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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.