Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (2008)

This adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was screen-written by Andrew Davies and released on the BBC in the UK and under the Masterpiece Classic banner as a PBS series in the United States.  I have owned the DVD for many years, but it had been several years since I watched it prior to preparing for this post. Viewing it on the heels of the 1995 adaptation of the same Austen work, I found myself sincerely impressed at the ingenuity of the production, particularly the performances of the principal actors. There was only one casting choice I was a bit put off by. While I can’t quite classify weird casting as a “goof,” I will add my thoughts on it after the list of 10 as a “bonus.” You’ll get a chance to weigh in with your thoughts on whether you think of it as a goof or not. And now for the list:

10.) John and Fanny’s breach of propriety.  The etiquette of mourning during this era was not established in law, but the serious social expectations of mourning impacted the reputation of a family, particularly in the upper class. With the exception of Mrs. Dashwood, the costumes of this adaptation played pretty fast and loose with the mourning wear traditions of the day, which require black, matte, unadorned clothing for the ladies, and usually black clothing or at least a black armband for the men–particularly a son–during full mourning. Even the servants of the household are supposed to be dressed in mourning clothing for a period, which was not seen in this adaptation. The most egregious violations of mourning dress are seen on John and Fanny Dashwood, who display virtually no outward signs of mourning at all.

They don’t even look sad.

9.) Well, at least he marries her in the end. In the scene at Cleveland, where Marianne is ill, Colonel Brandon is informed by Elinor that Marianne wishes to see him. The Colonel enters her bedchamber, unchaperoned, and sits by her bedside, holding her hands. In that era, this would never be allowed. According to the DVD commentary, this goof occurred because they filmed the scene at the end of the day, and they couldn’t rustle up anyone to serve as a chaperone on such short notice.

Colonel Brandon visits Marianne in her sickbed.

8.) Mrs. Dashwood’s mysterious appearance in the carriage. On the return trip from Cleveland to Barton Cottage, we see Elinor and Marianne having a conversation. Since Mrs. Dashwood was at Cleveland, she should also be in the carriage, but the initial filming occurred when it was just the two girls with Colonel Brandon riding alongside on a horse. What magic is this?  Suddenly, the camera cuts to Mrs. Dashwood, apparently smiling at her daughters’ conversation. Due to a different pattern in the upholstery, a discerning eye will detect that she’s not actually in the same carriage as they are. They spliced her in. This “goof” is the result of some post-production shuffling of carriage scenes, also revealed in the DVD commentary.

7.) Is this a challenge? – When the camera pans over the music Colonel Brandon gave Marianne, the music manuscript is actually upside down. Perhaps Marianne is just that talented. Here is a link to the sheet music.

“Marianne’s Song” – upside down.

6.) My, my, that Edward cleans up nicely. After the awkward scene where Edward goes to visit Elinor and ends up walking Lucy Steele back to his sister’s house, we find that his hair–that was rather messy when they left Elinor–is neat and tidy upon their arrival to the equally awkward scene where Anne Steele has just betrayed their secret engagement to his mother. Dan Stevens points this out himself in the DVD commentary. I was too busy looking into his baby blues to notice.

5.) Moms do this too. As Marianne runs away from Barton cottage, pulling Margaret along to avoid Colonel Brandon, Margaret calls her sister by the wrong name. “It’s about Colonel Brandon, isn’t it? Don’t you like him, Elinor?”

“Don’t you like him, Elinor?”

4.) The dusty veil. I hate to nitpick on what is otherwise a lovely detail, but here I go. When Willoughby takes Marianne to tour Allenham, they enter a room where dust covers conceal the furniture.  He tells her that barely a quarter of the house is in use. Marianne spots a lovely piece of fabric and raises the sheer textile to examine it. It initially looks like a wedding veil, but it turns out to be an elegant shawl that she then puts on. Considering the state the room was in, the shawl would invariably be full of dust, but Marianne doesn’t even give it a shake before she whips it on.

Marianne dons a sheer shawl at Allenham.

3.) Are her arms wet or are they dry? In the scene where Elinor uses her shawl to shield herself from the rain as she talks to Edward the wood chopper, her arms alternate between being inside and outside the protection of the shawl.

Arms inside the shawl.
Arms outside of the shawl.

2.) Was Willoughby a time traveler? Based on Elinor’s birthdate from the family bible, and her age of 19, we can surmise that this adaptation is set in the year 1800. When Willoughby is discussing poetry with Marianne, he references Lord Byron and quotes one of Byron’s poems to her, So We’ll Go No More a Roving. Lord Byron was born in 1788 and would have been all of 12 years old in the year 1800.

Willoughby quotes Lord Byron to Marianne.
The Dashwood Family Bible.

1.) Where is John Dashwood? After Mr. Dashwood’s death, which was attended by his son and heir, John Dashwood, we see his widow and three daughters come out of the house to follow the funeral carriage which carries the coffin of Mr. Dashwood. In this scene, there is no sign of John Dashwood, or indeed any other relatives or mourners. John’s position in the family would have required him to be present for the funeral proceedings, walking behind the carriage with the rest of the family. His absence is a serious goof, considering that Austen described him in Chapter 1:

“…he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.”

Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, Margaret, and Marianne ready to follow the coffin of Mr. Dashwood.

Now for the casting issue that I referenced at the beginning of this post: Dominic Cooper simply does not match up with my mental image of Willoughby. Throughout the series, I couldn’t quite accept him as the uncommonly handsome, elegant, graceful, charming, and gallant man of Austen’s description. In this scene, he looks a bit like Dickens’ Artful Dodger, all grown up.

Willoughby ready for Colonel Brandon’s picnic.

