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Posts Tagged ‘Marianne Dashwood’

From Prada to Nada made $3.3 million at the box office, both foreign and domestic. I’m surprised to read that it was that much. I happened to watch the film on Netflix this past weekend when I had nothing better to do than wash clothes.

The notion of a remake of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and plucking Marianne and Elinor Dashwood from Barton Cottage and landing them in 21st Century L.A. intrigued me, for Emma Woodhouse’s move from tranquil Highbury to a Beverly Hills high school in Clueless was a resounding success with both critics and viewers. I also liked the idea of switching up cultures, for hadn’t Ang Lee’s hit, Eat Drink Man Woman, been successfully transformed into the delightful Tortilla Soup with its Mexican-American family substituting for the Japanese chef and his daughters? But I quickly came to the conclusion that  From Prada to Nada is to Jane Austen what a black velvet painting is to the Mona Lisa.

Here then is the story:

Mary, Papa, and Nora before his fatal heart attack

Once upon a time in Beverley Hills there lived two very pretty girls in a house called Bonita Casita. They had a Papa but no Mama.

Mary (Alexa Vega) on Rodeo Drive.

One was short and ditzy, liked to shop, and wore party dresses morning, noon, and night. Her name was Mary Dominguez (MD = Marianne Dashwood).

Nora turned norange at Papa's funeral.

The other was a tall, practical, intellectual, wannabee lawyer named Nora (Elinor Dashwood).  While exotically beautiful, she suffered from a fatal Hollywood condition called orange skin. This viewer suspects it was to make her look more cliched Mexican, but should I really be so cynical? Mary had this condition to a lesser extent, and both girls swung from looking tanned to grossly ill, depending on lighting conditions.

I am happy to report that Nora (Camilla Belle) fully recovered from her skin malady shortly after filming.

Neither girl spoke Spanish, a fact that was mentioned often until it was pounded into the viewers’ brains.

While celebrating his birthday with his daughters, Papa falls flat on his face and dies, leaving the two bewildered girls penniless, for everything he seemingly owned belonged to the banks. The girls must move from their cozy environment in 90210 to a tacky neighborhood in East L.A., which is like asking a Swiss palace guard to work in a Columbian prison on short notice.

Casa Bonita in Beverly Hills

Before that indignity, they meet their half-brother, Gabriel, a  surprise from their papa’s past, who arrives for the funeral with his cheesy avaricious girlfriend, Olivia. It seems that bro and his tootsie want to renovate Papa’s mansion and sell it for a profit. In other words, bro flips houses for a living. Real class.

Q'eulle surprise! Half-brother Gabriel (Pablo Cruz) arrives at the funeral with his Tootsie, Olivia (April Bolwby), and she's mean, while he's a wuss

Without a living breathing mother to guide them, as Jane Austen had intended, Maria and Nora have nowhere to go but to their good-hearted aunt’s house all the way over to a neighborhood filled with barrios, gangstahs, and, worse, taco joints. There the girls encounter Bruno (Colonel Brandon) a handsome darkly Latino who obviously did not attend Beverly Hills High.

Bruno (Wilmer Valerrama) and Mary.

He’s friendly, but Mary snubs him, for she begins to suspect that he works for a living and that she  must share a bedroom with her sister. (Not that the two facts have anything to do with each other, but my sentence is no crazier than the plot of the film.)

New house, new neighborhood

In rapid succession From Prada to Nada  throws at least one cliche per minute at the viewer, including a small sweat shop in Auntie’s living room, bad girls in the neighborhood, and clothes and interiors that could have been created by Agador (Armand and Albert’s gay Cuban houseboy in The Birdcage). How could this movie stand a chance with intelligent viewers when charactes are named Bad Guy #s 1-3, Comrade, Fiesta guest, and Chola (urban dictionary definition: the girl my brother gets pregnant)?

I imagine that people living in East L.A. were horrified to see Jane Austen’s fine tale mangled and twisted beyond recognition.

Sewing in Auntie's living room and prepared to hide the evidence at a moment's notice in case of an immigration raid.

The movie stumbles towards its inevitable cliched ending. Edward Ferris falls instantly for Nora and gives her a splendid job in his law firm. They part and then they come together for no reason that I can fathom, except that he is always coming around the house with a truck filled with big items.

Rodrigo (Kuno Becker) meets the aunties

Mary falls head over heels (instead of twisting her heel in the English countryside) for a tutor named Rodgrigo Fuentes, Willoughby’s stand in. He eventually visits Mexico then dumps her and purchases Papa’s hideously renovated mansion from her flipper bro.

