Sense and Sensibility
by Del Harvey
Airing March 30 and April 6, 2008, on PBS.
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On Sunday, March 30th, PBS continues to present new adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic novels with a visually stunning version of Sense and Sensibility. A testament to Austen’s durability, this marks the second version presented during this season on PBS alone. But each variation seems to bring out hidden aspects of Ms. Austen’s excellent prose, as a flower unfolds upon opening, revealing greater beauty and more subtleties and complexities with each new telling. PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre is known for quality films and series, and this season’s selection of Austen’s writings is no exception. Adapted by Andrew Davies (Bleak House), the quality for Sense and Sensibility begins with the script and carries straignt on through with crew—director John Alexander—and cast, including Hattie Morahan as Elinor and Charity Wakefield as Marianne.
The story revolves around sisters Elinor (Hattie Morahan, The Golden Compass) and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield, Jane Eyre), who have quite opposite approaches when it comes to the pursuit of love. One is tempered and rational, while the other is impulsive and full of youthful passion. In the story, the sisters attract a trio of suitors, including the handsome Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens, The Line of Beauty), the heroic Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey, State of Play), and the effusive John Willoughby (Dominic Cooper, The History Boys). But are the men as genuine as they seem? This is the question as we watch Austen’s romantic tale full unfold.
The mini-series will air in two parts on consecutive Sundays beginning the evening of March 30th and concluding the evening of April 6th. Check your television guide for local showtimes.
If you are unfamiliar with this particular Austen novel, we have provided, below, the story for Episode One, taken from the Masterpiece Theatre site. To be blunt, this has been provided in an attempt to whet your appetite to watch this very fine adaptation of a truly wonderful Victorian novel. Enjoy!
Episode One: Seduced by his promises that he will take care of her, a young woman gives herself over to an unknown man. At daybreak he rides off, leaving her to wonder when—or whether—she’ll see him again.
At Norland Park, Mr. Henry Dashwood summons his son, John, to his bedside. John promises his dying father that he will continue to provide for his stepmother and half-sisters—Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. But John’s wife, Fanny, has other ideas. Soon after Mr. Dashwood’s death, it becomes clear that Norland Park isn’t big enough for both Dashwood families.
Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars, arrives to visit Norland. His grace and unassuming ways quickly endear Edward to the Dashwoods, and he strikes up a friendship with Elinor.
Observing the growing intimacy between Edward and Elinor, Mrs. Dashwood secretly hopes for an engagement. But Fanny quickly sets her straight, informing Mrs. Dashwood that Mrs. Ferrars would never approve such a match.
To spare Elinor, Mrs. Dashwood decides to remove her family immediately to a cottage in Devonshire that belongs to a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton. As the Dashwoods prepare to leave Norland, Edward comes to say goodbye to Elinor. Neither seems sure when they will meet again.
Barton Cottage is a far cry from Norland, but Elinor assures her mother and sisters that it will soon feel like home. At a welcome dinner at Barton Park, the amiable Sir John introduces the Dashwoods to his wife, Lady Middleton; her irrepressible mother, Mrs. Jennings; and his old friend, the distinguished Colonel Brandon.
From their first meeting, Brandon appears taken with Marianne. But when Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor suggest a possible match, Marianne is horrified. At age 17, she believes that the 35-year-old Brandon is far too old for her. When he arrives for a visit, she drags Meg outside for a walk to avoid him.
Soon the girls are caught in a rainstorm, and Marianne falls down an embankment. Just then, a young man on a white steed races to her rescue and carries her back to the cottage. The dashing hero is John Willoughby, and he asks to come back to check on Marianne the following day.
While Willoughby is visiting, Colonel Brandon arrives to check on Marianne’s condition. Though the men know each other, their greeting is awkward, and Brandon quickly departs.
Soon, Willoughby is visiting Marianne every day, and they grow close over their shared love of romantic poetry and literature. Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor begin to wonder whether the two are secretly engaged, and Elinor wonders to herself whether she will ever see Edward again.
Brandon invites the Dashwoods and the Middletons to his estate at Delaford, but is called away at the last minute on an urgent personal matter. The group sets out for a ride anyway, and when Willoughby and Marianne return alone to Barton Park several hours later, tongues are wagging.
Finally, during one of his visits, Willoughby requests private audiences with both Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood for the following day. But the day does not bring the announcement the women had hoped for. Instead, Willoughby explains that he has been called away from Devonshire suddenly and does not expect to return for at least a year.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a screenwriter and filmmaker living in Chicago.
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