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Thursday, April 3

Sense & Sensibility: A Head to Head Comparison

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 Her debut novel, Stand-In Groom, hits shelves in January 2009.


Anonymous said...

I thought Hugh Grant was a better Edward. I like both him and Dan in the role, but Dan was too dashing for my liking. Hugh portrayed Edward as a bit more taciturn and reserved, which is how I thought Edward was supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

I think the primary reason I prefer Dan Stevens to Hugh Grant stems from my general dislike of Hugh Grant. The first movie I ever saw him in was The Lady and the Highwaman back in 1988 (in fact, I just recently copied my old VHS recording of the original broadcast over onto DVD). He was SO bad in that movie, it's colored my opinion of him in everything else I've ever seen him in. Plus, for me, he just doesn't seem to have much depth as an actor. When he's in a movie, he's HUGH GRANT. He doesn't really have the ability to transform himself into different characters the way someone like Alan Rickman or Emma Thompson can.

Ms. Place---thank you so much for inviting me to guest-blog today! I had so much fun putting this together. :-)

Anonymous said...

While Emma Thompson is probably my favorite British actress and is certainly one of the most beautiful women out there, I can't agree that Hattie Morahan is plain bordering on homely! I think she's quite beautiful, although her looks might not be quite as striking as Miss Thompson.
But I more than agree about the new Willoughby, who is absolutely off-putting and not at all the handsome rogue that Austen described, nor can he hold a candle to Greg Wise, who was (and still is) dead sexy.

Vic said...

Ah, Kaye, it's so lovely to have your guest post sit on our blog. I do so love reading your thoughts, and I adore your fearlessness in telling us who you like and dislike. So be forewarned, I am going to disagree with you on your views about Hattie.

To me, Hattie Morahan IS Elinor. As for her being homely, I think she has a lovely complexion, eyes, and figure. Thank goodness an enormously talented actress with ordinary features like Hattie can still get a starring role. I am rather tired of seeing the beautiful ones grab every meaty part in sight. (I hate it even more when they pretend to be plain, then win an award for their performance.)

Having said that, I adore Emma Thompson. As long as she had no competition, I accepted her as Elinor, but from now on I will only see Hattie in my mind as I read the book.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've gone out and looked up some contemporary images of Hattie, I'll agree that she is pretty in real life. I guess it's how plain they've made her look in this adaptation that makes me see her as bordering on homely. Maybe homely isn't the right word. Maybe it's that she's too severe for my tastes.

To me, she looks more like how Anne Elliot was described in the beginning of Persuasion, not like how I've always pictured Elinor. Of course, it'll take me several more viewings to really pick apart what I like and dislike about everyone in this adaptation. :-)

Unknown said...

Great thoughts as usual, Kaye! :) I do disagree with you about Hattie though...I think she's way prettier and more striking than Emma Thompson (though Emma turned gorgeous when she and Kenneth divorced and she married Greg Wise...hmmm...weird... :P).
I second you on the issue w/ Charity's seems like an overdone modern perm which kind of distracts me from the time period (if that makes sense).
I am no huge Hugh Grant fan...and I certainly am enjoying Dan Stevens' portrayal of Edward WAYYYY more than Hugh's...but I think you're in denial about Dan, because he is the second (albeit slightly saner and less annoying) coming of Hugh Grant. ;-) Their resemblance (both physically and some of their mannerisms) is positively eerie!!

Georgiana Daniels said...

"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."--Kaye, my stomach hurts from laughing so hard! I think I prefer the earlier version of the movie, although I am enjoying this one too. I mostly agree with you on Alan Rickman, but by the end of the movie he won me over.

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Hi Kaye, what a delightful post. Thanks! I almost agree with all of your choices. The jury is still out for me on who wins the Col. Brandon part. Maybe neither of them!

I think that it is interesting that many of the actors in the 1995version were older than should be. I understand that Emma Thompson (who wrote the screenplay) could not get the movie made unless she stared in it! Her 2 Academy awards pulled a lot of weight in the industry. The rest of the cast was older to make her look younger?!?

I still prefer the 1995 S&S. This new film did not make me cry when Edward proposed to Elinor like the 1995 version does every time I watch it. The secondary characters are funnier and make all the difference for me. I miss the humor in this new version. Un-funny Austen adaptations are flat for me. I live for the irony and humor with my romance!