Bruno's amazing studio in his tiny house

Flipper bro turns out to be a nice guy, as does Bruno, who happens to be an immensely talented artist living in the body of a mechanic. For some reason, after her car accident Mary totally flips for the ever patient, long-suffering Bruno, who was able to see past her materialistic ways the moment he met her.

Bruno in his barrio uniform.

After I finished watching this movie, I realized I should have stayed in the basement with my laundry and read a good book as I waited for my washer and dryer to finish spinning. The producers of this clunker forgot one extremely important asset that no self respecting movie can do without: a well-written, intelligent script.

Not all the good intentions in the world of Latinizing Jane Austen, and thus making her more available to those who might otherwise be turned off by her English characters, can save a film so completely devoid of entertainment, originality and wit.

No Tex-Mex film is complete without a fiesta.

I imagine that Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have said of this film: “I take no leave of it. I send it no compliments. It deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.” Amen to that.

Edward Ferris (Nicolas d'Agosto), the prince charming, comes bearing gifts, sweeping Nora off her feet.

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“Now, Edward,” said [Marianne], calling his attention to the prospect, “here is Barton valley. Look up it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see one end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage.”

“It is a beautiful country,” he replied; “but these bottoms must be dirty in winter.”

“How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?”

“Because,” replied he, smiling, “among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane.”

“How strange!” said Marianne to herself as she walked on.

“Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasant people?”

“No, not at all,” answered Marianne, “we could not be more unfortunately situated.”

Country lane, Barry Lyndon

I had the leisure of viewing Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon the other day, I say leisure, for the film is over three hours long and I took the opportunity to pull images. These two stills of country roads reminded me forcibly of the difference between Marianne’s histrionic behavior in Sense and Sensibility and Edward’s reactions during a time when both characters are experiencing extreme disappointment in their love lives.

Marianne has completely given over to her emotions after Willoughby departs, and Edward struggles to hold up his chin, knowing he is in love with Elinor but is bound by his engagement to Lucy Steele. His view of the landscape is utilitarian. He sees none of the sweep of grandeur and only the practical aspects of the scene below and can only imagine it in the winter, when roads are rutted and muddy. Throughout Sense and Sensibility, Marianne expresses picturesque point of views. In this scene in particular, she also demonstrates her youth and immaturity, giving Edward a churlish answer about their new neighbors, which, while perhaps  true, the sensible Elinor would never admit.

William Gilpin was instrumental in promoting the Romantic picturesque movement, which defines an aesthetic sensibility of a charming or quaint scene. Marianne Dashwood, whose personality tends towards the melodramatic, embraces the fashion for the picturesque ideal, whereas both Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars represent a more practical viewpoint which depends less on the sublime and relies more on what their experiences and restrained personalities tell them to feel.

Gilpin's watercolor shows how best to achieve a picturesque effect through the clumping of trees.*

The following quote about William Gilpin’s influence on this new aesthetic movement is from the aptly titled, Penny cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volumes 11-12, Charles Knight, London, 1838, p. 222:

But Mr Gilpin was a person of a remarkably refined taste, as is evinced by writings of his, of a class entirely distinct from those we have enumerated. These are his volumes in which he has illustrated, both by his pencil and his pen, the picturesque beauty of some parts of England, and generally the principles of beauty in landscape. The first of these works was published in 1790 in two volumes 8 vo; it was entitled Observations relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the year 76 in several parts of Great Britain, particularly the Highlands of Scotland. This was followed by two other volumes of the same character, the greater part of them relating to the lake country of Cumberland and Westmoreland. Two volumes more on Forest Scenery succeeded. Besides these there are his Essays on Picturesque Beauty, Picturesque Travels, and the Art of Sketching Landscapes; Observations on the River Wye; and Picturesque Remarks on the Western parts of England. These form a body of works which were well received by the public at the times of their appearance, and which are now gathered into the libraries of the tasteful and the curious, so that copies rarely present themselves for public sale.”

The picturesque ideal expressed itself in literature, poetry, and paintings, and its influence could still be felt in the romantic paintings that depicted the natural beauty of America’s vast landscapes, such as the Hudson River School of painting.

