Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

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Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E

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The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.