Movie Review - Sense and Sensibility (1981)

This movie has been reviewed in our new format and rating system.  To see the new review, click here.

Rodney Bennett
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Sense and Sensibility is a special story. It’s one of the few—the very few—stories about heartbreak, intrigue, scandals, love triangles and familial strife, that lets its readers, or its viewers, walk away thinking of it simply as a charming story about two loving sisters. And it lets them think of those sisters, with all their defects of character, as charming enough themselves for a comparison to them to be a compliment to any real life pair of sisters between thirteen and thirty. At least… I hope it was meant to be a compliment. But, be their comparisons accurate or be they a trifle romanticized, it seems that people tend to like the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, with their differences and their ups and downs, and their sisterly affection to see them through it all. Whether people tend to like the BBC version is another question.

One thing, three hours gives you half again as much time as in a cinema production to take the Lord’s name in vain. There are half a dozen inappropriate uses of “Lord” or “God”, a “dear heavens”, a “gracious heavens”, a few “good heavens” and a “for heaven’s sake”. A couple of characters speak flippantly of the devil, somebody refers to a woman as a “sl-t”, and somebody else refers to a fellow’s dog by a name that some parents might not want their little girls to get used to hearing*.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:

The running time also gives more occasion for alcohol, which is partaken of fairly frequently, though not to excess. A woman does request “plenty of brandy in mine!”

Sexual Content:
Horror of horrors: an actor kisses an actress on the cheek. Really, there are some of us who might be a little uncomfortable with even that, but it was brief and not meant to be taken too seriously. Costumes? Usually extremely modest, though occasionally sheer gauze is what fills in the space between the neck and the bosom, and once or twice a woman wears a dress that simply wasn’t made for bending over in. But for one exception to the rule*, however, the costumes definitely wouldn’t keep people from seeing this version of Sense and Sensibility, though it must be said that they’re no enticement to see it, either.

A character is rumored to have had a “natural daughter”—a “love child”—and while it doesn’t end up being so, the falsehood of that report doesn’t prevent stories of another man’s illegitimate child from being true… or being told. The matter is handled with great delicacy, though, and, other than the single use of the word “seduced”, contains nothing to raise a blush in even the most sensitive viewers.

Elinor is the only sane, steady, virtuous person in her immediate family. Her mother is silly and selfish, and doesn’t know what is best. The most important points of the girls’ lives are experienced at some distance from their family. Well, the messages aren’t always quite so clear as that, but I’ve already written about Jane Austen’s penchant for unbiblical elements in the literature she wrote, and almost every one of them can be found in Sense and Sensibility.

On a more miscellaneous note, Marianne praises the heroes of romantic novels for being “ready to call upon the devil if need be.” An apparently heartless doctor is the one to brush off concerned family with a “nothing but to await the dictates of Providence.” I will say, however, that there are multiple believable, positive references to the Lord on the part of the more prominent characters, though nobody ever seems to pray for the sick one.

Elinor scolds her mother for being foolish, and mentions several times the “unpardonable conduct” and “cruelty” of somebody else’s mother (and the rest of his family).

Remarks are made which indicate that the children in the story are rather less than tame and quiet, and a dislikable character’s fondness for children in general is set over against one of the heroines’ aversion to ill-behaved children—certainly not irreconcilable views, but given the absence of any well-behaved children or any admirable mothers in the whole list of characters, it’s worth mentioning.

A man briefly mentions that he sent his young female ward to school.

Women go on loving men who are promised or even married to others, while one of the few reasonable characters in the story had hopes that a young woman’s “goodness might reclaim” a local villain.

The three-hour long BBC series of Sense and Sensibility was made for television and with a television budget, which means that it really can’t help being less splendorous than just about anything that has hit the theaters since then (and maybe even till then); but with its three hours, and its British Broadcasting commitment to at least the bigger points of the original story, this version may have some advantages over Hollywood’s productions… at least in some people’s eyes. Some people will be disappointed by the poor cinematography, poor music, poor costuming and poor acting. Other people will, I have no doubt, find this movie enjoyable.

Eight and up is my suggestion, largely because of a segment involving serious illness and delirium (and because children younger than that probably won’t get the story anyhow). Otherwise, I simply advise parental guidance based on individual families’ concern about the content.

* Spoiler Warning (You may want to read the conclusion to the review to find out my recommended age range first, if you are looking for particulars for the sake of the young children in your family) - The potentially offensive reference to Willoughby’s dog comes from Sir John, after Marianne’s fall. The phrase begins with, “He’s got the finest little...” “Sl-t” is used when Fanny goes into hysterics. The problematic neckline comes in when Marianne sees Willoughby at the ball and rushes over to speak with him (one of the more obviously inappropriate references to God is contained in her greeting).

Learn More about
The Gospel of Jesus Christ >>