(Note from Hamlette: Thanks for contributing this to I Love Austen Week, Jessica! And for encouraging me to finally see this version of S&S.)
Guest Post by Jessica Prescott
*happy sigh.* Let’s do this thing, people.
As many of you know, this is my top favorite Jane Austen film adaptation—plus my second favorite movie, period—so please prepare yourselves for a Rather Large amount of gushing and fangirling to follow. (There may or may not be spoilers as well. You have been warned.)
This film is so dense, so packed, with drama and emotion and character that it’s a bit tough to know where to start . . . I suppose I’ll do the logical thing and begin with casting. Here we go.
First off: Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood. If you’ve never seen this version and you’re apprehensive about how worthy a successor Hattie is (or isn’t) to the legendary Emma Thompson in the ’95 movie—then have no fear, munchkins. Hattie Morahan’s performance in this movie is absolutely rock-solid. She does a beautiful job interpreting and showcasing the silent, deep, unselfish emotion that we all love Elinor Dashwood for. She doesn’t cry often; but when she cries, I just want to put my arms around her and hold her tight. So much feeling . . . and so few words used to convey it. I stand in awe, friends. I really do.
Plus, she’s incredibly fierce and blunt and pragmatic and—in a nutshell—won’t take no sass from nobody. (That one scene with Willoughby’s so-called “apology,” though . . . GOLLY GOSH GEE WHIZ.) Hattie’s Elinor is a force to be reckoned with, for certain; and I absolutely love how much this film adaptation chooses to emphasize that forcefulness. #strongfemalecharactersforthewin
Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood—what can I say, folks? I LOVE HER. I know she’s been subjected to a fair amount of criticism for being “immature” and “whiny” and (in short) inferior to Kate Winslet from the ’95 film; but, speaking for myself, I far prefer Charity over Kate. I can’t put my feelings any better than by saying Charity Wakefield was the first actress to truly make me understand, appreciate, and (ultimately) care about Marianne as a character. Her interpretation balances Marianne’s emotional, impulsive, self-centered side with a very touching and very heartfelt sweetness; so that even in her most over-the-top, ridiculous, insane moments, you still can’t help rooting for her and hoping she comes out okay.
And Charity has fantastic “chemistry” with Hattie Morahan—they genuinely feel like a real-life, big-sister-little-sister pair; with their teasing, and their bickering, and their sharing of absolutely everything, and their aggressive protectiveness of each other; and I just love it. (Because sisters are the best, can I get an amen???)
AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON HER RELATIONSHIP WITH COLONEL BRANDON. Just . . . aaagggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. *faints*
So, um . . . where was I? Oh, right—the three male leads. Can’t forget them! *winks*
Dan Stevens, in my opinion, does a fantastic job as Edward Ferrars. His interpretation of Edward is much more “reserved” than “shy,” I would say: He’s not particularly awkward when making small talk with strangers (in fact, he can be Quite Charming, in a soft-spoken sort of way); but he struggles—struggles terribly—when it comes to communicating his own inner needs, desires, and emotions. There are several scenes with Elinor where he desperately wants to tell her something, but finds himself physically unable to get the words out; and I can tell you from experience, it’s genuinely painful to watch. Because it’s so real. You completely forget that you’re listening to a professional actor delivering his lines; you’re watching a human being, wrestling with emotions that are just too strong and too frightening for him to handle. And it hurts.
But I keep coming back to it, anyway. Over and over. Because . . . I like pain, apparently . . . ?
Now, Dominic Cooper as Willoughby—okay, HEAR ME OUT, GUYS. I know practically everybody despises him and says he absolutely can’t hold a candle to Greg Wise from ’95 . . . but, even so, I personally believe he was a much, much better choice to play John Willoughby. First off, contrary to popular belief, he’s not ugly. Sure, he’s slimy. But “slimy” doesn’t have to equal “unattractive.” (Just ask Cary Grant.)
