Emma Thompson's Sense & Sensibility (1995) has always been among my favorite movies. It's a film I watch when I need cheering up, when I want a cozy night in, or when I just want to watch something familiar. So when I learned of BBC's 2008 adaptation of the book, I didn't think it could possibly measure up to my beloved 1995 film. But I was quite wrong. It's not overstating it to say that this series FAR surpassed my expectations, and is now my favorite version of this classic story.
The casting for this series was great. I loved that they kept all the characters ages from the book, especially in Elinor Dashwood and Col. Brandon's cases. I have no problem with the older Elinor and Brandon in the '95 version, but when a studio is creating a film that's already been done by someone else, it's important to make it unique to itself. While the 95' version was more concerned about getting actors who could play their roles well regardless of their age (which they did), the 2008 version was focused on casting characters who were both well portrayed and accurate to the book's established ages for them. I was pleased to see the characters the way Jane Austen originally envisioned them to be.
Going into this series, I was determined that I wouldn't like the actresses for Elinor and Marianne nearly as much as I loved Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. However, within the first twenty or so minutes of the series, I had to admit to myself that Hattie Morahan (Elinor) and Charity Wakefield (Marianne) are now my favorite versions of these characters:
Hattie Morahan really did a good job of portraying Elinor's reserved nature, while still displaying the internal struggle going on inside of her. This can be difficult to do, as we need to believe that Elinor truly is going through emotional torment, without the overuse of single person scenes. We the audience need to be able to see her holding back her struggle in the company of other people, enough that we can notice it, but not so much that it's blatantly obvious to the other characters in the room. Otherwise, it feels as if the eventual emotional breakdown comes out of nowhere. Hattie did a remarkable job of finding this balance, displaying her emotion using her eyes and body language, rather than just her words.
I believe the bias that was altered the most for me, was my preference for Kate Winslet as Marianne. Being one of my favorite actresses, I was determined that no one would dethrone her. I was, however, very pleasantly surprised by Charity Wakefield. She portrayed Marianne's sweetness just as much as her romance, a quality in Winslet's Marianne that was sorely lacking in the original film. She's much more adorable and good-hearted, making you truly sympathize with what her character goes through.
In the novel, Marianne is much more generous towards Col. Brandon and still regards him as a friend despite her love for Willoughby. As much as I love Winslet's portrayal, I always felt that she was way too harsh and mean towards Col. Brandon. You truly see the friendship they form before he makes his interest known in the 2008 version, and by the end of the story, you don't feel as if Marianne is settling for Brandon, but that she's deeply in love with him.
I do have a couple of minor qualms with some of the characters cast, mostly in Willoughby's case. Dominic Cooper does a good job of portraying the right personality for Willoughby in many ways, but he lacks the charm that Greg Wise (1995) possessed, the very aspect of his character that is supposed to make him so difficult to hate. I can appreciate the different approach they took with his character, but I personally felt that he lacked that certain something that makes Willoughby so irresistible and dashing. However, Dominic and Charity have fantastic chemistry, which makes up for many of the areas where his character falls short.
Of all the storylines in this film, Elinor and Edwards' romance is by far my favorite (especially considering how much of a Dan Stevens fan I am). Going into this version, I was really hoping that it would include Edward's first trip to Barton Cottage from the novel, and was elated that they followed through on it. This particular scene really gives us a better glimpse into Edward as a character; He clearly has some form of depression and anxiety, which he refers to as his "dark moments."
His character never comes off as bumbling or socially inept, but as a man who can be a ray of sunshine one moment and a cloud of darkness the next. This aspect of his personality really helps us to sympathize with him better in regards to his mess with Lucy Steele and Elinor. Better yet, his sweet disposition is highlighted much more, truly allowing us to see why Elinor falls in love with him in the first place. You really see how kindred they are in spirit.
The last thing I want to touch on about this series is its film style. Next to its melodious soundtrack, the aesthetic of this story is very transporting. I loved the seaside symbolism and imagery, displayed through the shells that Margaret collects, and the many stunning scenes of waves crashing against the shore. The atmosphere of Barton Cottage heavily differs from that of Norland, and the director taking advantage of displaying the many walks, caves, and shores in Devonshire truly demonstrates the more simplistic yet joyful lifestyle the Dashwoods end up living.
We see more of their domestic life as well, showing us how much they truly had to adapt from their old comfortable way of life. In short, this series does a good job of transitioning the Dashwood family from their borderline aristocratic life, to a much more humble state of living. We see how this experience changes them for the better, makes all of them much more sympathetic and loving, and deeply appreciative of the things they have.
I saw this especially when Mrs. Dashwood suggests two estates that they could move to, both far beyond their means in an almost laughable way. Elinor is the first to point out that they have to "think very differently" from the way they were raised to be. By the end of the series, Mrs. Dashwood has fully embraced their new lifestyle, and she finds joy in what she can.
I cannot recommend this series enough. It is very true to the BBC formula for costume dramas, something I think fans of shows like Downton Abbey will appreciate. It is flavourful, well-acted, and ever true to the spirit and storyline of its source material. Jane Austen fans everywhere should watch and praise this film for its escapism and beautiful romance. If you love this book, you won't be disappointed.
Have you seen Sense & Sensibility (2008)? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments down below!