Friday, March 28, 2008

New "Sense and Sensibility" on PBS This Weekend

"These clothes are very itchy."

You might never have guessed from my writing, which critics across the globe agree is peppier than a cheerleader on amphetamines, but I'm a bit of the flat affect type. Enthusiasm never creeps into my voice, only mild and sometimes not so mild irritation. I'm Ben Stein, basically, except shorter, female, outspokenly liberal, have never had my own game show, and don't wear suits. (On second thought, I'm not like Ben Stein at all. Forget I ever mentioned it.)

According to my mother, who knows these kinds of things, I was a toddler the last time I expressed unrestrained excitement about anything. I was at my grandmother's house and she had turned on a Pointer Sisters record, and during the song "I'm So Excited" I jumped up and down and repeatedly clapped my hands in delight. That would have been in the mid-1980s.

I'm sharing these qualifications with you so you will understand the enormity of what I'm about to say, which is this: I've finally found something I'd squeal about, were I one for squealing. It's the latest and final entry in the new Masterpiece Theatre: Complete Jane Austen series, an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility that was written by the prolific Andrew Davies, who penned the most celebrated of Austen movies, the BBC's 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice, as well as Northanger Abbey just last year, and Tipping the Velvet whenever it was that Tipping the Velvet was made. It premieres on PBS this Sunday and concludes on April 6th. The reviews I read this morning were incredible; behold the USA Today headline: "PBS' 'Sense and Sensibility' is truly a masterpiece," and consider these words by Mary McNamara of The Los Angeles Times as she compares this Sense to Emma Thompson's Oscar-winning adaptation, which excised several plot points from the novel:
Rejoice, Austen purists, here they are, miraculously restored in a two-part production that is just as lush and star-studded as the film version. If Andrew Davies' script is a tad more steamy, it is also less glossy, painting a more nuanced portrait of genteel poverty, and the trials four women on their own would face. This "Sense and Sensibility" is truer not only to Austen's narrative, it more successfully captures the quiet precision of her singular mind -- she was the master of finding poetry in domestic detail, and for that, the small screen is much better suited than the large.
If that's not reason enough to geek out over this TV event, how about this: Janet McTeer, she of Portrait of a Marriage and Tumbleweeds (and, more recently, the British miniseries Five Days, which played in the States on HBO and was released on DVD earlier this month), plays Mrs. Dashwood.

I've always been in awe of McTeer, not only because of the quality of her work and the roles she accepts—that I didn't have the chance to see her on stage in an all-female version of "The Taming of the Shrew" (she played the part of Petruchio, telling Variety, "I can't possibly turn that down. I go from playing an archetypal martyr [in 'Malfi'] to a drunken male and finally get paid to scratch my balls. I just think that's hysterical") is one of those missed opportunities that will forever nag at me, like the time I turned down the role of Han Solo in Star Wars because I was underwhelmed by the script, or when I politely rebuffed the advances of a drunken Mary-Louise Parker lookalike just because she was heterosexual—but also because she's refreshingly direct in interviews, even as she thwarts the attempts of journalists to dig into her personal life. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out this article from eight years ago, when she was newly Oscar-nominated for her performance in Tumbleweeds. Tell me, with her ball gown misery and childhood fights with her parents about feminism, is she not a woman after your own heart?

Related links: You can read more about this production of Sense and Sensibility at the PBS website, and find interviews with cast members at the BBC's website. And if you don't have access to Portrait of a Marriage on DVD, you can view it in installments on YouTube for the time being.

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