What Dominic Cooper does with Willoughby’s character—and it’s a very delicate balance, remember that—is make his inner darkness visible on the outside, WITHOUT losing any of his charm or his romantic allure. Greg Wise, on the other hand, completely hid Willoughby’s evil nature from everyone: not just from the characters themselves, but even from the audience. Watching the 1995 film, you never truly get the sense that Willoughby is any sort of “villain,” even after he’s been denounced and disgraced. You just . . . sort of . . . forget about him. In this movie, though, you can never forget him. And you can never forget what he’s done. He’s the villain of the piece—a devil with the voice of an angel—and he sticks in your memory forever. Which is how it should be.
Okay, ladies . . . I saved the best for last here. Which is, of course, David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon.
I have no words to describe how deeply I cherish this actor—this character—this performance. David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon has my whole heart, and I’m pretty sure I ain’t ever getting it back; but I don’t care. I know it’s safe with him.
To make a long story short, he’s perfect in this role. He’s silent, and strong, and gentle; with a calm, stoic manner that hides a heart of actual solid gold. He’s a soldier, and he isn’t afraid to act like one. He never really uses words to say how much he cares about Marianne—he doesn’t have to. He SHOWS IT. And you feel it.
Oh, boy, do you ever feel it.
Guys, Sense and Sensibility ’08 is pretty much flawless as far as I’m concerned. And it’s not just the actors and their performances—although that obviously plays a huge role. It’s the way the whole movie is put together; setting, costumes, writing, everything. I love the way the filmmakers chose to give this work an overall “dark” tone; dark, yet somehow mellow and hopeful at the same time. Not only does that combination exactly suit my own personal tastes (I like dark stuff, what can I say?); but Sense and Sensibility is definitely one of Austen’s most serious novels and, thus, I think such a treatment meshes will with the original story’s message.
How do they achieve said darkness? Well, for starters, with lighting—there’s a fair number of cloudy/rainy outdoor scenes; and many of the indoor scenes are half-lit or semi-dark. The theme music is sweet, yet melancholy. The costumes tend to be on the darker end of the color spectrum and/or to have grayish undertones—there are very few “bright and cheery” tints to be seen here. Much of the action takes place right at the ocean (in this version, the Dashwoods’ cottage is located directly on a rock-covered beach); lending a sense of the grandeur and the overwhelming gravity of nature’s power to the whole story. (Okay, that sounded pretentious, but I’m trying to explain how it feels. The ocean is in almost every scene; and it’s just . . . It makes you Think About Things.)
There are so many wonderful moments in this movie where you can see the filmmakers playing with all these different elements—music, light, setting, character, and the rest—to create one magnificent whole; but I’m going to limit myself to discussing one very special scene. It comes the very end of the movie, after Elinor has returned with Marianne to Devonshire and finds out from the servants that “Mr. Ferrars is married.” Elinor, we all know, is devastated by this news—but she doesn’t talk about it with anyone. Instead, she takes a basket and walks, alone, down to the wharf to buy some shellfish.
It’s a silent scene. We don’t hear Elinor talking with the fish seller at all—we only hear that beautiful, slow, wistful Sense and Sensibility theme playing in the background. Once finished, she walks on, still alone, along the water’s edge; looking out over the sparkling, deep-blue sea as the wind whips her dress and bonnet. Her face is quiet, too . . . quiet and resigned. We don’t have to hear her thoughts. We know exactly what they are.
And that, my friends, is good filmmaking. That’s why I love this movie.
Hamlette, thank you SO MUCH for allowing me to write this guest post on one of my all-time favorite Austen movies! I had such a good time!
DISCLAIMER: I think most readers are probably familiar with this already; but if you’re not, please be aware that Willoughby’s sexual liaison with Eliza Williams is shown (not particularly graphically, but still, it IS shown) in the very first scene . . . right before the opening credits, that is. If you want to avoid this, just skip to after the credits and you won’t have any issues. (The rest of the movie has no other objectionable content, aside from kissing and some slight innuendo.)