Thirteen years have passed since Ang Lee's Oscar-nominated version of Jane Austen's first published novel, though it still haunts this handsome new version, which features a more leisurely adaptation by writer Andrew Davies that expands Austen's paper-thin male roles.
Thirteen years have passed since Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning version of Jane Austen’s first published novel, though it still haunts this handsome new version, which features a more leisurely adaptation by writer Andrew Davies that expands Austen’s paper-thin male roles. At its core, though, remain all the usual touches, as the penniless and temperamentally different Dashwood sisters pursue a winding, obstacle-laden path to romantic bliss. It’s a finely drawn addition to “Masterpiece’s” Austen collection, though after a steady diet of schoolgirl romance, one frankly longs for something, anything, with a bit more grit.Following their father’s death, the Dashwood girls and their mother (Janet McTeer) face an insecure fate thanks to the cruel vagaries of late-18th century mores. Sober Elinor (Hattie Morahan), for example, quickly falls for Edward (Dan Stevens), who, as the apple of his family’s eye, is deemed too good for her by his snotty sister Fanny (Claire Skinner). Elinor’s younger sister Marianne (Charity Wakefield), by contrast, is more impetuous, and soon has her choice of two suitors: The stately if repressed (and considerably older) Colonel Brandon (a nobly restrained David Morrissey), and the young, dashing Willoughby (Dominic Cooper), who literally sweeps Marianne off her feet following a well-timed fall. Austen’s simple tales of love — deferred, nearly derailed but eventually and inevitably triumphant — hold up extremely well, and this latest “Sense & Sensibility” has done a splendid job casting its various roles, despite an inevitable wattage deficit compared with the most recent theatrical version. Davies and director John Alexander have also taken some liberties by crafting scenes of the men together (something Austen herself never did) — having the steely Brandon, for example, pull Willoughby aside to question his intentions toward Marianne. Featuring a top-drawer cast, the filmmakers create several delicate moments — from Willoughby’s elegant seduction of Marianne to the stoic Elinor’s pining for the elusive Edward who, as played by Stevens, adorably stammers in a Hugh Grant-like way. The main problem with this “Masterpiece” tribute is the thematic repetitiveness of Austen’s works, from “Emma” to “Pride & Prejudice” to “Northanger Abbey.” It’s all the stuff for a grand DVD boxed set but a trifle numbing strewn out across nearly three months and transformed into a steady diet of rolling hillsides and meaningful glances — as PBS has done, combining original productions with repeats of older ones. From that perspective, kudos to a “Sense & Sensibility” told with style, but by the time Edward finally returns to bring that twinkle back into Elinor’s eye, there’s two-fold happiness in seeing “The Complete Jane Austen” ride, at long last, into the sunset.