Part I: Sense and Sensibility, cont’d
This afternoon was reserved for S&S95, also known as “the Emma Thompson version.” The short version of my ‘report’ is that I have two things to say about this movie. First, that I adore it. Second, that I don’t adore it.
Let me explain.
I adore it as a movie. It has characters that I get emotionally involved with, witty dialogue and an engaging plot. It’s got an all-star cast, all of whom do a wonderful job with what they are given. It’s beautiful to look at and the music is lovely. All in all, it is a wonderful movie and I just love it. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it.
But (and this is a very big but) I do not adore it as an adaptation. I saw it before I read the book and had no idea just how much it differs from the book. But, then I did go and read the book, and was really shocked at how different Thompson’s script is from Austen’s text. The actors (except for Kate Winslet, who is absolutely outstanding here) are all too old for their roles and, as someone who knows the book, this can be disconcerting. Then there’s the story itself. In her commentary to the DVD, Thompson says that there are only 5 lines of dialogue lifted directly from the novel. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Thompson leaves out Nancy Steele, Mrs. Ferrars and Lady Middleton. Young Eliza is called “Beth” and her backstory is changed. The elder Eliza’s story is changed too — in the book she is wealthy and because of that is married off to Brandon’s older brother, but here she is too poor for the Colonel himself to be allowed to marry. There is no Miss Morton (Mrs. Jennings does refer to a Miss Morton in this film, but she is not the same Miss Morton whom the book’s Mrs. Ferrars wants as a daughter-in-law). Thompson takes Margaret (who is so obscure in the book that she is left out of S&S71 and S&S81 completely and really isn’t missed) and makes her a prominent character. She gives us a Mr. Palmer who is more likable than Austen’s. And, most important of all, she removes the scene at Cleveland where Willoughby explains everything. This is, as far as I am concerned, the most important change Thompson made, and it is not a good one. The book’s Willoughby is a very toxic character. He is arguably Austen’s worst villain. But Thompson’s script makes him rather sympathetic. Over the years, I have come across people who have never read the book and who feel sorry for Willoughby. I did (a little bit) when I saw the movie, but I don’t now, and never will again.
So, in short, if you want to watch a wonderful movie, do yourself a favor and choose S&S95. But if you want a wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, choose something else.