(Advance apologies to all Col. Brandon fans)Novel or movie, I still do not believe that Marianne loves Col. Brandon when they marry. I think she settled for her Mr. Collins!

P.S. Do not regret not watching the 1981 S&S. It is an odd concoction of very un-Austen dialogue, stage-like sets, and flat performances. Leave that one for when you have exhausted all of you Austen material, and are desperate.

Let no one say that I do not express my opinions decisively! LOL

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Anonymous said...

The strangest thing about this adaptation to me is how much it feels like a (less funny) expanded version of Emma Thompson's screenplay and not necessarily a new take on the novel itself. Many of the characters (Fanny and Margaret, especially, in part one) seemed to come directly from Emma Thompson/Ang Lee's vision of them rather than from the actual characterization in the novel.

Speaking of Fanny . . . does anyone know why Marianne was calling her "aunt" when she's their sister-in-law?

Even though this is beautifully filmed and acted (with the exception, perhaps, of Willoughby), as LaurelAnn mentioned, it does seem rather flat with much of the humor taken out of it, and I have a feeling when I watch part two this weekend, I'm really going to be missing Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie. Do you know that for most of the '90s I thought they were a couple in real life because I'd seen them (and loved them) together in S&S and Peter's Friends? :-)

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you on everything, particularly Hattie, Dan, Kate Winslet, and Greg Wise. I must admit though that I love Rickman and Morrisey equally. They bring different qualities to the role and I appreciate them both. However, I've yet to see the second part, so I may be swayed. Thanks for your thoughts!

Linda Merrill said...

What fun to do this side by side comparison! I've been waiting for the end to form a comparison of Hugh vs. Dan. I recently watched the 1995 version and the scene where Edward finally asked Elinor to marry is one of my favorite movie scenes and in my mind, Emma and Hugh won hands down. Emma Thompsons' outburst was like a high-pressure cooker that upon the release of a little of the pressure could no longer be contained. And his halting proposal was what I would have expected of someone described as shy, who knows he's hurt the woman he loves and is by no means convinced she'll still want him. Hattie came close to Emma, but Dan seemed much more assured in his proposal, too smooth. The scene as a whole was very rushed as well.

Alan Rickman was indeed too old, but he was so kind and I love his speaking voice, novacaine and all. The new guy was adorable too, but Alan Rickman managed to convey his adoration of Marianne by his look and facial expressions alone. The new guy seemed very caring, but distant.

I agree, this mother was too strong and because of it, there seemed to be little explanations of Elinor's maturity and stength. I always felt that part of her seriousness came from her need to help her mother. This mother didn't seem to need help. She is quite beautiful, tho.

Anonymous said...

On behalf of all of the guys here... Hattie really is a total knockout!

Emma was naturally calm and yes, very sweet to look at; but Hattie seems to me the one that feels, and feelings peeking through like that are utterly hypnotic.

And it got more-so for me, as I didnt know the story line, and my longtime JA addict wife claimed she couldnt remember it, ha ha ha.

Seems to me Hattie was helped in this by a script which rather frequently gave her another hard whack - more whacks than Emma gave Emma - and also by a Willoughby/Marianne arc that didnt dominate as in the film I just watched.

Interesting post and interesting comments above. I seem to be doing the rounds of the blogs today; it'll wear off. Right?!

Fast Pete

Anonymous said...

Wow, I agree with every single one of your character preferences, and for mostly the same reasons! (I laughed out loud at your description of Alan Rickman's voice - I've always thought it sounded like he had half a cup of phlegm caught in his throat...yuck.)

I love how much subtlety of facial expression came across with many of the actors in the new version. You could truly understand the characters' inmost feelings - from Elinor's torment to Edward's helplessness to Col. Brandon's love - just by watching their eyes. Really convincing performances, (minus those of Willoughby and Marianne...).

Thanks for posting this! I thoroughly enjoyed the comparisons.


mitchell said...