Excellent posts about the topic are found in the following blogs:

*William Gilpin, How to Clump Trees, Bodlein Library

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In my private library I own many versions of Jane Austen film adaptations, starting with the BBC Jane Austen Collection. Two of the films, Emma and Persuasion, were made in the early seventies, the other four films were produced in the 1980’s. In the space of one decade the changes in sets, costumes, and acting were remarkable. During the 1970’s the actors would rehearse their roles for several weeks before the movie was filmed on video tape, which was grainy. These 70’s costume dramas had an old-fashioned, static and staged feel to them, and from our modern perspective the 70’s hair styles and make-up were glaringly wrong. It was hard to look past the 70’s teased ringlets and see a Regency lady. By the 1980’s, staged sets were beginning to be replaced by outdoor shots and actual interiors. (Persuasion, 1971 showed Anne Elliot in Bath and Lyme Regis, but these were transition shots.)

My (relative) aversion for these earlier staged films explains why I have not seen the 1971 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I checked Netflix to see if the film was available for rent, but one has to purchase the film in order to view it, unless a VHS copy is available at a local library. So, when Professor Ellen Moody wrote about Sense and Sensibility 1971, I asked her if I could showcase her thoughts on my blog. Ellen is an authority on Jane Austen and, just as importantly, on the films based on Jane’s novels. Reading her reviews, I am always struck by how Ellen can view these older BBC films dispassionately and compare and contrast the plots against newer, more sophisticated film adaptations and Jane’s novels. She is not put off by dated staging or costumes, and stilted camera shots; instead she hones in on the characters and how faithful they are to a Jane Austen novel. When she read my previous observations, she responded with these words:

The earlier films are worthy — the way earlier famous painting or illustrations or books are. You have to get into the aesthetics of the era, sort of “see through” them to the core experience. We are doing this for Austen when we read her. I’ve even (by dint of rewatching) learnt to accept the extravagant hairdos of these later 60s early 70s films. The 72 Emma does not have them and I’ve noticed the faultline or divider is around 1972. Before that these hairdoes; after that either historically accurate ones or natural (meaning some mildly historized version of contemporary modern) ones.

Marianne and Willoughby (Ciaran Madden and Clive Francis )

Here, then, are Ellen’s thoughts about S&S 71:

I’m now closely watching the 1971 Sense and Sensibility, written by Denis Constanduros, and it has many merits. If faithfulness and originality were really prized, it’d be prized. It’s the most original of the S&S adaptations as it had nothing to build on. One can see that Alexander Baron in his 1981 S&S script used the 1971 outline to some extent, such as having Brandon at the ball/assembly where Marianne is snubbed, a scene also used by Andrew Davies for S&S 2008; and it’s faithful to the original proportions. The climax of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Volume I is Lucy telling Elinor her secret and triumphing over her (not the snubbing at the ball, not Willoughby’s departure, and certainly no duel); the climax of Austen’s Volume II is Lucy’s invitation to go live with Fanny Dashwood, which is the result of her encounter with the Dashwoods and Mrs Ferrars at the dinner party where Mrs Ferrars snubs Elinor over her fire screen.

In the book, Willoughby’s desertion of Marianne occurs about half-way through Volume I. Therefore, Volume I climaxes not on Willoughby’s leaving but on Lucy’s revelation she’s engaged to Edward. That’s the deeply painful ending. In the book, Willoughby’s snubbing of Marianne occurs midway in Volume II; the climax of II occurs when Lucy is invited to stay with the Dashwoods in London, after the party where Mrs Ferrars humiliates Elinor. The 71 S&S keeps an equal emphasis on Lucy torturing Elinor and Elinor humiliated at Mrs Ferrars (with Marianne defending her) as it has on Willoughby’s snubbing Marianne. The 95 S&S and 08 S&S lengthen out the stay in Barton cottage and make the London sequence much much shorter; they make the relationships with the women much less emphatic, give it much less time than the relationships of the men and women; the 95 in particular loses the social satire. (I still think it the masterpiece of film art above the others, but it is very different from Austen’s proportions and emphasis.) The 81 keeps the proportions better but downplays the poisonous relationships among the women and social satire.

Of all the S&S film adaptations I’ve watched thus far, the 1971 version does this scene of Mrs Ferrars’s cruelty (even Fanny Dashwood in the book thinks it a bit much) most thoroughly (as it builds Lucy far more thoroughly and keeps Nancy and Lucy’s cruelties to Nancy), and what I want to say is how remarkable it seems to me that it still pains me to go through it. After all these years, I find myself averting my head not to look when Marianne cracks. Elinor has to watch her crack and this is where the gut of the scene lies. The 81 film has this too – to be fair, but the 1981 has not given us the full portrait of Lucy as this one has; the latter film has begun to build up Brandon more and the men.

