What can I say after watching just half of a movie? But First Impressions last, and the notion has multi-layered meaning.
First off, I can’t help but compare this Andrew Davis version with the 1995 Emma Thompson’s screenplay. And secondly, I’m eager to watch Part 2 next week to see how some of my feelings from Part 1 hold out, of course, to also quench my Austenian thirst. PBS sure has underestimated the patience of Janeites who, I think, would not mind spending three hours to watch the whole movie in one sitting.
The two adaptations play out exactly as the story does. Emma Thompson’s screenplay is an almost literal and reserved view of the novel, while Andrew Davis’ is an imaginative and free-spirited rendition. The two versions are very much a parallel image of Elinor versus Marianne, sense contrasted with sensibility, or should I say, sense and sensuality? The perfect scenario, of course, is a balance of the two. And last night, while appreciating the fresh angle Davis has led me to look at the novel, I also long for a more literal, more authentic representation.
Davis has taken the liberty to create scenes intended to appeal to (what he thinks is the expectation of) modern day viewers, a much more erotic and sensual rendition than the Austen novel. Not authentic, but I admit, some of those scenes are quite effective. Not that I think Jane Austen needs that kind of help though.
I have particularly enjoyed the set design and cinematography. The sumptuous Norland Park, the elegant costume, and the picturesque natural scenery, the almost Gothic billowing seaside of the Dashwood new home. Barton cottage by the cliff? Again, not authentic, but quite effective. The howling winds and crashing waves are sharp contrast to the once quiet and comfortable life of Norland Park. They also signify the turmoils in the hearts of the characters, betraying their calm composure. There is a beautiful shot when Elinor runs up the windy mountain, the camera follows her wind-swept hair and fluttering dress. As she stops at the edge of the cliff, looking down onto the rising waves, she opens the book Edward has given her as a parting gift, slowly caressing the words he left in there. That is one moving scene.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the camera work. Like an omniscient narrator, it captures not only the macro views, but by its silent pan and close-up shots, reveal the inner emotions and deeper characterization. The blurry shots of the wind-charm hanging outside the cottage, strung up sea shells Margaret has collected by the craggy shore, slowly dancing in the quiet breeze, a metaphor for the passing of time, or the changing of scenes…very effective indeed.
David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon is portrayed as a more lofty and noble character than an emotionally tormented soul, a role Alan Rickman has mastered. In the present version, Brandon meeting with Willoughby is an obvious reminiscence of a previous Andrew Davis adaptation, yes, the first, chance encounter of Darcy and Wickham in Meryton. The cold and awkward expression on their faces are brought back here. Morrissey’s tall and stately stature sharply contrasts with the much shorter, scoundrel-looking Willoughby, obviously contrasting not just a difference in physical appearance but in character. However, this is not what Austen intended. The Willoughby she has described has all the social charm, height and good looks so to bring young girls under his grasp. A deceitful character masked by a handsome appearance. Again, not authentic here, but as to effects, it depends on how much an Austen purist you are. Nonetheless, I feel the Darcy and Wickham allusion is apparent.
Overall, I have enjoyed this first part of the new Sense and Sensibility. The cinematography and camera work has done a great service to enhance a very elegant adaptation. I anticipate eagerly to see how my First Impressions will play out in the concluding part coming up next week.
…if only I can just watch it now.
Update: Click here to go directly to my review of Part 2 and Conclusion of Sense and Sensibility (2008).
And… Don’t forget to cast your vote on the sidebar, Which Austen Heroine Was Jane Most Like?