Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sniffing the coffee beans:

Sense and Sensibility

I watched the new BBC production of Sense & Sensibility a few days ago. I'll try to find a video clip to post, so you can get a taste of it.

I have in my possession two earlier dramatizations: One from 1981 BBC, a 4 hour version. The other is the Emma Thompson version of some ten years ago, with Kate Winslet as Marianne. So I could compare the current production with these two earlier ones. And I must say, it was quite a good adaptation. I thought the delineation of the two sisters, the mother, was really very much true to the novel. Mr. Edward Ferrars, Elinor's lover, was also well cast and represented. The only problem I had was with Colonel Brandon, the thirty five year old man who falls for seventeen year old Marianne. Austen makes him out to be an excellent person, decent, caring, knowledgeable, patient, good "husband" material. However, he is not dashing or exciting. This adaptation made him a Byronic hero: moody, brooding, taciturn, slightly condescending (something that would not be acceptable to Austen by any means). In the attempt to romanticize him, the script writer has him challenge Willoughby, Marianne's feckless lover, to a duel. It hardly makes sense. Not in the plot, not in the character of the man that Austen created.

Since the great success of Pride And Prejudice, the people who translate Austen's novels to the screen, have been trying to inject more explicit sexuality and passion into the story. This strategy worked well in P&P. maybe because of Darcy's passion which was very palpable though concealed. All the dramatiser had to do was just to move the curtain a bit so that passion could be more revealed. But Colonel Brandon was no Darcy and it seems odd that this version tried to make him into one.

Another plot intervention that bothered me was Marianne's illness. Marianne, at the end of the novel, has wasted herself so much in her heartbreak over Willoughby's treachery, that she became severely ill and was actually on the verge of dying. For some reason, this adaptation made light of her illness, having her recover in a matter of hours, almost. It was a strange misinterpretation and I couldn't see the merit in it.

But on the whole it was a pretty enjoyable experience. I am also well aware that any adaptation is bound to disappoint, no matter how successful. As a reader, I have formed own understanding and expectations from the novel. The dramatiser has other notions, other imperatives. So there. The eternal gap of desire between the potential, what can be and what is.


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