In the 1971 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility one can watch a close reenactment of the text in Volume I, Chapter 1. What happens there is Mrs Jennings (a comic character) comes in to tell Marianne and Elinor Dashwood what she has heard from someone about what happened with another group of characters. Those who know the novel will know that Mrs Jennings is told her story by a doctor who was called in to treat Fanny Dashwood after Fanny gets hysterical when she learns from Nancy Steele that her sister Lucy is engaged to Edward Ferrars. Mrs Jennings’ speech is inordinately long and in a paper I published I argued this was once originally a long letter written by Mrs Jennings, a comic one to someone else telling this story. The effect of this is to intersperse what happened dramatically with lots of explicit explanation from Mrs Jennings, some of it comic and incongruous and some of it philistine, but much spot on.

In the book we get another long (unusually long) speech by John Dashwood who comes in to tell the rest. Again I argued this was an epistolary narrative, a letter by Mr Dashwood telling another part of the story — about how Edward was disinherited. The scriptwriter, Constanduros, departs by having Mrs Jennings tell the whole. Mrs Jennings is played by an inimitable comic actress named Patricia Routledge who eventually became a Dame and she is just marvelous in this retelling (which is interrupted by the actress who plays Marianne who interperses with “Madame, how can you …” and “Don’t believe her … Don’t listen to her,” which Mrs Jennings interrupts her flow to object to, “It is true. It is, it is! ……)

In the two other S&S (1981 and 1995) the long monologue is scantier, just a bit given to the actress playing Mrs Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs in the 1981 adaptation, another marvelous actress, who died in early July (click on link), but short so we can get onto the real business that interests scriptwriter Emma Thomson, which is Elinor’s misery and revelation of deep emotion (same goes for the ’81 film if not acted with the same effectiveness). In a way the recent adaptation by Andrew Davies (S&S 2008 ) is closer to Jane’s script in that he dramatizes the matter in what I think were originally two letters. But by doing this he loses not only the comedy but the explicit statement, the penumbra of nuances and inferences to be drawn and we get a strained melodramatic theatrical scene.

While it may seem crude to a modern audience to have this kind of material presented as comic, it is what is in the original book and I think a chapter which shows just this drive towards explicit
explanation, for in Austen we then get the two sisters talking and Elinor does make explicit how she has suffered for four months and tells all and the drama of withholding makes that long explanation believable.

I submit that the popularity of epistolary narrative in the 18th century is testimony to the drive to make explicit what is implicit, to bring what Carol Shields taught us in _Unless_ is the back story (or explanation into the public gaze where normally all one gets is the front (conventional and often untrue) explanation.

It has been said by some literary scholars of the 18th century (long ago by Irvin Ehrenpries and recently in one of John Richetti’s edited volumes on 18th century history and the 18th century novels) that there is a strong drive to give readers an explicit and full explanation of what’s happening in the novel and the procedures used to present them. It’s my view that the drive to the explicit statement may be part of the impetus which creates the epistolary narrative and makes it so popular in the era.

As a postscript, I’d like to add that in the literary criticism of Sense and Sensibility Marianne is nowadays occasionally called the Cassandra figure of the novel. The use of the term would seem to suggest Christa Wolf’s novel [ Cassandra, a masterpiece in German, later 20th century, 1988] and Wolf’s reading of the meaning of the figure have entered the general conversation of feminism and also literary criticism.

Despite the comedy of the ’71 S&S, the actress who plays Marianne (Ciaran Madden) does enact a Cassandra role. When Elinor is humiliated (as I’ve just described), Marianne comes forward to vigorously protest, point out Mrs Ferrars’s lies and support Elinor’s drawing. Alas, human beings being what they are instead of being grateful, she is seen as a pariah to have shouted out these truths. When in the ’71 film Willoughby tries to brush Marianne off in a famous scene at a ball, he cannot as she will not play the social games he expects her to. In this film he does not exactly snub her but tries to hint at ways she can save face for him and her, and she just won’t.

Click here to read Ellen’s post about the film on her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog Too

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In Sense and Sensibility, a conversation between Marianne and Elinor during Edward Ferrars’ visit to Barton Cottage reveals how much income Marianne considers suitable for setting up house. The Dashwoods had been reduced to living on £500 per year, or around 17,000 pounds in today’s terms. Marianne mentions a sum of £1,800 – 2,000 pounds a year as being adequate in an age when male servants earned from £20 to £60 a year and a female servant from £5 to £15 pounds per year. While these incomes seem desperately low, room and board were usually included. Coal cost 50 pounds per year, and the rent of a medium sized house in London ranged from £12 to £25 per year.* If a family’s income was less than £100 for a single person or £200 for a couple, then the head of the house would probably have to work for a living.

