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Series / Sense and Sensibility

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The BBC has adapted Sense and Sensibility as a television miniseries three times in 1971, 1981 and 2008.

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    The 1971 miniseries

A four part miniseries broadcast in January 1971. It starred Joanna David as Elinor Dashwood and Ciaran Madden as Marianne Dashwood. It was never broadcast in the United States, but has since been released on DVD.

This miniseries provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Youngest Dashwood sister Margaret is not present in this adaptation.
  • Call-Back: After Willoughby leaves, there is a scene of Marianne sitting out in the garden with Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor standing at the door looking out at her and discussing how she is starting to recover from the disappointment. After the news of Edward's supposed marriage, there is a similar scene with Elinor sitting out in the garden while Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne stand at the door discussing how time will heal the wound of her disappointment.
  • Cry into Chest: Marianne and Elinor both get one. Marianne cries into Elinor's shoulder after she receives Willoughby's letter explaining his engagement. Elinor briefly cries on Colonel Brandon's shoulder with relief after Marianne begins to heal from her illness.
  • Demoted to Extra: Though he isn't a huge character in the book, Mr. Palmer is only briefly featured in one scene - the ball where the Palmers are first introduced - and is never seen again. Therefore, we get none of the character development from the novel when the Dashwoods become better acquainted him during their stay at Cleveland.
  • Large Ham: The majority of the cast members are guilty of this to varying degrees. Ciaran Madden (Marianne) and Michael Aldridge (Sir John Middleton) milked it more than anyone. However, given their characters, it isn't too shocking.
  • Shout-Out: During the final scene, Colonel Brandon brings Marianne some books. One of them is The Mysteries of Udolpho, best known for its role in another Jane Austen novel.
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: Especially obvious in this version, since a couple scenes involve going from inside Barton Cottage to the flower garden outside.

    The 1981 miniseries

A seven part miniseries first broadcast in February 1981. It starred Irene Richard as Elinor Dashwood and Tracy Childs as Marianne Dashwood.

This miniseries provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: This adaptation does a good job of setting up Elinor and Edward's love in a believable way. There are several scenes in the first episode with the two of them discussing art, drawing and various other subjects.
  • Adapted Out: Margaret Dashwood is not present in this adaptation either.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Eleanor and Marianne dress this way, mirroring their Red Oni, Blue Oni tendencies. If not in white or cream, Eleanor is in some shade of blue and Marianne in pink. A symbolic color swap occurs for Marianne when she returns home after her illness. She is seen receiving some blue fabric and in her last scenes wears a blue pelisse over a blue-patterned dress to indicate her changed demeanor.

     The 2008 miniseries

A three part miniseries first broadcast on the BBC in January 2007. It was later broadcast in two parts on Masterpiece in the United States. It stars Hattie Morahan as Elinor and Charity Wakefield as Marianne. Andrew Davies (of the Pride and Prejudice (1995)) wrote the screenplay.

