he does so rather than immediately proposing). In pointing up the rocks and promontories, they've forgotten that this is also a landscape that can be described by words like "comfortable," "snug," and "neat." It unites both, as Edward points out; the landscape isn't either/or, just as the novel doesn't champion either sense *or* sensibility, but both in concert with each other. I don't necessarily need the permed sheep of the Ang Lee film, but this goes too far in the other direction.

(Incidentally, this little argument about the picturesque is one of my favorite moments in the novel--the cut text is from this scene as well--and probably my favorite Edward moment, because it's the moment in which he stands up for his own opinion, in his quiet way, and doesn't allow it to be misinterpreted by either Marianne or Elinor. Plus he is actually funny, in a very low-key way; maybe it's no joke about Wimbledon, but it is there. I always missed it from S&S95, and I'm sad because I can't see how they can include it reasonably in the second half of the miniseries, now that they've changed the landscape so as to make such comments about it nonsensical. Maybe if they spoke about the picturesque only in general terms... And I did really like that Edward gave Elinor a book of the flora of Devonshire--not picturesque at all, but practical.)

The other thing that I thought was odd was the decision to actually go against what the text tells us about some very specific objects belonging to the Dashwoods--namely, the plate and the pianoforte. The plate I remember because Mrs. John Dashwood is so upset that the Dashwoods should get to take *anything* nice with them, including the plate and linen Mr. Dashwood left to them; and Marianne's pianoforte is included in the belongings they send around by water (which means that John Dashwood can't do the one thing he'd settled on doing to help them, move their belongings). In this adaptation, these objects are either actively denied them ("the plate belongs to the house"), or a point is made to show that they no longer have them (Marianne can only use the old pianoforte already in the cottage). They also don't send the servants to prepare the house ahead of them, which they do in the novel (I'm pretty sure the movie does the same thing, but there's a line in this new adaptation about how they should have sent the servants ahead, which is why it caught my attention). I get why they did it, I guess--it makes everything much bleaker, heightens the contrast between Norland Park and Barton cottage--but is it necessary? For me, the fact that they have so few comforts heightens the lack of them; I don't know that it's necessary to get rid of all comforts to make the point. (ETA: The Boston Globe review, linked at Austenblog, states, "This 'Sense and Sensibility' is less comic and idealized than Lee's - the world of the Dashwood women is closer to the hardships of the time." It's not actually closer to the hardships of the *novel*, though--which is the same thing P&P3 does to the Bennets. It annoys me when adaptations get passes for being "authentic" to some idea that we have of the past--and recently that standard has been that it's dirty and messy and kind of bleak, rather than the genteel surfaces of earlier adaptations--when that "authenticity" doesn't come from the original. Changing something is one thing, and every filmmaker's right, but not when you hold it up as more accurate somehow because it's more like "the past.")

None of that is to say that I don't like it; I honestly have no idea how I feel about it yet, except that I think that even with the extra time, they have yet to do as good a job of conveying Elinor's sense of responsibility and practicality. I feel like they've cut a lot of her dialogue (in one especially peculiar change, giving her concern about whether Marianne and Willoughby are actually engaged to Mrs. Dashwood, who never doubts it for a moment in the novel!), while lessening Marianne's contrasting ridiculousness (especially about Colonel Brandon). And for someone who doesn't like Willoughby and thinks women need to be instructed in how to read him instead of swooning over him like they did when the Ang Lee film came out, Davies has made this adaptation so far awfully Marianne/Willoughby heavy... But perhaps part two will balance out a bit more. (I'm annoyed by this because I actually *like* the actress playing Elinor, Hattie Morahan, and I'd like them to give her more to do, particularly when I know there are conversations from the novel that they're truncating in favor of spending, like, six HOURS cutting off a lock of Marianne's hair.)

Oh, and Doctor Who alums so far: 1, unless I'm missing one. Mark Gatiss.
La Reine Noire: Elegancelareinenoire on March 31st, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)
I watched this earlier in the year (though I've set it to record so I can watch again) and I can safely say Willoughby is not swoonworthy in this version at all. They really bring out his darker side.

And I have to agree about the 'picturesque' being a bit overdone. I was rather shocked at the cottage right by the sea since I knew nobody at any point mentioned the sea in the novel. I did notice that, despite the links you mentioned, the colour scheme in this version is completely different from the Ang Lee version, which is rather interesting. I actually really liked the Ang Lee version, but I did like both Elinor and Marianne in this adaptation.
tempestsarekind: austentempestsarekind on April 1st, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
Oh, I totally agree about Willoughby! Even aside from that opening scene, his interactions with Colonel Brandon are quite menacing and agressive (rather than careless and dismissive, which is the sense I got from him in the Ang Lee film). I think I just expected Andrew Davies to spend less time on him and more time on Edward and Brandon, for some reason.

And you're right, the colors are much more muted and somber in this adaptation. I think it's gorgeous to look at, but something of a surprise compared to the novel.

I'm looking forward to the second part, though--I like the lead actresses and want to see how everything plays out.
clean all the things!!!: elinorthepresidentrix on August 16th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
I just found this entry, because I clicked on your 'character defense' tag, thinking it would include entries about Martha. You're the first person I've seen to mention what bothered me about the mini (though I saw it later than most, and may have simply missed a lot of the discussion). I've read the book and I've watched Emma Thompson's S&S pretty much endlessly (it's my perfect pining film, since it both encourages me to fight against my feelings and commiserates with me and my hopeless love, all in one!), and the mini made me feel like I must be *insane*. I kept seeing aspects of the Ang Lee film in the new mini, and I was racking my brains, trying to think if any of it was in the book, because I didn't think it *was,* and I couldn't figure out why you remake the story if you're just going to borrow from the most recent adaptation.

Also, I was not a fan of the new Colonel Brandon, even if I've liked him in other roles - like his episode of Dr. Who. He seemed altogether too bland to me. But perhaps I need to rewatch the mini before I make up my mind, once and for all. I've only seen it the once, and he may yet grow on me.
tempestsarekind: austen bonnetstempestsarekind on August 16th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
Hee--Martha gets her very own "martha jones" tag, because I wrote about her just that much. I should probably link the *big* Martha defense post to that tag, though.

I don't know that there *was* all that much discussion about the miniseries, actually--coming as it did at the very end of PBS' "Jane Austen season"; I think people might have just been tapped out by that point. I do remember a few people commenting specifically about Edward, though. (A lot of the discussion I *do* remember was about the decision to actually show the seduction at the beginning.)

And then, too, I think S&S is one of those novels people don't know as well; I had at least one conversation with someone who *loves* the Ang Lee version but had no idea that Margaret's role was really different from the way it is in the novel. So there might have been some assumption that the similarities were actually due to the source material.

As for Colonel Brandon--same here. I mean, it was always going to be an uphill battle against Alan Rickman, but still.

it both encourages me to fight against my feelings and commiserates with me and my hopeless love, all in one!

It's so true! Best of both worlds!