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Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

For your and Mrs Darcy's anticipation...

Sense and Sensibility: Sex and sensuality

Andrew Pettie reports from the set of BBC1’s latest Jane Austen adaptation, and finds it to be more of a “britches-ripper” than its fans may remember

On the final afternoon of filming Sense and Sensibility, a flustered Dan Stevens – pacing to and fro in boots and britches – is still trying to learn his lines. His character, the diffident, dependable Edward Ferrars, is about to declare his love for Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan). But thanks to a Jane Austen-style mix-up with the mail, Stevens is literally lost for words.

“The speech had only very recently been written,” he recalls later. “When I arrived on set the producer asked me, ‘What do you think of your new speech?’ And I said, ‘What new speech?!’ Somehow it had got lost in my mailbox. So I had to learn the lines during my lunch break, which hopefully gave Edward’s proposal a realistic air of desperation!”

Viewers will soon be able to find out whether he succeeded, as BBC1’s new three-part adaptation begins this week. Those of you who have read Austen’s classic novel, or seen one of the three previous major film and TV adaptations, will remember that Edward’s proposal to Elinor forms the emotional climax of Austen’s story. Elinor’s patient love for Edward has hurdled many fences, not least his secret engagement to another woman.

At the same time, Elinor’s headstrong younger sister Marianne (Charity Wakefield) has fallen in and out of love with the dashing but dangerous Mr Willoughby (Dominic Cooper), then slowly been won over by the redoubtable Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey).

But if the novel’s romantic plotlines remain as affecting as they are familiar, their retelling in BBC1’s new mini-series feels as fresh and off-the-cuff as Stevens’s hastily rehearsed proposal.

According to Stevens, screenwriter Andrew Davies has consciously made the story feel more unbuttoned and immediate.

advertisement“Andrew is always saying that the sensuality and passion is there in the book,” says Stevens. “He’s just allowing it to be shown on screen by letting us see moments when the characters are caught off guard, in the bedroom, behind closed doors, in situations where their hair comes down a bit.”

Davies also decided to beef up the male roles. “The men - Ferrars, Willoughby, Brandon - are stronger characters here,” says Stevens. “They’re three viable love interests - sex objects, I suppose. Rather than a bodice-ripper, this is more of a ‘britches-ripper’.”

The Dashwood sisters, by contrast, are far younger and more vulnerable than the siblings played by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning 1995 film.

“We are trying to play the story as it was written,” says Morahan, whose superbly controlled portrayal of Elinor is at least the equal of Thompson’s. “In the novel the girls are 19 and 17, so these romantic relationships are real rites of passage for them.”

This emphasis on youth and passion is echoed on set in hundreds of tiny details. According to costume designer Michelle Clapton, “Ten years ago, female characters in 19th-century dramas would all have their hair done in very precise ringlets, all neat and perfect just like in the portraits. Now we’re trying to achieve a more believable, natural look, especially when the Dashwoods are at home. The director [John Alexander] wanted the characters to feel more human.”

This is not to say that Alexander’s version is modern or revisionist. Like all BBC period dramas, the production required a breathtaking volume of historical research. The costume and set designers spent hours touring art galleries and the Victoria & Albert Museum in search of inspiration. Stevens brushed up on his horse-riding (“It was brilliant – I wish there were more situations in life where I could pull up on a horse and announce something” . The girls took lessons in etiquette and learned how to improve their posture.

Stevens thinks that this sort of period detail - “The escapism of the costumes, the beauty of the sets” - is an important part of Austen’s appeal. But not the crucial one. “The themes at the heart of Sense and Sensibility - who we find attractive and why, and what gets in the way - are what makes it relevant,” he says.

Morahan agrees. “I think the love stories are so brilliantly constructed that your heart gets completely drawn in,” she says. “You start rooting for people in a way not many other writers can get you to do. The characters aren’t idealised. They behave in very human, flawed ways, and that makes their love stories even more believable.”

Austen’s gift for making us feel the anguish and elation of her characters has evidently sucked in the cast and crew, too. Morahan says that, when Stevens dashed in to make that long-awaited proposal, she felt “a genuine sense of having lived through all the obstacles set against their relationship. Even though I knew what was coming, when he said the words, my heart still went ‘whoosh’.”

Behind the camera, one of the crew wipes away a tear. “I can’t believe they’ve done it,” she says, as if Edward and Elinor’s happiness has been hanging in the balance right up until that very moment.

