BBC Radio 7, 6-9 April 2010
This fascinating adaptation transformed Jane Austen's novel into a meditation
on identity, and how the protagonists are not defined by their own sense of self-worth, but by other people's expectations.
The Dashwood daughters might be well-educated, but they lack sufficient financial wherewithal to prosper in life. Their brother
John (David Calder) and sister-in-law Fanny (Auriol Smith) insist that they should marry as soon as possible, as a way of
confirming their femininity. Should they inore this advice and remain single, they will be doomed to a half-life - without
prospects, without children and (most significantly) without a fortune. At one point John is asked whether the sisters actually
have a choice in marriage. He repeats the word "choice?!" in a shocked tone, as if the concept had hitherto never entered
With so much pressure on them to find a suitable partner (and thereby confirm their
identity), it is not surprising that both Marianne (Abigail McKern) and Eleanor (Jane Leonard) end up choosing the wrong person.
Marianne purusues Willoughby (Robert Gwilym), who during the first three episodes appears to be a typical rake, trifling
with women's affections. Meanwhile Eleanor has designs upon Edward Ferrers (Tim Meates), but discovers to her costs that he is
already engaged. The sisters' plight is made infinitely worse by what people say about them. In their tight-knit world
comprised of parties, soirees and family get-togethers, every move they make is analysed intensely by their
middle-aged compatriots such as Mrs. Jennings (Anne Windsor). Privacy simply
does not exist: the Dashwoods perpetually inhabit the public sphere.
More damagingly, it is clear that money dictates the characters' lives. Marriages
are never contracted for love, but for fortunes. This is what drives Willoughby and John Dashwood, while placing Eleanor
and Marianne under intolerable pressure.
In this kind of environment, neither of the two sisters could be blamed for having
a nervous breakdown - which is precisely what happens to Marianne, once she discovers that Willoughby is no longer attracted
to her. However such reversals make both sisters stronger in themselves: as the episodes unfold, we see them becoming more
and more able to determine their own destinies, in spite of what people say about them. As the adaptation unfolded, they take
more and more of a leading role in the action, while John and Fanny fade into the background. At first they seem reluctant
to contemplate the idea of falling in love once again (who wouldn't, after their experiences?), as they quickly change the
subject once the topic has been raised. By the end of the fourth episode, however, they are able to control their own destinities,
and they are rewarded with ideal marriages: Eleanor marries Ferrers, while Marianne finds security and love with Colonel Brandon
(Brett Usher), despite the disparity in age between them.
The adaptation unfolded in a series of short scenes involving one or two characters,
topped and tailed with the sound of a single piano (Mary Nash). It is actually Eleanor who is supposed to be playing
the piano - one of her ladylike accomplishments that renders her a suitable marriage prospect - but director Vanessa
Whitburn uses it as a way of opening and closing most sequences. As a result each episode compriss
a series of variations on the theme of love, leading towards the cliff-hanging climax at the end. By this means Austen's
novel has been transformed into something resembling a symphonic poem, aiming at an enlarged musical and emotional
range and scope, unifying music and drama. By this means listeners are encouraged to reflect on specific scenes,
images, and most specifically the ideas relating to the theme of love - and whether it can still survive in a money-conscious
world. As the final episode proves, Austen believes that it can, even though the characters have to experience considerable
emotional turmoil to achieve it.