“An income of two thousand pounds was considered quite comfortable, allowing people to maintain a large house, keep horses and a carriage, and employ eleven servants.” (Life in Regency England: More Than Games). Such an income would not have been enough to maintain Norland Park (below), but it would have been quite enough for Willoughby, who married an heiress with £50,000. The interest on that sum would have been £2,000 per year.

Edward: “As moderate as those of the rest of the world, I believe. I wish as well as every body else to be perfectly happy; but, like every body else it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so.”

“Strange that it would!” cried Marianne. “What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?”

“Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”

“Elinor, for shame!” said Marianne, “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.”

“Perhaps,” said Elinor, smiling, “we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?”

“About eighteen hundred or two thousand a-year; not more than that.”

Elinor laughed. “Two thousand a-year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.”

“And yet two thousand a-year is a very moderate income,” said Marianne.“A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.”

Elinor smiled again, to hear her sister describing so accurately their future expenses at Combe Magna.

“Hunters!” repeated Edward—“But why must you have hunters? Every body does not hunt.”

Marianne coloured as she replied, “But most people do.”

Knowing her situation and prospects, we see how far fetched Marianne’s statements must sound to Elinor and Edward. A woman without fortune needed luck on her side to snag a husband with such an income: she could not depend on looks alone, although great beauty, such as Lady Emma Hamilton possessed, helped a great deal. If a woman had only beauty, then an extravagant man like Willoughby, who could not live without his hunters, must look else where for a bride. As Stephanie Edelman writes in a JASNA Essay contest:

    Austen demonstrates throughout Sense and Sensibility just how much inheritance influences the marriage market. Willoughby, who “had always been expensive,” intended to “re‑establish [his] circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune”­–Miss Grey, with her “fifty thousand pounds” ‑‑despite his attraction to Marianne. His actions are not surprising, for even Mrs. Jennings explains that “when there is plenty of money on one side, and next to none on the other” romance can take a back seat to economics. Beauty sometimes compensates for a lack of fortune, as Mrs. Jennings hopes when she claims that Marianne would be perfect for Colonel Brandon, “for he was rich and she was handsome”, but a loss of beauty lowers one in the marriage market. Because Marianne worries herself sick over Willoughby and, in John Dashwood’s opinion, “destroys the bloom forever”, he “question[s] whether Marianne now, will marry a man worth more than five or six hundred a‑year, at the utmost”. Thus we see families being formed, not on the basis of love and respect, but on inheritances, yearly incomes, and how much one is willing to pay for beauty. – The Family of Dashwood by Stephanie Edelman

For a fuller explanation of incomes during the Regency era and their relative value today, click on my other post, Pride and Prejudice Economics.

More links on the topic:

*The Period House: Style, Detail, and Decoration: 1774 – 1914, Richard Russell Lawrence and Teresa Chris, Phoenix Illustrated, 1996, 192 pages

Images: 1st – Sense and Sensibility 2007; 2nd – Sense and Sensibility 1996.

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The dramatic moments of Marianne’s illness in Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility start when Marianne (Kate Winslet) walks in the pouring rain to view Willoughby’s estate, Combe Magna, from atop a hill. The musical strains swell as rivulets of water pour down her face and figure. Then Marianne quotes a Shakespearean Sonnet 116 that Willoughby had read to her in happier days, which she starts with the phrase, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” One is touched by Marianne’s emotional anguish, which is echoed by the roiling clouds overhead. Kate’s performance tugs at my heartstrings and tears still come to my eyes when I see this scene. Call me a hopeless romantic.

However, the scene is more reminiscent of Wuthering Heights than of a Jane Austen novel. Young Kate Winslet acts out Marianne’s torment so convincingly that one forgets that these are Emma Thompson’s words, not Jane Austen’s. Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) finds Marianne and carries her back in his manly arms. To his credit, he staggers under his load only just before he hands her over to Mr. Palmer and Elinor.

Much anxiety ensues, with the Colonel pacing the halls until he is given ‘employment’, and asked to fetch Mrs. Dashwood, who lives 80 miles away. Unspoken but implied is that he might be too late. Elinor/Emma weeps as she tends to Marianne, the doctor spends the night in a nearby chair, and we are all left in suspense: Will Marianne/Kate survive the night? All this Sturm und Drang is a bit overwrought, but these scenes provide the emotional turning point of this film adaptation.

I first saw the 1995 movie in the theatre just weeks after its premiere. When Marianne was clearly on the mend, I recall feeling as wrung out as Elinor. In case my words seem just a tad facetious (and they are), I adored this film. However, the script of this movie is to a Jane Austen novel what Tex-Mex cuisine is to real Mexican food – there is just enough authenticity to fool one into thinking that one has actually experienced the real thing.

