TV Review: 'Sense and Sensibility' is faithful to novel
Hattie Morahan, left, and Charity Wakefield are sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in the PBS "Masterpiece" production of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility."
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Jane Austen's first published novel, "Sense and Sensibility," seems as fresh today as it must have in 1811. The complex story of courtship, told with wit, irony and humanity, is a great read almost 200 years later, and its characters are among the most memorable in English literature.
The novel focuses on two Dashwood sisters, Elinor (representing sense, or good judgment) and Marianne (representing sensibility, or emotion). In the excellent 1995 movie, directed by Ang Lee, a level-headed Emma Thompson and impetuous Kate Winslet brought them to memorable life.
- When: 9 p.m. Sunday and April 6 on WQED.
- Starring: Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer.
This two-part, three-hour PBS "Masterpiece" movie -- the last of the series' presentations of the six Austen novels -- gets off to a most shaky start. Amid the glow of red lights, a couple are making love. We can't identify them until much later in the story, but lovers of Austen may well ask: Have the movie makers abandoned their sense and let their sensibility run wild? An even worse fear for those who love the book: Has this Jane Austen novel been reimagined as a bodice ripper?
Almost immediately, the movie gets on the right track and stays there. Hattie Morahan (Elinor) and Charity Wakefield (Marianne) are almost unknown in the States, but both make the roles their own.
At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Dashwood, their father, dies, leaving the manor to his son, John (Mark Gatiss of "The Wind in the Willows"), and trusting that John will take care of his stepmother (Janet McTeer) and three half sisters (the youngest, Margaret, is played by Lucy Boynton). With the encouragement of his odious wife, Fanny (Claire Skinner), John leaves his female relatives nearly destitute, and they go to live with a distant cousin in a Devonshire cottage.
Along the way, Elinor attracts the attention of Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars (played winningly by Dan Stevens, but with too many Hugh Grant mannerisms), and Marianne attracts two beaux -- Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), who is dependable but twice her age; and Willoughby (Dominic Cooper of "The History Boys"), whom she prefers.
At different points in the story, both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby carry an ailing Marianne to safety during downpours, and both men display admirable qualities and puzzling behavior. The rivals dislike each other, and in a scene mentioned in passing in the novel, they even fight a duel.
Both sisters lose their loves, and both eventually find lasting love. One of the pleasures of the story is that it's unclear which of the three men are scoundrels and which are not, and which sister will end up with which gentleman. Yet, when the plot twists have been unraveled, the ending seems perfect.
This BBC and WGBH Boston co-production is a beautiful imagining of the houses, countryside and costumes of Austen's Britain. As written by Andrew Davies ("Bleak House," "Northanger Abbey," "Emma," "Pride and Prejudice"), the movie seldom strays from the novel. The movie -- as Jane Austen might have described it -- is an amiable entertainment.
First Published March 27, 2008 12:00 am