Lush, dramatic, and beautifully acted, the BBC's three-part miniseries Sense & Sensibility
captures the languid urgency that resonates throughout the Jane Austen novel on which it is based. The miniseries begins with a seduction scene: As a young girl cautiously gives herself to a man, she asks, "But when will you come back?" He answers ominously, "Soon... very soon," and gallops off into the night. We know what she does not--that he will not return for her. But viewers do not learn until the end who the couple are, and how their actions set off a chain of events. It is inevitable that this period piece will be compared to the 1995 big screen adaptation that starred Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant, and won Thompson an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. To its credit, this later version stands up incredibly well, with actors whose looks match Austen's written description. And due to a longer running time than the film version, there is more attention paid to detail and minor characters. Sense & Sensibility
focuses on the longings of the Dashwood sisters Elinor (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne (Charity Wakefield). After their wealthy father dies, leaving his entire estate to their milquetoast half brother John (Mark Gatiss), Elinor, Marianne, their younger sister Margaret (Lucy Boynton), and their mother are left penniless. John and his shrew-like wife Fanny move into the manor, making the Dashwoods feel like unwanted guests. It is only after Fanny's handsome and kind brother Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens) arrives for a visit that Elinor feels happy again. Marianne, too, has attracted the attention of two suitors: serious and shy Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) and dashing Willoughby (Dominic Cooper). Learning that the 35-year-old colonel is interested in her, a stunned Marianne says, "You do realize that it will be impossible for me to speak to him again." Her actions are that of a little girl, running away and hiding when he comes to call on her. But her feelings for Willoughby are real: the kind of love a girl feels for the first time. The differences in the sisters' choices, actions, and secrets set the tone for an era when a perceived impropriety could ruin a woman's reputation and her family's standing in a community. Filmed in England with good use of aerial shots, the production has a sweeping feel that adds a distinct flavor to the drama. As with many Austen novels, the heroines in Sense & Sensibility
go through many misunderstandings before their happily-ever-after ending. But that ending leaves viewers satisfied that things turned out just the way that they should.
Austen fans will be delighted with the second disc in this set: Miss Austen Regrets is a perfect companion to the miniseries, starring Olivia Williams stars as the author, and Greta Scacchi--who could easily pass as Williams' real-life sibling--as Austen's sister Cassandra. The film takes a bittersweet look at Austen's life and hints at what could have been had she married one of her suitors. Smart and headstrong, Austen refuses to cave into society's notions of what a proper woman should do. While her famous heroines all paired up with dashing gentlemen, Austen found that the loves of her life were her written creations. --Jae-Ha Kim