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Loveuary and Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Welcome, friends, to the last post of JASP's blog series, Loveuary and Jane Austen. Over the past few weeks, we have reviewed Hallmark's four Austen-inspired February releases.


Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret, Elinor (Deborah Ayorinde), and Marianne (Bethany Antonia).


 

Greetings, Janeites!


With the final installment in Hallmark's Loveuary series and February coming to an end, so too must this series end. I have loved getting to experience these Austen-inspired films with all of you, and what better way to close than with a direct adaptation of Jane Austen's first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, featuring a talented, diverse cast. Before viewing, I did not know what to expect. Could this new adaptation live up to its predecessors? Would it do the brilliant novel justice? I was encouraged by the words of Tia A. Smith, Creative Producer of the film, who said the production process was driven by two goals: "respect the work and do something creatively refreshing." With that in mind, I gathered my journal and pen and settled down to watch the film. The plot of Sense and Sensibility is far from foreign to many of you, but for those who may not have read the novel or need a bit of a refresher, let's start with a bit of a synopsis, shall we?


(Brief) Synopsis


When the Dashwood family is displaced after the death of their father, sisters– the reserved, gentle Elinor and passionate, outspoken Marianne– must find their way, traversing the worlds of love, loss, and societal obligation in late 18th century England. Over the course of the novel, both girls learn a great deal about each other and most of all, themselves.

(Intrigued? Good!)


First Impressions & Overall Thoughts


The film begins with a prologue, detailing the events of the first two pages of the novel as an ill Mr. Henry Dashwood requests that his son, John, provide for his step-mother and step-sisters after the former's death. John agrees, but his ambitious wife, Fanny, soon convinces him to be much less generous than he promised his father. Viewers are soon reintroduced to the Dashwood family as they stand on the steps of Norland Park, awaiting the arrival of John and Fanny, who are ready to swoop in and claim the titles of master and mistress of the grand estate. It is in this first glimpse with dialogue that we notice the striking level-headedness (sense) of the eldest daughter, Elinor, and the similar ardent dispositions (sensibilities) of Marianne and their mother, Mrs. Dashwood. There are numerous instances of this that occur throughout the film, which beautifully illustrate the motif found in the novel.


I believe the moment calls for a quick etymology discussion. While the word "sense" has kept its traditional meaning into the modern age, the historical definition of "sensibility" differs from what present-day readers may think. At the turn of the 19th century, sensibility, rather than distinguishing one's degree of sense or sensitivity, meant feeling or sentiment. (The Age of Enlightenment and Romantic tradition drew heavily upon this connotation of sensibility.) By juxtaposing the two words in her title, Austen brings our attention to the differences between reason and emotion, or that of rational thought versus the passions of the heart.


Willoughby and Marianne exchange their similar tastes in art and poetry.


The screenplay is stellar, with many lines taken word-for-word from the novel. There are also additional historical elements worth noting that Mahogany, the makers of the film, wove seamlessly throughout Austen's narrative. Soon after Willoughby rescues Marianne from her fall and injured ankle, the two passionate souls find themselves out on a picnic, sharing favorites. Their favorite artists? Panini and Boucher. Giovanni Panini was an Italian painter whose paintings of sweeping Roman vistas– distant views– were particularly popular in the Baroque Era. François Boucher was French and part of the Rococo movement. His paintings are lush and bright with gentle pastoral or classical themes. And what about their favorite poet? To that question, Willoughby and Marianne simultaneously answer: "Phillis Wheatley!" Wheatley visited London in 1771, and published a book of poetry in 1773, the publication occurring just two years before Austen was born. Perhaps Reverend Austen had a copy of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in his extensive library at the Steventon Rectory. Additionally, hanging in the dining room at Barton Park, viewers might have noticed the famous portrait of free Black heiress, Dido Elizabeth Belle, pictured below. All of these small details were consciously chosen, and you can read more about that here.