Interestingly, in the most recent 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, written by Andrew Davies, Marianne (Charity Wakefield) also wanders around the gardens of Cleveland in a steady drizzle. She finds shelter under a gazebo, but then she deliberately stands under the rain, welcoming its healing effect. I suppose this ritual cleansing is meant to be symbolic. Weakened from lack of sleep and worry, Marianne succumbs to the chill and faints. She is gone for such a long time, that Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) goes out to search for her. Riding his white steed (oh, don’t you just love these Jungian-Arthurian-Shakespearean symbols?), he finds her. Then, in a moment I find perplexing, for his trusty horse is standing at the ready, he carries her back to the house. Andrew Davies, please have mercy on the poor horse! While David Morrissey has the physical heft to pull off this scene (and he does deposit Marianne safely in her bed), you have deprived that lovely white steed of its employment. Ellen Moody gave a possible explanation for all this romantic drama in her post. Click here to read it.

Both films have mined Marianne’s illness for its full emotional depth. However, in Jane Austen’s words, the onset of Marianne’s illness is much less dramatic, and Colonel Brandon is nowhere to be seen:

Two delightful twilight walks on the third and fourth evenings of her being there, not merely on the dry gravel of the shrubbery, but all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest, had — assisted by the still greater imprudence of sitting in her wet shoes and stockings — given Marianne a cold so violent, as, though for a day or two trifled with or denied, would force itself by increasing ailments on the concern of everybody, and the notice of herself. Prescriptions poured in from all quarters, and as usual were all declined. Though heavy and feverish, with a pain in her limbs, a cough, and a sore throat, a good night’s rest was to cure her entirely; and it was with difficulty that Elinor prevailed on her, when she went to bed, to try one or two of the simplest of the remedies. Sense and Sensibility, Volume 3, Chapter 6.

Jane then goes on to describe a cold that settles in Marianne’s lungs, and that the doctor declares infectious. The Palmers leave, worried for their newborn baby. For two days Marianne’s situation does not change, and there is hope for a speedy recovery, but by the third day Marianne’s condition worsens and in a feverish delirium she starts calling for her mother. Enter the Colonel:

He, meanwhile, whatever he might feel, acted with all the firmness of a collected mind, made every necessary arrangement with the utmost dispatch, and calculated with exactness the time in which she might look for his return. Not a moment was lost in delay of any kind. The horses arrived, even before they were expected, and Colonel Brandon only pressing her hand with a look of solemnity, and a few words spoken too low to reach her ear, hurried into the carriage. It was then about twelve o’clock, and she returned to her sister’s apartment to wait for the arrival of the apothecary, and to watch by her the rest of the night.

Colonel Brandon leaves to procure Mrs. Dashwood, and Elinor is left alone (with Mrs. Jennings) to nurse Marianne and fret over her condition. Elinor’s suffering is real: “She was calm, except when she thought of her mother; but she was almost hopeless; and in this state she continued till noon, scarcely stirring from her sister’s bed, her thoughts wandering from one image of grief, one suffering friend to another, and her spirits
oppressed to the utmost by the conversation.”

Marianne’s situation is touch and go. The apothecary, Mr. Harris, attempts every remedy at his disposal, and promises to return in a three or four hour interval. In his second visit, he realizes his medicine has failed, and that Marianne’s fever remains unabated. He tries a fresh application of a medication in which he has almost as much confidence as the first, and then he leaves. Elinor spends a restless, sleepless night, worried about her mother, but she forces herself to remain calm.

About noon, however, she began–but with a caution—a dread of disappointment which for some time kept her silent, even to her friend–to fancy, to hope she could perceive a slight amendment in her sister’s pulse;–she waited, watched, and examined it again and again;–and at last, with an agitation more difficult to bury under exterior calmness, than all her foregoing distress, ventured to communicate her hopes.

During these scenes, both Elinor/Emma and Elinor/Hattie are true to Jane’s description of Elinor’s conduct through this long, anxious night. Waiting for the Colonel and her mother, Elinor hears: “The bustle in the vestibule, as she passed along an inner lobby, assured her that they were already in the house. She rushed to the drawing-room,–she entered it,–and saw only Willoughby.”

