Villainous behavior


Alert Janeite Diane gave us a heads-up about a recent article in the Times that had a tidbit about Sense and Sensibility 2007:

Andrew Davies is to start his BBC1 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility with a bonk. Why begin the drama, to be screened later this year, with an encounter between Willoughby and Eliza, when it is mentioned only briefly in chapter 31 of Jane Austen’s novel? Gratuitous?

Before you go ballistic, Gentle Readers, read on:

No, Davies argues. He is doing it because Willoughby is a nasty psychopath who gets the young girl pregnant, then dumps her. “I got annoyed with the film version, where Willoughby was swooned over by women. They actually found him likeable.”

He has a point!

Maybe that is because Ang Lee cast the hunky Greg Wise as Willoughby and skirted round the novel’s dark underbelly.

We would argue that Willoughby should be hunky and swoony and a real teenage dream, because he has to be for Marianne to fall in love with him.

While we have some sympathy for Mr. Davies’ contention, we would argue that to telegraph Willoughby’s villainy in the opening scene is much too early. The reader/viewer should fall in love with Willoughby. He should be swoony and played by a swoony actor. That is the way that Jane Austen plotted the story. Certainly there are hints in the text that Willoughby is not all he appears, but they are delivered with Jane Austen’s trademark subtlety. It is unfortunate that so many adaptors feel it necessary to bludgeon viewers with the Obvious Stick rather than trusting us to get it.