Sense and Sensibility is on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9.10pm (Scotland, Friday at 9.00pm).

Source:, 29/12/07

Re: Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

And for all you JA fans in the US - PBS is showing ALL the BBC/ITV adaptations of JA's books on Masterpeice Theatre on Sunday evenings at 9:00pm starting on Jan 13. Here's the schedule:

Jan 13 - Persuasion (the one with Ruprt Penry-Jones)
Jan 20 - Northanger Abbey
Jan 27 - Mansfield Park
Feb 3 - Miss Austen Regrets - a film biography based on letters she wrote.
Feb 10, 17, 24 - P&P - Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle
Mar 23 - Emma - the one with Kate Beckinsale
Mar 30 and Apr 6 - Sense and Sensibility - the one mentioned above by Renee.

Enjoy!!! Amy W.

Re: Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

Thanks for the info, Amy. What a treat!!

Re: Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

Here's another article in Timesonline, in which Andrew Davies is interviewed: Sex and sensibility work wonders, dear Jane


Re: Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

Oops, made a mistake with the link. Let's give it another try

Re: Sense and Sensibility - Sex and Sensuality

Oh dear, the sexing up of S&S certainly exercises many minds!

Screenwriter attacked over adaptation
Dec 31 2007 by Abbie Wightwick, Western Mail

SCREENWRITER Andrew Davies last night rubbished accusations he had sexed up his latest Jane Austen adaptation in a battle for ratings.

Mr Davies said sex was in all Austen’s novels and he had no apologies to make for his raunchy version of Sense and Sensibility being screened on BBC1 tomorrow.

Mr Davies was speaking after being accused by Patrick Stokes, chairman of the Jane Austen Society and a relative of the author, of “degrading fine English literature” through including sex scenes in his new version.

Speaking to the Western Mail, he said he was simply revealing what was already there.

The Cardiff-born award-winning screenwriter admitted his version of the 1811 story of sexual awakening was “more overtly sexual than most previous adaptations” but that was reasonable given the subject matter.

“The sex is just there if you read the book carefully enough,” he said.

“People can read it in all sorts of ways. I’m quite happy for people to see it as entirely free from the pressures of sex, money and snobbery and treat it entirely as a fairytale. They are wrong though. It is wrong to say there’s no sex.

“She (Jane Austen) does not foreground it but, as we all know, the fundamental motives of life and her novels are sex, love and money.”

Mr Stokes, the author’s great- great-nephew, believes making the story so racy detracts from Austen’s main theme – the fact that women of the time depended on marriage for social and economic security.

“Sexing this story up says more about the BBC than Jane Austen,” Mr Stokes was reported as saying.

“It is lowering itself by degrading fine English literature in the battle for ratings.

“While it is good that it draws people’s attention to her works, there is not a lot you can do if someone makes a hash of it.”

Members of the Jane Austen Society and affiliated group Jane Austen Wales, said they would be glued to their sets when the series starts tomorrow.

Jill Derricott from JAW agreed sex was a theme running through Austen’s works but said it was wrong to make it so explicit. She claimed the author, a clergyman’s daughter, would not have approved.

“I have not seen the new adaptation but it is fair to say that Austen includes sex, marriage and elopements in her novels,” Mrs Derricott said.

“Jane Austen did not avoid these things, but she did not go into detail.

“You have to look at why they are doing it with this adaptation – they are trying to make it more popular. I don’t think Austen would have approved. But it is bringing her to the notice of a new, younger generation and if that leads them to read the books, it’s a good thing.”

Mrs Derricott and Clare Graham from the Jane Austen Society both praised Andrew Davies’s previous television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice which is famed for its scene of Colin Firth emerging from a lake in a wet and clinging frilly shirt.

The scene made the film a hit worldwide.

One set of women viewers in the USA even set up a self-help group after claiming to have become addicted to it.

Mrs Graham said, “Sex can be inferred without being too explicit. I don’t think the adaptations are relying on watchers’ intelligence enough.

“In Jane Austen’s novels the sex is not explicit. It is there but it is an undercurrent.”

The BBC said it believed Andrew Davies’s version was “fairly true to the original” and was not overtly sexual.

The adaptation, starring Charity Wakefield as Marianne, starts tomorrow at 9.10pm on BBC1

source: Wales News