Film Review: Sense and Sensibility (2024)

The Hallmark Channel take on Jane Austen in this diverse interpretation of Sense and Sensibility

“Is it alright if I call you Mr F?”

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually watched a Hallmark movie before but in a departure from their usual type of programming, they’ve just released their own take on Sense and Sensibility with the excellent Martina Laird in the cast who I can rarely resist, so I ventured in for a bit of bank holiday viewing. Jane Austen fans have long been spoiled by the equally iconic 1995 film version and 2008’s TV mini-series but there’s always new audiences to entice.

Directed by Roger M Bobb from a teleplay by Tim Huddleston, I think that this is a sweet enough version to certainly draw the casual viewer in. Centred on the Dashwood sisters Elinor and Marianne, it follows their fortunes after the death of their father leaves them disgorged from the family estate and ‘reduced’ to living in the spare cottage of a distant family member. From there, their plans for love and marriage are distinctly reshaped.

Whilst the presence of a majority Black cast might prove a big deal for some, the reality is is that it works regardless. Subtle touches in the production design and script nod to the presence of historical people of colour in paintings on the walls and in literary references (I have to admit to needing to google poet Phillis Wheatley but considered me educated). It also means that actors like Laird get to take on period roles like the chattering Mrs Jennings for which they are perfect but rarely get seen (I felt the same about Nikki Amuka-Bird in The Personal History of David Copperfield).

Equally though, Huddleston’s script ends up a little too much like a Cliff’s Notes version of events, trying to pack in too much of the emotional terrain of dealing with the romantic travails caused by Edward Ferrars, John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon in all their dashing and dastardly ways. Deborah Ayorinde’s Elinor and Bethany Antonia’s Marianne are both appealingly done well but even they struggle with the more anachronistic moments in the script. Edward Bennett is fun as Sir John Middleton and I enjoyed Carlyss Peer too as the sneering Fanny and as a relatively undemanding watch, this serves as a decent entrée into Austen’s world.

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