Saturday, June 07, 2008

Saturdays with Jane: Sense and Sensibility (1995) and (2008)

This is a cheat post because it's been so long since I watched these that I don't remember enough to do a bona fide review. It'll have to suffice to say that the Masterpiece mini-series benefits from having more time to unfold its story and a Colonel Brandon who looks and sounds like a young Liam Neeson. Combine those two things together and you get a much more convincing Marianne-Brandon romance at the end than Ang Lee provides in the 1995 version.

To the Masterpiece version's detriment though, Willoughby is a total sap and while I still buy that Marianne falls for him - silly twit that she is - I don't like him myself.

My favorite version is still Ang Lee's. My wife is too distracted by Hugh Grant's personal life to like him as Edward Ferrars, but I think he's charming. And speaking of Hughs, Hugh Laurie's grumpy Mr. Palmer may seem like a foretaste of Gregory House at first, but there's nobility in the character here that borders on heroic. You don't get that in the Masterpiece version where Palmer is just downright rude.

Greg Wise's Willoughby is a manly man and exactly the kind of fellow that Marianne ought to fall for if only he had better character. Lee makes the Marianne-Willoughby romance more tragic by teasing that - under other circumstances - it might have worked out. You never trust Masterpiece's simpering Willoughby and are always rooting for Marianne to wise up, so when she finally learns the truth there's a lack of empathy for her and more of an "I told you so." In Lee's version you feel much worse for her.

Fanny Dashwood is also a lot more fun in Lee's version, but that's balanced by Mrs. Dashwood's being more useful and interesting in the Masterpiece version. In Lee's take, Mrs. Dashwood never quite stops complaining about their reduced circumstances. Masterpiece's Mrs. Dashwood better rises to the situation and I like her more for it. But, back to Lee's favor is his version of Lucy Steele who seems much more conniving and drama-hungry (and so, fun) than Masterpiece's.

The biggest difference between the two versions though is in Elinor. Maybe it's because the Masterpiece version has more time to fill, so we get a deeper look at Elinor in it, but I don't think it's an advantage to see her lose it emotionally a couple of times before the big scene at the end. In Lee's version, Elinor holds it together for the entire movie. We can see that she's distraught a couple of times (thanks to unbelievably great acting by Emma Thompson) and she admits as much to Marianne, but there's always a reason for her to hide her feelings. And so, in that amazing, moving, final scene where she just lets everything out that she's been penning up for the entire movie - losing her home, almost losing her sister, thinking she's lost Edward - her emotion erupts all over you and you can't help but nearly lose it yourself. At least I can't.

Unfortunately - though that scene in Masterpiece is still very good - it doesn't equal the impact of Lee's.

The Masterpiece version gets four out of five wailing Elinors.

Ang Lee's version gets five out of five.

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