As a professional ,akeup artist who has worked runway shows, print ads and tv for years, I am astonished that anyone could find the delicious Hattie Morahan plain and the incredibly ordinary Emma Thompson, for all her talent beautiful. Eye in the beholder, i suppose. In the Elizabeth Garvie (1980?) and Jennifer Ehle (1995) versions of Pride and Prejudice, both women were lovelier than the actors who played Jane.
I thought Hugh Grant was really badly cast in S and S, but then he rarely plays anything other than Hugh Grant.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe I've discovered this blog so late--it's quite addicting! I definitely agree with the Greg Wise/Dominic Cooper comparison. Greg Wise was so striking and convincing you could actually relate to Marianne's anguish when he betrayed her. I actually felt sorry for Willoughby in the end. It showed that Willoughby was not just charming, he was loving too. Cooper's Willoughby just seems evil; and sorry to say but his looks don't help either.

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Lauren said...

just had to add, YAY Gemma Jones! Glad she won, I felt the same way too.

Sandra said...

I have to say that I agree with you on every "winner" that you picked! Although, I thought it was very hard to chose between Kate and Charity. Kate wouldn't have fitted it the 2008 version at all, but I think that might be because she is in a league of her own. I still cannot decide which one I like the better...

Tessa Quin said...

I haven't seen this new version yet, but I must say that David Morrisey will have to do a heck of a job to overthrow my adoration of Alan Rickman in the role of Col. Brandon. Rickman's eyes are enough to make me melt on the coldest day. Okay, he looks a bit too old (did too when playing Severus Snape), but just look at the two pictures you put side-by-side! Alan Rickman is very drool-worthy there and Morrisey just doesn't do it for me (pre-watching the film).

Marae said...

Well I just watched the 2008 BBC version again, and I have to say that I like the Davies version location choices which made it all feel much more real. The emphases on certain events while entertaining at times was a bit much at times, like the very beginning - ugh! I really missed all the dialogue that I know by heart. That is one thing I loved about the Thompson's version. She integrated the words Austen chose so well.

Thompson vs. Morahan - Really I think if Morahan could have spoken like Thompson she would have been perfect. With that being said - Thompson.

Winslet vs. Wakefield - Hands down Winslet. She has a depth of emotions in her face that I did not see Wakefield pull off. Wakefield was very charming.

Jones vs. McTeer - Oh Jones by far, she didn't have to say a word and yet you could see in her face the pain she was in. WOW!

Grant vs. Stevens - Why it pains me to say this I think Stevens was by far the better actor. Again - his movements and facial expressions were right on.

Rickman vs. Morissey - Oh I LOVED Alan Rickman, He does look older but he carried himself much like a colonel. His presence - you could feel his pain and his love. I just love Morrissey - he is a terrific actor no matter what I see him in. But for me Rickman was amazing.

Wise vs. Cooper. - Hard choice I like this but don't like that about each of them. Even though we see a lot of of Coooper I still and drawn to Wise.

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything Kaye Dacus has expressed in her above comparison.

To me, Hattie Morahan IS and will always be the Elinor Dashwood of my imagination, as will Dan Stevens for Edward Ferrars. They just brought some intangible quality to the characters which had been missing for me in the 1995movie, and which pushed them up to being my second-favourite Jane Austen couple.

Their chemistry was amazing, and I found the proposal scene to be a proper culmination of everything the series has been building up to between these two characters. I also LOVED the very last scene where you can see Elinor and Edward vastly happy and content in their homey country parish :)

While no-body could ever hope to top Kate Winslet's performance as Marianne, I thought Charity Wakefield was the perfect Marianne for this version, and brought a warmth, wit and believability to the role.

David Morrisey is far and away the best Colonel Brandon...I loved your description of Alan Rickman's speaking voice, and completely agree with it.

Greg Wise is also far and away the best Willoughby, although I might have to put that down to Andrew Davies rendering of his character in the 2008 version; while Greg Wise was very charismatic and warm, Dominic Cooper is very much the bad boy, and Andrew exploited that side of his character more, with both his appearance and attitude.

I have no complaints against any of the interpretations of the secondary characters...I am particularly fond of Lucy Boynton as Margaret and the introduction of Anne Steele, who provides much of the humour with her heavy accent and constant talk of 'beaux'.

To conclude, what really pushed this adaptation out on top for me was four things:

1. The sublime use of facial expressions from all the can really see and emphasise with the emotions each character is going through.
2. More believable/relatable
3. The different interpretations of characters and scenes
4. Dan Stevens!!!!