Thank you for reading. Now it’s your turn. Have you spotted any goofs in this adaptation that I missed? Do you think any of the goofs I listed aren’t actually goofs at all, and why?  What do you think of Dominic Cooper as Willoughby? Please add your comments below.

22 Responses to Top 10 Goofs in Sense and Sensibility (2008)

  1. When Marianne is playing Colonel Brandon’s piano, there is a metronome sitting on top. I was curious when the metronome was invented, and a quick search revealed that it was invented in 1814 and patented in 1816 – several years after the story is set.

    • Oh wow, that is a good catch! Anachronisms can be tough to catch, but spotting one that is just barely off–only a few years–is impressive! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I can’t take these adaptations seriously, especially those by Andrew Davies, but I do agree that casting errors enormously exacerbate the disrespect shown towards Jane Austen’s work.
    Willoughby needs to be hugely impressive, whereas Dominic Cooper looks and acts like a mischievous street urchin. If Willoughby is to be viewed as a con man, the casting and performance have to recognise that con men appear trustworthy, not devious.
    This is made worse by Dan Stevens being so much more attractive than Cooper, whereas it’s supposed to be the other way round. Edward Ferrars is shy, uneasy, almost odd in his manners, but Dan Stevens’ portrayal, right from his first scene, is suave, self-assured and relaxed, the opposite of what Jane Austen made him.

  3. I am always amazed how often I can watch a movie and still not notice goofs like these ones. I was okay with Dominic Cooper but I think it could have been casted better and I definitely can see him more as the Artful Dodger grown up.

    • I think that watching a film puts most people into a suspension of disbelief frame of mind, especially when the story is good. In many ways, I would prefer not to spot issues, at least for the first few viewings. It’s a completely different mindset to watch for goofs. Filmmakers are also getting better at catching them in post production and fixing them. Some of these I wouldn’t have caught at all if the commentary hadn’t pointed them out. I am thankful that they did! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Excellent. Some I knew and some I didn’t. This is not a goof but another propriety issue: when Colonel Brandon carried Marianne into the bedroom… he started to undress her and caught himself. That was even with someone in the room. Gentlemen would NEVER touch a gentlewoman let alone attempt to undress her. Why they wrote that scene like that… unknown. I love the falcon scene but where was Marianne’s chaperone when she visited him? I will have to watch this again. I always watch the Special Features so I can see how it was made or listen to the commentary. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • You are right about the propriety of Colonel Brandon when he gets her to the bedroom – I spent some time thinking about why they scripted it that way. I think it was intended to show several things – first, his deep attachment and protective feelings toward her. Second, that he was a man of action, and that his military experience had trained him to know what needed to be done. Third, I think that they wanted to portray that it was his intervention that prevented her from becoming even more ill. (Davies knew he was in competition with the 1995 adaptation where she nearly succumbs to her fever.) I think there may also be a subtle contrast here to the twisted ankle scene with Willoughby, who exposes most of her shin in his examination. I’ll be talking about the falcon scene in four weeks in the trivia challenge. I accepted this scene as being within the bounds of propriety because they are out of doors in an open area. There could easily be others in the area keeping an eye on them that wouldn’t be in the line of sight of the camera. Thanks for taking a moment to comment.

  5. I definitely think Dan Stevens makes a better Edward. As for Willoughby? Personally, contrary to popular opinion, I preferred him to the Willoughby in the Emma Thompson version and looking at the photo in this article I would say that he does actually have the look of a regency gentleman.
    As for the goofs? Well no, I didn’t actually spot any of those (or any others if truth be told). 🙂

    • That could well be part of what caused my reaction, although I didn’t necessarily think his acting was off – it was more his physical presence that just didn’t seem right for the part to me.

  6. I agree about this actor for Willoughby. He never worked in my mind. In the same way, Hugh Grant as Edward in the 1995 version didn’t work because he was too handsome for my image of the character.
    As an side, I’m curious about the music – did you flip the image to be the right way up?

    • Good question. When I imported the screen capture of the music, I played around with it in my image software to confirm that it was upside down. I thought that I uploaded the original screen shot for the post, but it’s possible that I messed up and saved the inverted version. I’ll double-check that when I get home tonight.

  7. Thank you for sharing this with us, I didn’t remember that Dan Stevens played Edward in this because it first came out before I was familiar with him as an actor. Clearly I need to watch this movie again soon. I have been thinking of watching it but I think you gave me the final incentive to finally do so.

    • Dan is an excellent Edward. What I loved about his characterization is that you could truly see him struggling. Deeply in love with Elinor, but honor-bound to Lucy. I hope you enjoy the viewing! This adaptation is currently included in the Amazon Prime subscription, if you have it.

  8. I will have to watch that adaptation. I like the one with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson as I am also a fan of Alan Rickman. But It is really something when you watch closely .what you see!lol

    • Hi Cindie! It was really interesting to watch this adaptation so close on the heels of my study of the 1995 version. I think both versions have so many merits that I find myself loving both. One of the notable differences of this version was the inclusion of Lucy Steele’s sister, Anne. She was hilarious. Deliciously bubbly and air-headed. Also, with Andrew Davies as the screenwriter, he included more physical scenes for the men, riding their horses, hunting, chopping wood (another wet-shirt scene) and even a scene where Colonel Brandon is working with a falcon. There is also a real sense that Willoughby is planning to ruin Marianne the way he did with Eliza. The moment when he realizes he loves her and can’t go through with the seduction is so compelling. There is enough magic in this adaptation to allow it to be equal in my mind to the the earlier version, which I love. If you have Amazon Prime, it is currently included with that subscription.

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