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?
Readers, I have some sad news. My husband, the oft-mentioned Mr. Fitzpatrick, was killed about 10 days ago in a bicycle accident. Those of you who knew him in person know what a true gentleman he was: brilliant, caring, incredibly generous, and invariably kind. He was kinda funny, too. Those of you who didn’t know him may not realize how much influence he’s had on Austenacious: he took the photos for our blog header, including the Halloween Jane-clone-fight, which was entirely his own idea, and he took many of the photos I use to illustrate our posts. And, of course, he was the source of much knowledge on swordfighting, dueling, and other manly topics. Hell, we might not have a blog if it wasn’t for his help getting us started on the technical end. He was so happy and proud of me, of all of us, for pursuing our vision for Austenacious.
To please me, Mr. Sci-Fi/Non-Fiction Fitzpatrick read Pride and Prejudice about two years ago. And of course he loved it. He appreciated Jane’s precision of language and thought, her keen eye for human foibles, and her subtly wicked wit. He often read lines to me that he thought were especially funny—and usually these were lines that I had never noticed, that I had taken for granted. He was distressed when a male friend saw the Keira Knightley movie and didn’t realize the story was supposed to be funny. I loved seeing the book through his eyes. I wanted him to do a post for you all, but he was waiting until he read a new Jane Austen book.
I’ve been trying to think which Jane Austen character was the closest match for Mr. Fitzpatrick, but she never wrote about anyone like him. He worked to make the world a better place, for ex-drug addicts, for poor children, and even for death row inmates. He was a tinkerer, a maker of all sorts of devices to make my life smoother or more fun. He was an explorer of secret places and secret societies, of ideas of all kinds. And he wanted to go to the stars.
I really wish she had met him.
Goodbye, my love.
Erik Fitzpatrick, 1975–2010.
Photo credit: ©2001 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
So, how can I put this? Let’s see. Okay, so. Sometimes, it seems to me that Austen adaptations are…shall we say, remiss in failing to offer a satisfying ending? Failing to seal the deal, if you know what I mean? Sure, Lizzy and Darcy end up in the Carriage of Loooove at the end of the 1995 adaptation, but what’s with the little peck as they’re driving off (frozen for effect, even—what, BBC, do you think we didn’t see what you did there, you dirty cheaters)? And, really, nothing for Jane and Bingley? They’re going to get a complex, people. Even Emma Thompson’s Elinor promptly explodes with emotion when Edward turns out not to be married—but does she sweep him off his feet and carry him away, complete with soaring music and distracting crane-shot camera work? Spoiler alert: she does not. And oh, sure, maybe it’s not in the book, exactly, but then neither is a thirty-six-year-old Elinor, a Jane Bennet that looks vaguely like a Greek statue, or that awesome cake on a pedestal (with ribbons!) at the end of Sense and Sensibility. I stand by what I say: more kissing, please! Jane won’t mind.
Thankfully, there are some recent Austen adaptations that seek to remedy the situation, and I think this sort of thing requires some, uh, research. Or, more specifically, a poll. Here are seven ending scenes from relatively recent Austen adaptations, all of them containing some sort of kissy-kissy true-love moment. Inquiring minds want to know: Austenacious readers, which is your favorite, and why? If there’s one that isn’t listed here, what is it (and why couldn’t we find it)?
Pride and Prejudice 1995
Mansfield Park 1999
Pride and Prejudice 2005
Northanger Abbey 2007
Mansfield Park 2007
Ladies and (theoretical) gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. I have fightin’ words to share. I have a statement that will separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, and the deeply committed purists from those who just don’t care to hold a grudge. This is a big one.
I am here to defend the 2005 big-screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Is it the most faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the world has ever seen? It is not. But whatever authenticity it loses in the translation, it gains in spirit—in beauty and in motion and in visual style. Have you ever seen a prettier version of the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy?
It seems that a lot of people’s pooh-poohing of the two-hour (one might say Cliff’s Notes) version is right in how it’s called: this movie isn’t “the short Pride and Prejudice.” It isn’t “the Joe Wright Pride and Prejudice.” It’s “the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice,” and that is generally not a term of endearment. And, you know, they’re not totally wrong. Knightley’s a very giggly Lizzie, and sometimes doesn’t come across as the great brain we know Lizzie to be. But even if she did, I’m not sure it matters much—a lot of people seem to despise her simply for the sake of despising her, and for her having the gall to even attempt the role. Similarly, Matthew McFadyen is no Colin Firth, but he’s still Darcy, and heaven help the man for daring to have his own take on the man. What we get from McFadyen is the depth of Darcy’s social awkwardness; look carefully, and you’ll see that he smolders with the best of them, but it’s in between fits of intense shyness. What he gives us is straight from the text—it’s just different.
Casting aside, the real selling point for me—what makes this adaptation one of my favorites—is its visual style, and director Joe Wright‘s (Atonement, The Soloist) uncanny eye for visual storytelling. Wright tells wonderful stories, with words optional; sometimes, he interprets, but that’s his job. One of my favorite moments in the movie has nothing to do with Elizabeth and Darcy at all—in the scene where Lizzie rejects Mr. Collins once and for all, Mrs. Bennet runs full-tilt down the lane to the river, wearing a fluffy white dress and surrounded by a flock of white geese, honking their heads off. It’s a wonderful, hilarious shot, a gentle visual joke that I believe Jane would have appreciated deeply. Then again, the shot where Darcy helps Lizzie into the carriage home from Netherfield is another favorite; Wright does a goosebump-inducing job of showing us the moment, highlighting the physical chemistry between the two of them hours before either of them will have the guts to bring it up for themselves. It’s lovely, and it’s efficient, and it’s beautiful in a way that simply doesn’t seem important the more staid adaptations. I think Jane would appreciate that.
It’s not that the 2005 Pride and Prejudice is my favorite; it’s not that I think it’s the best. I love Colin Firth’s sexual-tension-plagued first proposal as much as the next girl, and I wouldn’t turn up my nose at Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, either. But, you know, sometimes a girl doesn’t have six hours to kill (or six hours of attention span, anyway). Sometimes a girl needs her Bennet/Darcy fix. Remember: “beautiful” doesn’t mean “bad.” Sometimes it just means easy on the eyes.
In lieu of great thoughts, we give you the preview of the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice movie, but with lions instead of English people. An improvement? Too much like The Lion King? It’s eerie, somehow.