Friday, November 12, 2010

Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Sense and Sensibility was made into a seven-part TV serial by the BBC in 1981. Each part is roughly twenty-five minutes long. As part of the Everything Austen Challenge II, I decided to watch this version of Sense and Sensibility as it is the only version I haven’t seen. As a disclaimer, the 1995 movie is not only one of my favorite Austen adaptations, but also one of my favorite movies of all time.

First of all, I didn’t like the short segments the serial was broken up into. The way the segments worked out, the writers tweaked the storyline to have one segment be about Willoughby, one about Edward, etc. These segments did not give the appropriate build-up to understand why Elinor had feelings for Edward or why Marianne was attracted to Willoughby. Everything seemed abbreviated to fit it into a short segment.

Although this version is longer than the 1995 movie (but shorter than the 2008 mini-series), poor Margaret, the third Dashwood sister, is completely deleted. Most other characters appear. I particularly liked Diana Fairfax who played Mrs. Dashwood, I thought she did an excellent job and it was my favorite portrayal Mrs. Dashwood.

I know this sounds mean, but Irene Richard who played Elinor had some truly terrible teeth. It reminded me of Austen Powers and the joke about bad British teeth. Irene looked like she was continually trying to hide her teeth throughout the series and whenever she did smile, it made me almost fall out of my chair. Tracey Childs did a fair job as Marianne.

Bosco Hogan as Edward Ferrars was unattractive and there was no chemistry with Richard’s Elinor. Robert Swann was a pretty good Colonel Brandon, but Peter Woodward as John Willoughby could not hold a candle to Greg Wise as Willoughby in the 1995 version. Julia Chambers was actually a pretty good Lucy Steele. Instead of always realizing something was amiss with her as in the 1995 version, she actually seemed like a nice girl. If I didn’t know the storyline, her betrayal of Edward would have been a complete surprise. It brought a different aspect to the story.

I think overall this adaptation was poorly written, especially in comparison to Emma Thompson’s excellent adaptation in the shorter 1995 movie. The beginning of the movie in the carriage has very awkward dialogue and camera angles. Other scenes were also very awkward, the one that comes to mind is Fanny’s screaming at Anne’s telling her about Lucy and Edward’s engagement. It was such bad acting that it was actually quite funny. Another awkward scene is when Edward comes to the cottage at the end, Elinor runs off while Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood just laugh at Edward. The scene pales in comparison to the quiet power of the same scene in the 1995 version. The ending was very odd with Colonel Brandon giving Marianne some books and calling her “my child.” It did not seem romantic at all and was rather abrupt.

Overall, I think the 1981 mini-series was a poor adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. It was interesting to watch, but both the 2008 mini-series and 1995 movie were much better. The 1995 movie is still my favorite adaptation.

This was my ninth item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.


  1. What a sad surprise from a BBC production! Not that Margaret ever played a big part in the story but to cut her out entirely is just strange. I love the 1995 version, as well, although I did think that Thompson was too old to play Elinor.

  2. I thought so too. (poor adaptation)

    I think the 1995 is my fave too.

  3. I need to re-watch '95 and I've yet to see the '08 version. Actually, I think I've got this one as well. So many DVDs that need watching, so little time! :'( Thanks to you, at least I know in which order I should see them ...

    Old adaptations can be a bit hit-and-miss sometimes. The '78 version of Wuthering Heights, though true to the book from what I could gather, had me so bored I actually went and cleaned the kitchen and had it on in the background to get through it - and me preferring cleaning over watching a costume drama is unheard of! Saying that, BBC's Jane Eyre from early 70s and early 80s were pretty darn good. :)