The Ang Lee film does not include this important scene. Instead, it shows a regretful Willoughby sitting at a distance on his horse, observing Marianne walking from the chapel with her new husband. The new 3-hour S&S adaptation takes the time to address Willoughby’s excuse for his bad behavior and his feelings for Marianne. “I mean to offer some kind of explanation,” he says to Elinor, “some kind of apology, for the past; to open my whole heart to you, and by convincing you, that though I have been always a blockhead, I have not been always a rascal, to obtain something like forgiveness from Ma–from your sister.”

Unlike the novel, the 2008 film shows Marianne eavesdropping. This ending sets the stage for her transformation. Her eyes are opened to Willoughby, allowing her to heal and open her heart to Colonel Brandon. Many find this section of the book implausible. How could someone with Marianne’s romantic nature do the sensible thing and marry the Colonel? Jane describes Marianne’s situation as thus:

Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting,–instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on,– she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.

My sensible self likes to think that a romantically minded 17-year-old can emerge wiser two years later. Marianne not only learned from adversity, but I imagine she will continue to mature and grow throughout her life.

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Watching the new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, I realize I have a love/hate relationship with screenwriter Andrew Davies. I love him because he wrote the scripts for several of my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations and his movies are exciting to watch. I dislike his work because he tinkers with Jane’s intent and plot. He cannot leave well enough alone, and yet his movies of Jane’s novels attract huge ratings. Take this latest film adaptation, for example. I’m amazed by how much I like it, despite Andrew’s heavy hand in making the heroes seem more real and inserting scenes that Jane never intended. In fact, Mr. Davies’ name seems to be displayed as prominently in the credits as Jane Austen’s. Food for thought.
So what did I like and what didn’t I like about the film that caused me to continue my love/hate relationship with Mr. Davies? I’ll vent first, and discuss …

… A Few Pesky, Bothersome Moments

1) A Very Un-Janelike Sex Scene Opens the Film
There had been such a ruckus over the movie’s sexy opening sequence, that when I finally saw it my only thought was, “Meh, is that all?” The scene starts the film off on a wrong note, however, which takes away from the dramatic tension later on. Barbara Larochelle, the Sense and Sensibility discussion moderator on The Republic of Pemberley , explains in Sensibility Crashing Against Sense how the opening sequence dilutes the impact of the viewers’ dawning awareness that Willoughby is a cad and nothing like a romantic hero.

After the turgid opening scene, we are treated to the true beginning of Sense and Sensibility: the death of Mr. Dashwood and John’s promise to take care of his stepmother and stepsisters.

2) Making Fun of a Chubby Child
The plot quickens when Fanny Dashwood, with husband and child in tow, hastens to Norland Park the Monday after the funeral to assume her duties as its mistress. Her strong hold over John, as Davies implies as she blows out the candle, are her talents in bed. Fanny, played with just the right amount of snaky oiliness by Claire Skinner, firmly puts the kabosh on her husband’s plans to support his step mother and half sisters. Young Henry, or Harry, is depicted as a chubby child. Morgan Overton, the young actor who portrays him is forced to wear a frightful wig (or hairstyle), spectacles, and skeleton suit with frilly collared shirt. He is seen chomping on food almost the entire time he is on screen, except in this image. This stereotypical portrayal of an overweight child was obvious and unnecessary. Sorry Andrew, fat is not funny. Ever. Besides, Jane would not have taken such cheap pot shots.

3) Where are the Palmers and Lucy Steele?
Fast forward to life at Barton Cottage: Mrs. Dashwood now must live on a pitiful income of 500 pounds per year. This means serious economizing and downsizing for the ladies Dashwood. Frequent meals at Barton Park help to defray some expenses. We meet Sir John Middleton and his brood, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings. The Palmers were practically non-existent, however. A new viewer would have no concept of Mr. Palmer’s rudeness, for example, or of Mrs. Palmer’s irritating gaiety. Lucy Steele, who came across as sweet and ditzy rather than manipulative, was given so little screen time that her marriage to Robert Ferrars must have come as a complete surprise to those who had not read the novel. However, to be fair to Andrew Davies, we are treated to a fine characterization of Miss Anne Steele, who as played by Daisy Haggard, nearly steals the show.

4) Marianne is Gentled Like a Horse

After her illness, Marianne is “gentled” by Colonel Brandon. In fact, her mother and sister look on approvingly as they watch the Colonel use a classic horse training technique of turning his back to Marianne to pique her interest. (“Nine times out of ten a wild horse would follow”, as Elinor remarked, watching the Colonel in action). In Mr. Davies quest to show Jane’s heroes in a more manly setting, we also see the Colonel tenderly handle a hawk. As Marianne looks on with stars in her eyes, Colonel Brandon commands softly, “Come here.” How subtle was that message? Excuse me, Mr. Davies, but women are not chattel and I was a bit put off by these scenes. As Mr. Knightley would say, “That was very badly done.”

