I gotta tell you guys: I am having a Sense and Sensibility THING.
Do you all do this? A few years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read Pride and Prejudice, watched the Keira Knightley version, watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary, watched THAT movie a hundred million couple of times, sought out Bride and Prejudice…there are just a lot of Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there, and I watched and read a bunch of them, is what I’m saying. (I did not watch the 1980 BBC version, as this was before the days of this site and I didn’t know any better, but I want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to know that I hear her exasperation in my head retroactively.)
That was awhile back. Where this new Sense and Sensibility yen came from, I couldn’t say, but here we are.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I think, I skipped the actual novel this time; I’ve read it relatively recently, and decided to opt for Netflix and instant gratification instead. And, okay, the pickings for Sense and Sensibility adaptations are slimmer than they are for Pride and Prejudice, but I think what Sense and Sensibility lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: the modern adaptations of it are both excellent. (The other option here is From Prada to Nada, which I haven’t seen, but which has jumped up the Netflix queue in recent weeks.)
I don’t own a single adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which now strikes me as completely insane. Why don’t I keep the Emma Thompson version on hand? I love the Emma Thompson version! (Fun fact: I have a clear memory of seeing it in the theater, then promptly and enthusiastically re-creating the entire plot for a friend the next day. This is, of course, why I’m so great at parties.) Being from the mind and the pen of Thompson herself, it understandably does many many things well; despite the 90210-ing of several actors’ ages, she makes it work (mostly). Elinor’s freakout at the end, in particular, never fails to impress.
(Speaking of the aging-up of actors, both modern adaptations cast Colonel Brandon as significantly older than he is in the book—fifty-one for Alan Rickman and forty-four for David Morrissey—which I think makes cultural sense, considering the shift in life expectancies since the good old days. Otherwise, the old dude is, like, Ryan Gosling or something.)
I remember liking the 2008 version very much…and then never tracking it down again. I’m now about halfway through, and enjoying it completely—among other things, it’s from that post-Ruth Wilson Jane Eyre period where the BBC decided to get with the times, visually, and it’s both true to the novel (despite some dialogue modernization magic on Andrew Davies’s part) and modern enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’m particularly loving Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood and the girl who plays Margaret—Lucy Boynton, IMDB tells me, and she is comic gold here—and I have to say that if anybody is going to make a better Edward Ferrars than a young Hugh Grant(!), I think it has to be a young and extremely floppy-haired Dan Stevens, playing to type in the best way possible. (Will Edward and Elinor ever be able to express their sweet selves properly and live happily ever after? Don’t tell me how it ends!) (Poor Marianne. I love her, but I’m such a fan of Elinor that I tend to overlook her a bit. Also, ever since Miss Osborne brought it up, I’ve been a little horrified that she ends up with only a nice, relatively happy marriage to the good Colonel.)
Since I took up this new, uh, interest, I’ve been thinking about what makes Sense and Sensibility such a crowd-pleaser. Why do I recommend it to so many new Austen readers? Why does it lend itself to such good adaptations? But also, why is it similar to Pride and Prejudice but always a little in its shadow? My current theories have to do with the simplicity of the story and the relatively small cast of characters (compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park); it’s a pleasant story with something for everybody, regardless of temperament; on the other hand, maybe neither Elinor nor Marianne carries as much sparkle as Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t know. So many thoughts! What do you think, readers?
Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!