Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Austen adaptations from the 1970s and ’80s are a fascinating study. The interior shots are invariably done in sets with lighting that creates inappropriate shadows–bad photoshops have made me particularly sensitive to those–and the production values tend to be a bit laxer all around. I speculate that the people who created these period series had little idea of the revival of interest in Jane Austen that would occur in the 1990s, placing their work under greater scrutiny. Even with these strikes against them, the older productions are often charming, with faithful portrayals of Austen’s characters that shine through despite the lack of modern cinematic technologies. It took several airings of the series to catch all of the goofs in this post. I only caught three of these on the first pass.

For the purposes of the anachronistic goofs, it’s important to establish that Sense and Sensibility was set by Jane Austen as being between 1792 and 1797. We’ll extend the date range to 1811, which is when the novel was published.

10.) It wouldn’t be a goofs post without a candle goof. There were only a few scenes where the candles were lit, but with careful attention, I spotted one magical candle that grows longer between cuts. It occurs in episode one, during the scene where Marianne is singing “The Maid Freed from the Gallows.” The candelabra on the left end of the mantle is where the magic happens.

9.) Marianne’s perfect hair. After the long carriage ride from London to Cleveland in Somerset (158 mi/254 km), an ill Marianne disembarks from the carriage wearing a hooded cloak. When the hood is removed, it reveals that not a hair is out of place, but is still sleek, with perfect, unbroken curls framing her face. Considering the length of the travels and her illness, it is asking too much to suspend disbelief on this point.

8.) The Prickety Bush. In goof number 10 above, I referred to the folk song, “The Maid Freed from the Gallows.” At the end of the scene, Mrs. Middleton, who has not been paying much attention to the performance, suggests that Marianne sing “The Prickety Bush.” This is an “oops” on her part and proof of her inattention since they are actually the same song. The goof here is that like with many folk songs, the melody and lyrics were passed down orally and not as published music until much later. Colonel Brandon sets music in front of Marianne right before she begins playing and singing. The first documented publication of this song is by Francis James Child in 1860, as Child Ballad #95.

7.) Mrs. Jennings wearing purple. Okay. Yes. It’s true. Purple gowns were worn in the Regency. The particular color we see on Mrs. Jennings is a vibrant shade of violet which was indeed available in the Regency period. The first reason I still consider this an anachronism is that purple was still extremely expensive at the time. By the late Georgian period, purple fabrics were not the exclusive domain of royalty but were available for those wealthy enough to buy them. The dye, however, was not colorfast, so a vibrant, saturated purple would be a color that was reserved for special occasions, and not seen as everyday attire; which is what we see on Mrs. Jennings here.  The second reason came from a digital search of Austen’s novels for the word “purple.” There was only one person Austen ever dressed in purple specifically–the villainess, Isabella Thorpe. This was a reflection of her vanity and snobbery. I don’t believe Austen would have put purple on Mrs. Jennings. The costumer on this production must have really liked purple, because we see the same color on Mrs. Dashwood at Barton cottage, presumably as a mourning color. Colorfast purple as a synthetic dye was invented in 1860 and affordable for the masses from that point forward.

6.) Needlework by candlelight. The working of a piece of sewing or embroidery, while ladies are in conversation, feels organic to “period” scenes. In truth, it was a daytime practice, with the ladies sitting near a window for light and not done in the evening. Candlelight was insufficient for needlework causing undue eyestrain. Here we see Lucy Steele and Elinor in conversation after dinner, each of them working a needle in order to dress a doll for one of Lady Middleton’s children.

5.) Marianne wearing makeup. While I was able to detect a slight bit of makeup on most of the cast, Marianne’s makeup tends to be a bit more obvious, particularly of blush and eye shadow. Second place goes to Lucy Steele. Teenage girls of gentle birth in this era would not have worn an obvious application of cosmetics.

4.) The Crystal Spring. The duet that Marianne and Willoughby sing is another folk song that very likely dates to the Napoleonic wars with the “captain” referenced in the lyrics being a naval captain. This song has the same problem as the song in goof #8 – there was no published sheet music of the song at the time. Since we see that Marianne is playing from a book of music in front of her, which is impossible, this is an anachronism. The song was first documented in 1904 and published in 1905 by Cecil Sharp in “Folk Songs from Somerset.”

3.) What sorcery is this? Following the duet scene, we see an outdoor morning scene between Willoughby, Marianne, and Elinor where they all walk away from the cottage. We then see Mrs. Dashwood walking toward Barton Cottage and you can hear Marianne and Willoughby singing “Crystal Spring” inside the house, which she enters. Immediately afterward, Colonel Brandon is there, and Marianne and Willoughby are outside the house again, seen through the window. It is possible that this is meant to be a montage of sorts, but that is not how it plays out on-screen. It just seems impossible for the sequence to happen as shown.