However, I Liked this Film Adaptation Overall …

… and the aforementioned concerns did not ruin my enjoyment of the movie. Of the four new adaptations based on Jane’s novels shown this season, it is the best one. The film’s three-hour length allowed for a more leisurely exploration of Marianne’s infatuation with Willoughby (Dominic Cooper). We also see more of Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), who is given as much screen time as Willoughby. We meet Mrs. Ferrars (Jean Marsh), a character as formidable and steely-eyed as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and, as mentioned before, Lucy Steele’s vulgar sister, Anne, makes an unforgettable appearance. However, other characters are hardly given the time of day, which makes me wish that all Jane Austen adaptations are required to be six hours in length, like A&E’s Pride and Prejudice.

I loved Hattie Morahan’s performance as Elinor Dashwood. Her Elinor is stoic, restrained, and vulnerable. We can feel her internal pain and struggle over Edward’s engagement to Lucy Steele, and at Marianne’s side during her illness. In fact, I will no longer be able to read S&S in the future without seeing Hattie as Elinor.

If you have seen my avatar, you must have guessed how much I admire Kate Winslet’s robust performance as Marianne. In addition, my Jane Austen character quiz profile is Marianne, so I am particularly fond of this 17-year-old heroine. While I adore Kate’s interpretation, I found Charity Wakefield’s Marianne equally compelling, though in a sweeter, quieter way. She is young enough to play the part of a teenager, and her large expressive eyes lent a piquant touch to her character’s mixture of recklessness, immaturity, and innocence. In this adaptation Marianne is so heedless of convention, she is shown visiting Allenham with Willoughby, not merely speeding through town in a phaeton as in the 1996 adaptation.

I also thought that Marianne’s illness in the 2008 film adaptation, while not strictly accurate, was closer to Jane’s original intent. In the 1996 movie version, Marianne walked for miles in the rain to view Willoughby’s estate, and the sickroom scenes were so overwrought with emotion, that I thought, “Enough!” In this film’s more restrained sick room scenes, Colonel Brandon’s concern over Marianne’s condition is stressed as much as Elinor’s. His visit to her sick bed sets the stage for Marriane’s developing relationship with the Colonel and her interest in him as a suitor.

David Morrissey plays the Colonel heroically, and in my mind his interpretation of the character surpasses Alan Rickman’s. One explanation for this is that the Colonel’s scenes are fleshed out in S&S 2008, and we get to know him as a man as well as a long-suffering hero. Mr. Morrissey is also much handsomer than Jane describes, which places Dominic Cooper in a difficult position. His Willoughby is not quite good looking enough to play the role of a man who is described as surpassingly handsome. In fact, Dominic reminds me of The Artful Dodger all grown up. I know looks aren’t everything, but I fail to understand why Marianne is so drawn to Willoughby when such a handsome Colonel has been courting her. Oh, I know she was turned off by the Colonel’s age, but David Morrissey is so yummy that any self-respecting girl in need of a husband would not quibble with the age difference if he came a’calling.

Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars is also too handsome for the part, though I liked his kind eyes and expressive face. He is well matched with Hattie Morrahan in looks and height, and they seem like a perfect couple. It is entirely believable that Dan/Edward would be happy living the simple life of a minister in a small cottage with his frugal and practical Elinor.

Except for the Marianne-in-training sequences, I rather enjoyed our glimpses of our heroes in manly scenes, cutting wood, hunting, hawking, or riding flat out. Such touches are what make Andrew Davies adaptations stand out from the rest of the field.

I finish this review with Mrs. Dashwood. Ever since I saw Janet McTeer in Songcatcher, I have adored her. An actress with a remarkable scope and range, she played the widow and loving mother with the right amount of grief, bewilderment, and strength. Her realization that her cushy life was over when Elinor rejected her first two choices for a rental house foreshadowed the challenges she would have to face as a poor widow. However, except for some crucial scenes, Janet was given remarkably little to do in this film except to stand still for reaction shots. This is another strong argument for shooting a mini-series.

I have seen this film three times already and intend to see it again tonight. Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Oh, dear, I just had a thought. What will I do with my Sunday nights after The Complete Jane Austen series has ended? Watch A Room With a View, of course. The movie will be aired on Masterpiece Classic, April 13th, one week after Part II of Sense and Sensibility has aired.

Click here for my 2009 review of Sense and Sensibility, which features additional images.

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