This is the final goofs post for the Sense and Sensibility series with the trivia challenge for this version in four weeks. I considered covering a modern adaptation, Scents and Sensibility, but ruled it out after watching it. In my opinion, that film was one big goof, starting with the title itself, which has no sense and doubles up on the sensibility. That left this 1971 BBC adaptation, which I had never seen prior to preparing for this post. It is available in its entirety on YouTube which is how I viewed it. Many of the goofs listed below contain a link to the referenced scene if you’re curious for context.
Honestly, I was skeptical about this adaptation from the outset. The influence of the late 1960s is evident throughout the piece, and some of the more egregious goofs were counted as anachronisms while other things I let slide in the name of “suspending disbelief.” This production is clearly a product of its time. Once you get past that, though, Austen’s story and characters shine through, particularly with the lovely Joanna David as Elinor and the somewhat histrionic Cirian Madden as Marianne. Now for a few goofs that jumped out at me.
10.) Close the pneumonia hole! When the Dashwoods travel from Norland to Barton Cottage, they do so in the winter. They are bundled up against the cold, but the coach they board has no windows – just an open space where a window would be. According to the Google machine, it is 163 miles from Sussex to Devon, so their journey will take several days. The carriage is shown in a travel montage with the open window spaces in each shot. Who would travel such a distance in winter with the winter wind blowing through the interior of the coach? When they arrive, Elinor proclaims that she is freezing. No wonder.
9.) Marianne loses it. There were multiple scenes where Marianne comes across as more than just romantic or dramatic. On several occasions, her portrayal borders on unstable and possibly mentally ill, breaking down in some scenes and yelling at people in a manner that was far beyond acceptable in the civil manners of the day. The screenwriter and director should have known better.
8.) A zephyr in the parlor. Upon arrival at Barton Cottage, Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor hand their warm clothes to the housekeeper, but Marianne insists on leaving hers on. She stands, forlorn, dramatically indulging in a one person pity party. The fluffy edge on her cape stirs in a gentle breeze that seems come from nowhere.
7.) A mystic mist? While the Dashwood sisters are traveling to London with Mrs. Jennings, we see the elder lady sleeping, then the camera cuts to Elinor. Suddenly, a poof of some kind of whiteish powder flies up from the bottom of the screen. Elinor closes her eyes to prevent it from getting into them and both of them pull faces and struggle to contend with whatever it is – it apparently smells bad, and Mrs. Jennings waves smelling salts(?) beneath her nose. I reviewed Chapter 26 of the novel to see if there was something I had forgotten, and there is no mention of anything like this event. What is it? What does it have to do with the story? How did this make it into the final cut?
6.) Fanny Dashwood freezes time. There is an exquisite clock in the sitting room at Norland, but either it’s broken, stopped at 8:20, or Mrs. John Dashwood is so cold that time stands still when she’s in the room. Occam’s Razor informs us that it is the first option, but my authorly heart can’t help but give the paranormal option at least a nod.
5.) Wrapped around Mrs. Jenning’s neck. Dangling in front of Mrs. Jennings, suspended from a dark ribbon, is an accessory known as a quizzing glass. Unfortunately, the takes were cut together in such a way that the ribbon gives away a continuity error as the ribbon shifts from her right side to her left in seconds.
4.) The Sixties called. They want their hair back. Sort of. The hairstyles on many of the actresses seem to be a hybridized version of the classic Regency style and a dressy beehive updo popular in the late sixties and early seventies. The standard of beauty in those decades was certainly imposed on this production, including giving Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood fake eyelashes and eyeshadow. I imagine at the time it was a stylistic choice. Looking at it now, it just seems weird when there are so many adaptations that presented actors in their natural glory.
3.) Wait. What did he say? Brandon shares his history with Willoughby to Elinor in this scene. After he has told the story, he says, “So you can imagine my feelings when I saw this girl in the company of your sister.” If he is saying something different, I can’t hear it. Perhaps someone with a better ear (or speakers) can listen and acquit Brandon of misgendering Willoughby. I kept wanting it to be “cur” instead of “girl.”
2.) There must have been a sale. When I first spotted the unusual pleated, ruffled shirt on John Dashwood, I thought it was a perfect choice to portray him as a fashionable, somewhat dandified man. But then every male character was put in the same style of shirt. I researched men’s shirts from this era and could find no source that this very specific style was widely worn, although a linen shirt very similar to it was featured in a film about Beau Brummel. I don’t contest that such a style existed. The goof comes in dressing every man, from every walk of life in it, right down to Sir John Middleton.
1.) Which sister was supposed to have sense again? In the scene where Marianne twists her ankle, the sisters are walking along on a largely sunny day. Elinor feels a single drop of rain, or as she puts it, “a spot,” she stops and takes note of it. Marianne blows her off and says it is nothing, but Elinor insists that the rain is going to ruin her dress. These dresses are clearly not silk or some other delicate fabric that impoverished women would never wear outdoors when there was a chance of rain. At this moment, it is evident that a man wrote the screenplay had no clue about such things. I speculate that he knew women who wore rayon, which wasn’t invented until 1911 but could be ruined by water stains. I can’t help but wonder why nobody pointed this out at the time.
I’m curious as to how many of our readers have seen this adaptation. If you have, I’m interested to know if you spotted any of the same goofs as listed here, or if there are others you’d like to add to the list. Also, if this post has piqued your interest, here are the links on YouTube where you can watch it for yourself. Each episode is about 45 minutes:
As always, your comments and observations are welcome and appreciated.