Dido Elizabeth Belle (cropped) by David Martin


I noted one particular difference of setting, although it had little effect on the outcome of the story's plot. In London, after a disastrous encounter at the assembly, the Dashwood sisters, accompanied by the steadfastly devoted Colonel Brandon, decide to make their way back to Barton Cottage. Before they leave, John Dashwood comes to visit Elinor. He offers the use of Norland Park as a place to stop on the journey home, and apologizes to Elinor for the way she has been treated. Elinor replies with these gentle, wise words, “John, we are all trying to make our way in the world. Some of us are guided by what we think of ourselves, some by what others say.” She then accepts his offer to stay at Norland. This differs from the novel in which the party makes their way to Cleveland, the home of Mrs. Jennings' daughter. That being said, the vast majority of details in the film are incredibly accurate to the text and brilliantly portrayed by the cast; it was a fresh, sincere, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny film that captures the spirit of Austen so well. Being so attached to the previous Sense and Sensibility adaptations as I am (the 1995 film version, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) and (the 2008 miniseries , starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield) I was very pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed Hallmark's new interpretation. For those of you on the fence, I believe it deserves a try. You might be surprised, as I was!


Extras


Just as in past blogs, this post wouldn't be complete without a few extra additions. Music is first on the list. While Marianne's talent at playing the pianoforte is not as highlighted in this adaptation as others, music is still woven throughout the film. When the Dashwoods arrive at Barton Cottage for the first time they notice a pianoforte is included in the furnishings. Margaret sits down at the keys, and with Marianne's guiding hand, accompanies the first moments in their new home with Bach's Minuet No. 3 in G Major. Later, after the first dinner the Dashwoods share with Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, and the first time Colonel Brandon is introduced, Marianne plays Beethoven's Minuet No. 2 in G Major. Later, after dinner with the Steele sisters, more Bach is played, this time his Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999. Finally, the assembly attended by the Miss Dashwoods and Miss Steeles in London is accentuated by Bach for strings and a surprise addition... an instrumental arrangement of "Kiss from a Rose", by British musician, Seal. I found myself humming along to the familiar song before realizing what it was. Did you catch it?


Secondly, I would love to highlight the costuming. There is an incredible amount of costume changes in the film, and the costumes themselves are lavish and sumptuous. The two sisters' wardrobes in particular reflect not only their original class status, but reveal a lot about their characters. Typically, the Regency color palate is full of muted, earthy tones. This Sense and Sensibility, however, is full of bright, floral patterns and lots of layers and accessories. The makeup choices are decidedly modern, but add the beautiful visuals of the film. At one point, Marianne complains "these enormous heels are agony." While the novel takes place in the 1790s (likely 1792-1797), the novel was not published until 1811. The waistlines in the film are higher, in the Empire waist fashion popular during the Regency. In regard to women's footwear, there was a move away from heels and into flat-soled slippers during the Regency. Regardless of these details, the costumes and ensembles put together for the cast were lovely and helped even more to make this version of Sense and Sensibility a unique viewing experience. To learn more about the fashion Jane Austen would have experienced during her lifetime, see this visual fashion exploration by JASP's Zeina Makky. (Read Zeina's delightful Janeite Spotlight here.)


Before I close, I would like to leave you all with new quotes of the beloved characters, for they said it best. "Life is nothing if not complicated," Elinor quips toward the opening of the film. Later on, Edward Ferrars shares his heart's desire: "I only want to be perfectly happy." And near the film's close, Edward states: "I know my own happiness now."


So, dear readers, despite the complications, twists, and turns life is bound to throw your way, I wish that you all may be perfectly happy and know your own happiness. I know Jane Austen would have wished it, too.


 

And that's a wrap! If this blog piqued your interest in the film but you missed its premier, never fear. The Hallmark Channel will be showing Sense and Sensibility again tonight (Thursday) at 8/7c. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments! Thank you for joining us on this Loveuary and Jane Austen journey; it has been a joy to experience it with you all.


Are you in need of more Austen content to read? We've got you covered. Tomorrow, March 1, we will kick off a brand new, exciting blog series, The Austen-Brontë Reader. The series will be a multi-month sojourn into the lives, times, and work of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. We hope to have you reading along with us!

2 commentaires


I loved this movie! Thank you for including the citations for the NPR and Essence interviews.


Two small corrections:

  1. You wrote, "She then accepts his offer to stay at Norland. This differs from the novel in which the party makes their way to Colonel Brandon's home, Delaford." (In the novel, they stayed at Cleveland, home of the Palmers, not Delaford. )

  2. In the movie the Dashwoods didn't dine with Sir John and Lady Middleton. (They wrote out Lady Middleton as deceased before the Dashwoods arrived.)

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