This miniseries provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Marianne is aghast when informed that Brandon is falling for her because while she likes him as a friend (and as the only person she can enjoy a conversation with in Devonshire) she has no intention of marrying someone twice her age.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The 2008 miniseries draws heavily from the 1995 film, and with an extra hour of screentime is able to expand on what even the film couldn't, such as relationships between the male characters, along with Eliza and her baby.
    • Margaret's role is expanded, though rather than being a tomboy she's more of a proto-Jane Austen with her ambition to take up writing.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novel, Eliza Williams, though an object of pity and sympathy, was only spoken of in the third person. She's given a few scenes here, showing Willoughby persuading her to sleep with him. Later, she has a conversation with Brandon where she hopes Willoughby will return if he meets their child, only to be told that Willoughby has married a wealthy woman.
  • Better Partner Assertion: Marianne has two suitors: the older, reliable Colonel Brandon and the dashing flirt (and secretly a rake) John Willoughby. Brandon is suspicious...
    Willoughby: Well, then, let me ask you this... What are your intentions with regard to her?
    Brandon:Whatever they are, they are entirely honourable. Can you say the same thing?
    Willoughby: I cannot be blamed if Marianne prefers my company to yours. We are closer in age, in temperament, in taste, in short, in everything. I commiserate with you, but there it is. And to answer your question, yes, of course my intentions are entirely honourable.
  • Birds of a Feather: Marianne and Brandon's shared romantic sensibilities. Marianne recognizes this quite a bit earlier in this version when she admires Brandon's devotion to his lost love for so many years. She later returns to this theme after her illness, noting that despite Willoughby's taste in the arts, Brandon's actions show him as the true romantic.
  • Blatant Lies: Marianne declares an "urgent need for fresh air and exercise" to escape Brandon after learning he has feelings for her.
  • Cathartic Chores: Elinor takes over from a housemaid who's been instructed by Fanny to beat an already-clean carpet. Her own whack is pretty forceful.
  • Change the Uncomfortable Subject: When Robert Ferrars gracelessly praises about Willoughby's choice of the rich Miss Grey while eating with the Dashwoods, Brandon quickly changes the conversation and earns a look of gratitude from Marianne.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Marianne dresses in cheerful pastels, while Elinor wears more subdued colors.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Brandon, after noting that Marianne's interpretation of a piano piece disregarded the written tempo, tells her that it was "original". Given that he had told Elinor how he admired the strong feeling she played with, he did mean it as high praise, but his reserve made it seem like a backhanded compliment. She's offended until he visits the cottage later with some advanced sheet music and tells her that it's quite within her talents.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the book, Mr Palmer is a jerk whose "jerk facade" comes down when he realizes how unhappy the Dashwood ladies are in London, but in this series he gets very little to do except read his newspaper and is barely interested when nobody can find Marianne.
  • Distressed Woodchopping: Edward Ferrars chops wood dressed in a thin white shirt in the rain to vent his frustration when he's staying at the Dashwoods. Edward's woodchopping would have been less enthusiastic if he wasn't torn between his secret engagement and his love of Elinor.
  • Empathic Environment: Mostly the weather is grey and rainy to reflect the grief and heartache experienced by the main characters. (England has an advantage in filming such scenes.)
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Edward showing up on horseback, making no fuss over his arrival, and offering to help Elinor beat carpets.
    • Willoughby's is in the first scene of the series when he's persuading a young lady (who later turns out to be Eliza Williams) to sleep with him, and then riding away with only a vague promise to return "soon."
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted with Elinor, who has red hair but is the more sensible of the two sisters.
  • First-Name Basis: Fanny Dashwood addresses her mother-in-law as Mary. This serves the dual purpose of not having two Mrs. Dashwoods onscreen simultaneously and demonstrating Fanny is obnoxious by having her be overfamiliar.
  • Flat Character: Lady Middleton, deliberately. Her lack of personality is a key trait.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Greater emphasis is placed on Marianne and Brandon getting to know and like each other. She quite enjoys his company until Mrs. Dashwood mentions that he'd make a good husband, at which point Marianne draws back sharply.
    • In the first episode, Marianne expresses surprise when Elinor says she isn't engaged to Edward, saying she was sure they'd agreed in secret. Edward is secretly Lucy Steele.
  • Fright-Induced Bunkmate: Margaret takes refuge in Elinor's bed because she was frightened by a noise outside.
  • Get Out!: Elinor takes a few more words to say this when Willoughby turns up at the end of Marianne's illness in attempt to excuse (but not apologize for) his behavior, but her meaning is plain enough.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The series opens with what amounts to a softcore sex scene between a young couple, faces unseen, who turn out to be Willoughby and Eliza. The attraction between all the lead couples is played up as well.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: After being supplanted in Marianne's interest, Brandon pulls Willoughby aside at a dance and warns him that he'd better not fool around with her heart. Willoughby tells him to push off.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Mrs. Jennings brings Marianne a glass of wine and tries to console her when she learns of Willoughby's engagement, but Marianne ignores her. When Elinor urges her to "exert herself", she lashes out at her, saying "Happy Elinor, you have no idea of what I suffer!" Elinor (who has in fact suffered greatly with the knowledge of Edward's secret engagement) is taken aback and does not respond, but after Mrs. Jennings leaves and Marianne is lying sobbing in bed, she picks up the glass and downs it in one gulp.
  • The Ingenue: Marianne is played like this. The audience is shown Willoughby's true character sooner than in the book, making his conduct towards Marianne suspicious from the start, while she is innocently smitten and suspects nothing of his true conduct.
  • Intimate Healing: Brandon is so frantic to get Marianne warmed up after her collapse in a rainstorm that he begins to unlace her dress before catching himself and jumping back so that Elinor can do it.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Willoughby unrepentantly seduces and ditches a young lady in the very first scene. When he kisses Marianne in Allenham, however, he seems remorseful for it and quickly takes her home, and seeks Mrs. Dashwood's permission to propose. Then the first scene catches up with him.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone:
    • When the Dashwood sisters are leaving Norland, Edward comes upon them packing in the library, and Marianne suddenly conceives of an urgent need for her and Margaret to go talk to their mother.
    • Mrs Dashwood takes her daughters on a long walk to leave Marianne and Willoughby alone so he can propose to her.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Margaret is evidently sharpening her wit to follow her desire to be an in-universe Austen, starting with her suggestion that they poison Fanny.
  • Nice Guy: Edward has a very pleasant and easygoing manner, is sympathetic to the Dashwoods (particularly Margaret), and refuses to break his engagement no matter what threats are laid on him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Brandon when he realizes that Marianne is going to fall in love with Willoughby.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Mrs. Ferrars' threat to disinherit Edward if he marries Lucy is shown onscreen. He steadfastly refuses.
  • Pet the Dog: One way Edward demonstrates his kindness, in contrast to Fanny, is by befriending Margaret.
  • Politically Correct History: Mildly. In the novel, not much is made of Eliza Williams' age except inasmuch that it made her naive—teen marriages were not common, but were not seen as illegal or immoral (as with Lydia's case in Pride and Prejudice). In this series, Eliza being just 15 is a major part of Brandon and Elinor's outrage and disgust and makes his attempt to evade responsibility seem even more reprehensible.
  • Say My Name: Brandon yells Marianne's name several times while searching for her.
  • Scenery Porn: There are many long shots of the dramatic seaside cliffs which Barton Cottage is situated on.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: When threatened with disinheritance by his mother, Edward steadfastly refuses to break the engagement with Lucy. Though he had long since stopped loving her, he leaves the house with her when she is banished.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Edward gets a scene chopping wood in the rain. Word of God is that this was Andrew Davies' homage to the memetic scene from his version of Pride and Prejudice where Mr Darcy goes for a swim, but it seems not to have the same effect on viewers, nor on Elinor.
  • Shipper on Deck: John Dashwood tries to push Elinor towards Colonel Brandon both because Brandon is rich and it would prevent her from marrying Edward.
  • Slut-Shaming: Fanny believes that Marianne will be considered "damaged goods" as a result of her broken relationship with Willoughby.note 
  • Sword Fight: The opening of part three features a duel between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby, presumably over Willoughby's conduct involving Eliza, intercut with Marianne writing to Willoughby. Brandon wounds Willoughby, but chooses to spare his life.