Willoughby and Marianne are outside, but the sounds of their duet are heard from inside as Mrs. Dashwood enters the cottage.
They are outside again, as Colonel Brandon observes through the window.

2.) Edward Ferrars wears trousers. In nearly every one of Edward’s appearances, he is seen wearing full-length trousers instead of breeches. They look good on him, and I’m sad to report this as a goof. Trousers were made fashionable by Beau Brummell and the early adopters were men of high fashion who were considered “dandies.” Edward’s character would never put him among this set, and so it was inappropriate to dress him this way, even though to modern eyes, his dress seems conservative. It’s a goof by about a decade.

1.) Colonel Brandon alone with Marianne. I didn’t give the 2008 adaptation of the same title a pass on this, so I can’t well do so here. In this scene, we even see Marianne fussing about how she looks with Elinor before allowing Colonel Brandon into the room, and then Elinor overtly excuses herself, leaving them alone. In the novel, both Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood remain in the room during Brandon’s visit.

Brandon puts forward his proposal to serve as a schoolmaster for Marianne, selecting books for her to read.

Have you seen this adaptation? If so, did you enjoy it? If you haven’t seen it and would like to, it is currently available on Amazon Prime. Did you spot any of the goofs listed here? Also, if you noticed any others (I spotted a few more myself) please feel free to add them in the comments.

12 Responses to Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (1981)

  1. I have one more for you… look at the scene where the carriage is bringing the Dashwood ladies to Barton Cottage. As the carriage comes down the lane toward the camera… in the far background you will glimpse a passing truck. It happens so quickly… I had to play it back and forth several times to be sure the shadow I saw was actually a modern truck. It was moving too fast to be a period conveyance.

    I agree the lighting was horrid but I always thought it was to represent living by candlelight. I have had to buy several versions of this video. I had the box set that contained all the BBC Austen classics. I had to buy an individual S&S to replace the one from that box set. They both had a glitch when Brandon visits after Willoughby abandons Marianne. That scene with Brandon talking with Elinor in Mrs. Jennings parlor. Maybe I just wore them out since I saw it so many times. LOL!! I love these posts. Thanks for showing me new things. Filming with candles is a continuity nightmare because of multiple takes of scenes being shot over time.

    • Oh wow! I missed the truck! Thanks for sharing that. I’ll have to go back and look for it. I came to the conclusion–since all the other candles are uniform in height–that the one candle was a “lemon” that burned down a bit faster than the others after they redressed the set for additional takes.

    • Good point. I believe it was an overt choice by the screenwriter that was meant to focus the story-line on the two elder sisters, similar to the way Mrs. Hurst gets left out of some P&P adaptations, but I have always thought Margaret Dashwood added something of a third dimension to the Sense/Sensibility balance of Elinor and Marianne. For my part, I agree with you. Leaving Margaret out was s goof, even if it was intentional.

    • Back when I first started to indulge in all things Austen, my daughter gifted me a set of six DVDs with six BBC productions of Austen’s novels. Two were from the 1970s and four were from the 1980s. This series was in that set, or I wouldn’t have ever seen it either. It was actually my first exposure to Sense and Sensibility, since I hadn’t read the novel at that point. It was so fun to watch it again!

  2. I love this version and have watched it many times. I wouldn’t have noticed all the goofs that you have here as I wouldn’t be that learned to know about the sheet music extra. The glaring goof that always stood out for me was Brandon being alone with Marianne in her bedroom. Would never have happened and this sort of thing pains me when I see it in adaptations. Great post!

    • I agree – it is disconcerting to see the social conventions that protected a maiden’s reputation completely disregarded in the adaptations, particularly since Brandon has previously declared himself in love with her, but they are not engaged. Elinor, who is always proper and does all she can to help Marianne be so, would not have made such a breach of propriety. As for the sheet music issues, I have learned about these kinds of things from years of research and had to look up the history of each of the songs to identify the goofs. I’m sure that they passed muster with historical consultants because the songs themselves would have been part of the culture back then. And the poetry, unlike that in the 2008 adaptation, was spot on. William Cowper was one of the leading poets of that era. (I still checked the dates the poems they used were written.)

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I have not seen this version. I saw the one with Alan Ranken (Snaps from Harry Potter) in it. I will have to watch again and see if there are any goofs in that one!lol

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