"Sense and Sensibility" (1971), directed by David Giles, is one in a long list of successful BBC adaptations of novels by Jane Austen. The BBC productions are known for their high production values. I was surprised that another reviewer found the production values to be just adequate. I thought they were excellent. (Not excellent for 1971, but truly excellent.)
As always with the BBC, the ensemble acting is very good. Both Joanna David as Elinor Dashwood, and Ciaran Madden as Marianne Dashwood are beautiful in a slender, graceful way. (And they could easily be sisters.) The three male leads, Robin Ellis as Edward Ferrars, Clive Francis as John Willoughby, and Richard Owens as Colonel Brandon act well enough, but somehow they didn't stand out as vastly different from one another. This differentiation needs to happen if the adaptation is going to be fully successful. I thought Ellis was excellent as Edward Ferrars, but Francis as Willoughby wasn't dashing enough, and Owns as Brandon didn't strike me as a military hero.
Patricia Routledge, as the kindly but very talkative Mrs. Jennings, steals every scene in which she appears. Hers is a supporting role, but it's her character that you'll remember when the details of the rest of the film begin to fade.
Of course, Austen's novels can be painful to see or read in the 21st Century, because women's roles were so constricted and their options were so few. For women like the Dashwoods, their main concern had to be to make a good match. A well-bred young woman could hope to be a wife and mother, or she could be a governess, but that's where the choices ended. Although both women profess a certain indifference to marriage, the reality was that marriage was the one realistic option open to them. A bad marriage would ruin their lives, so they had to take infinite care. Gossip and intrigue swirl around all the young women, and the gossip and intrigue inevitably revolve around who is going to marry whom. The book--and the film-- reflect this reality, but it's not a pretty picture, especially from our historical perspective.
As in any other film portraying rural 19th Century England, this movie would look better in a theater. However, it was made for TV, so it doesn't lose too much on the small screen. We saw it on DVD and it worked very well. This is a very good movie that's worth finding and seeing.
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