Gentle Reader, When Kaye Dacus agreed to write one of her wonderful posts comparing two Jane Austen film adaptations, we rejoiced. In this instance, Kaye compared Sense and Sensibility, 1995 to the latest adaptation of S&S that is currently being aired on Masterpiece Classic. Watch Part II this Sunday at 9 p.m. on your local PBS station. Meanwhile, enjoy Kaye's take on both films:
When new film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are made, there is no sense in pretending we don’t compare the actors and actresses from the various versions. Since Barbara Larochelle did such a good job of reviewing the new adaptation concerning the story and the setting, I thought I’d just do what I do best: compare the actors and actresses head-to-head.
I thought about including the 1981 BBC miniseries, but since I’ve had the DVD of it for a few years (purchased as part of a set) and have never watched it, this will focus on just the 1995 Emma Thompson version in comparison to the new Andrew Davies version.
Elinor Dashwood: Emma Thompson vs. Hattie Morahan
In looks, Emma Thompson has Hattie Morahan beaten, hands-down. It has been quite a while since I’ve read the book, but I don’t remember Jane Austen specifying that Elinor is so plain as to be nearly homely. In speaking ability, Emma also has the edge---Hattie has a bit of a lisp at times that makes her sound a bit less refined and intelligent than Elinor is supposed to be. However, in all other respects, I’m going to have to give this one to Hattie Morahan, mainly because of her age---because she was only twenty-eight when filming this, while Emma Thompson was thirty-six. Neither were very close to Elinor’s nineteen when the story begins, but Hattie does look much younger when seen on the screen. Hattie also brings a little less maturity and assuredness to the role. Why is that a good thing? Because in the novel, Elinor is only nineteen years old. She doesn’t know everything, the way Emma Thompson portrayed her. Hattie also has a quietness about her that Emma Thompson tried to adopt but didn’t always manage. Winner: Hattie Morahan.
Marianne Dashwood: Kate Winslet vs. Charity Wakefield
While Charity looks younger, she is actually several years older than Kate during filming (KW was eighteen or nineteen). But age isn't really the issue here. The better portrayal of this character is soundly Kate Winslet’s. Kate Winslet brought so much more heart and intensity and, dare I say, sensibility to the role. (She weeps better too.) She also seemed much more comfortable with the lines that are straight out of the novel, whereas Charity was much more believable with the dialogue written by Andrew Davies (not that his dialogue was bad, just not what Jane penned). But I do have to say, I like the warmth that Charity as Marianne initially shows toward Colonel Brandon---the smiles when he’s turning the pages of the music for her, and thinking him the only person in the neighborhood one could have an intelligent conversation with. And I know that tumbled, curly hair is supposed to be a “sign” of the wild, carefree character, but poor Charity’s hair tends to look more frizzy (especially around her face) than a wild tumble of curls. I know that’s probably more true-to-life, but with as refined as everything else is in this film version, it’s somewhat distracting to me to see a close-up of her and have her look like she just woke up and hasn’t styled her hair yet. Winner: Kate Winslet.
Mrs. Dashwood: Gemma Jones vs. Janet McTeer
Though Gemma Jones was only fifty-three when filming the 1995 version of S&S, Janet McTeer, at forty-six, possesses the looks of the early-forties that Mrs. Dashwood is supposed to be. However, Gemma Jones’s portrayal edges her out for me. Janet McTeer towers over the actresses playing Elinor and Marianne, and comes across as very robust. Gemma Jones brought a palpable sadness and fragility to the role, fitting for a woman newly widowed---and also something that points to the same fragility that Marianne shows later in the story after her heart is broken. Winner: Gemma Jones.
Edward Ferrars: Hugh Grant vs. Dan Stevens
He didn’t have to have piercing blue eyes, a mellow baritone voice, and a nice substance to his carriage for Dan Stevens to edge out Hugh Grant in this comparison for me. (And can I just admit that until I put these two images side by side, I didn’t realize how much Dan Stevens favors Hugh Grant?) Yes, Jane describes Edward as plain, with not much grace---and Dan Stevens is far from plain---but she also described Edward as solemn and somber, not comical and flirtatious, which is how Hugh Grant’s bumbling, stuttering portrayal comes across. Winner: Dan Stevens.
Colonel Brandon: Alan Rickman vs. David Morrissey
I know there are some people out there who feel as adamantly about Alan Rickman in the role of Colonel Brandon as they do about Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. So, since I’m 100 percent in favor of equal opportunity, I’ll go ahead and offend the Alan Rickman lovers to say I feel he was completely miscast as Colonel Brandon. (Side note trivia: the first name Christoper was made up for that version of the movie.) Yes, he’s a wonderful actor, and did a good job in the role. But he wasn’t the Colonel Brandon who appears in the book. The biggest problem is that Colonel Brandon is meant to be thirty-five years old. Though David Morrissey (forty-three) is close to the age Alan Rickman was when he filmed the role (forty-nine), the difference of eight years to fourteen definitely shows in their faces---David Morrissey is mature without looking old. Alan Rickman just looked old, not to mention the fact that to me, Alan Rickman sounds like he just came from the dentist and the Novocaine hasn’t worn off yet---and he might still have some cotton stuffed up in his mouth. One of the strange things for me watching David Morrissey is how much he reminds me of a young Liam Neeson---both in looks and voice. Winner: David Morrissey.
Mr. Willoughby: Greg Wise vs. Dominic Cooper
Aside from the fact that Marianne is sixteen or seventeen years old and susceptible to an unexplainable infatuation with a dashing young man, in the new adaptation I cannot understand how she could possibly choose Willoughby over Brandon. Because the film is much more drawn out, we see Willoughby in more scenes, but rather than seeing his humor and charm, he just comes across as sinister and conniving. He rarely smiles; and lines that Greg Wise spoke with a lilt and a bit of a laugh in his voice Dominic Cooper speaks with a petulance that makes him come across as rude. And, personally, I just think Greg Wise is better looking. Winner: Greg Wise.
Head to head, there are no actors that are truly just awful in their roles. But I do have my favorites. I hope you do too, and I hope you’re looking forward to the second part as much as I am!
About the Author:
Romance novelist Kaye Dacus has been a Jane Austen lover since first reading Pride and Prejudice in high school. In college, her senior thesis focused on themes of wealth and social status in Jane Austen’s work. She blogs about the craft of fiction writing---and Jane Austen film adaptations---at www.kayedacus.com. Her debut novel, Stand-In Groom, hits shelves in January 2009.