Sense & Sensibility – The Adaptations (Resurrected!)

It’s a real joy that part of my job involves watching films that I have already watched eight dozen times beofre and will watch again (one assumes) eight dozen more. All hyperbole aside (and it’s not that far a stretch, actually), I truly do enjoy watching these films and having now a new frame of mind on which to enter them, it becomes more enjoyable still.

So, here’s the question: what reappears in the BBC adaptation? With a running time of 174 minutes compared to the Ang Lee adapation at 136 minutes, more can stay in, and more characters are permitted to appear.

To re-cap, there were a number of important scenes left out of the Ang Lee production which reappear in this one:

  • The visit to Mrs. Ferrars
  • Revelations by Anne Steele (more on this later)
  • The final tete-a-tete between Willoughby and Elinor

As noted on the earlier post, Mrs. Ferrars was judiciously cut, amplifying her off-screen presence by all the references to the power she holds, power which does not seem to be lost when we gain an actual view of her. During this scene, decided preference is shown to Lucy Steele and references are made to Miss Morton, the intended bride of Edward should his sister and mother get their way. Reading the scene and observing its translation onto the screen reveals some of the power of getting to see Mrs. Ferrars alongside the two women vying for Edward’s affection, which is that Lucy is actually emboldened by this scene to believe herself more secure in entering into the Ferrars family, and therefore, much of her behavior in the following pages is made more clear and understandable. Indeed, it is perhaps this moment itself which allows both Lucy and the reader to imagine the ways in which she will eventually win over Mrs. Ferrars:

“But perseverance in humility of conduct and messages, in self-condemnation for Robert’s offence, and gratitude for the unkindness she was treated with, procured her in time the haughty notice which overcame her by its graciousness, and led soon aftewards, by rapid degrees, to the highest state of affection and influence. Lucy became as necessary to Mrs. Ferrars, as either Robert or Fanny; and while Edward was never cordially forgiven for having once intended to marry her, and Elinor, though superior to her in fortune and birth, was spoken of as an intruder, she was in every thing considered, and always openly acknowledged to be a favourite child.”


What a reversal! And I have to believe that it is the earlier meeting between Lucy and Mrs. Ferrars during her engagement to Edward where Lucy came to understand exactly how she might go about winning over Mrs. Ferrars. Had the engagement with Edward continued, I believe Lucy would have managed the same coup d’etat as Edward’s wife as she accomplishes as Robert’s. Of course, whereas Edward had the fortitude to endure the prospect of poverty as Lucy’s husband, she had absolutely none necessary as his wife.

Now, the other scene which I was sad to see omitted, was the one in which Anne reveals private information to Elinor, all of which comes out in such a hilarious scene that doubles down on Anne as a character of great folly (a younger version of Mrs. Bennet??) and Elinor as virtuous and correct. In this scene, Anne is revealing that Edward has visited Lucy with the purpose of ending the engagement. “And after thinking it all over and over again, he said, it seemed to him as if, now he had no fortune, and no nothing at all, it would be quite unkind to keep her on to the engagement, because it must be fore her loss, for he had nothing else…and so he begged, if she had the least mind for it, to put an end to the matter directly, and leave him to shift for himself. I heard him say all this as plain as could possibly be.”

However, it soon comes out that Miss Steele had not actually heard this directly. Here, Elinor attempts to understand, “I do not understand what you mean by interrupting them,” said Elinor; “you were in the same room together, were not you?”

“No, indeed, not us. La! Miss Dashwood, do you think people make love when any body else is by? Oh for shame! -To be sure you must know better than that. (Laughing affectedly.) -No,no; they were shut up in the drawing room together, and all I heard was only by listening at the door.”

“How!” cried Elinor; “have you been repeating to me what you only learnt yourself by listening at the door?”

What I find so hilarious here is the certainty of Anne’s knowing exactly what was spoken desite the use of language that we readers understand to be very unlike Edward at all. But then when she cries “For shame!” – it is too ridiculous! Here she is shaming Elinor for supposing she were physically present in the room when it is she who ought to be ashamed for both listening and then retelling that which she was never meant to hear for herself. I was disappointed that this scene was omitted as it’s really such a comedic moment.

Now the big one missing from the Ang Lee production, substituted with a moment in which a windblown Willoughby crests a hill on his dapple to see Marianne and Col. Brandon exiting joyfully from the church, is the evening when Willoughby arrives at the Palmer’s home during Marianne’s illness. In this scene, he wishes only to speak with Elinor, and his intent here is to attempt to clarify his misconduct, which of course remains unpardonable. Indeed, his attempts to prove himself less a cad than he really is are utterly thwarted by the disrespectful tone of which he speaks of his wife, to which Elinor reproaches him: “you ought not speak in this way, either of Mrs. Willoughby or my sister. …To treat her with unkindness, to speak of her slightingly is no atonement to Marianne.””

Ultimately, Willoughby achieves only the meagerest form of redemption in either sister. When Marianne is made known of it – left off-screen by both productions – she responds that she is “now perfectly satisfied, I wish for no change. I never could have been happy with him, after knowing, as sooner or later I must have known, all this. – I should have no confidence, no esteem. Nothing could have done it away to my feelings.”

Much more could be said on each of these scenes, but before we go, I want to touch on the other resurrections. Little Henry Dashwood makes his appearance, shown mainly eating snacks and sweets the entire time. Interestingly, there’s also a scene in the BBC edition in which, having convinced her husband not to give his sisters any money at all, Mrs. John Dashwood tells her husband to blow out the candle with a look from both that shows she is about to bestow her wifely duties, perhaps a gift made only when he succumbs to her persuasions?? Regardless, I still maintain that the real Mrs. Dashwood is no longer interested in such matters and is wife in name only.

Lady Middleton and her children are also shown in a tableau, and from then on, Lady Middleton remains the icy, cold woman she is known to be throughout the novel.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment or correction!

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