Sense and Sensibility



9-10:30 p.m., Sunday, March 30; Sunday, April 6

Beginning in January, PBS' "Masterpiece" series (formerly "Masterpiece Theatre"; the change was made based on market research) has presented adaptations of all the Jane Austen novels in one fell swoop, all of them new except "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice." The series began with a scrumptious version of "Persuasion" (featuring one of television's all-time great screen kisses, between Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones), and has also thrown in for good measure a surprisingly effective biopic, "Miss Austen Regrets."

While the story line of "Sense and Sensibility" is intricate enough to make some careful record-keeping useful, and the various twists and turns of the plot absorbing enough, it is the rich dimensionality that Austen lavished on the sisters Dashwood (Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield), and their contrasting philosophies concerning romance, that makes any theatrical adaptation particularly rewarding for actors and audience alike.

"Sense and Sensibility" has not lacked for top-drawer treatment, of course, most notably Ang Lee's 1995 film starring Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. Yet somehow this predictably low-key one from the BBC and WGBH is almost its equal.

As the more thoughtful and accepting sister, Morahan is particularly excellent, her elegant physical beauty and subtly expressive face making the perfect foil to Wakefield's delightful exuberance and optimistic romantic joy, and the two actors work very well with each other.

As has been true throughout the series, the cast is outstanding, led this time by Janet McTeer's reserved and moving performance as Mrs. Dashwood, and Dan Stevens' and David Morrissey's unusually authentic performances as the sister's eventual squeezes. In a nice bow to "Masterpiece Theatre's" roots, Jean Marsh, a key creative force in "Upstairs, Downstairs" and other landmark productions, makes an appearance as the pivotal Mrs. Ferrars.

The production is handsome in the dreamy BBC style, and writer Andrew Davies has done his usual efficient distillation job, including adding a few imaginative touches involving galloping horses and nubile young bodies that would have surprised Austen.

As one writer described Austen's world as being one "in which the adjustment of personal relationships is the most interesting and significant of problems," so have the new episodes in the series adjusted their quality and sensitivity to the viewing needs of the new century.

A co-production of the BBC and WGBH Boston
Executive producer for WGBH: Rebecca Eaton
Executive producers: Jessica Pope, Sally Woodward Gentle
Associate producer: Vanessa De Souza
Teleplay by Andrew Davies from the novel by Jane Austen
Producer: Anne Pivcevic
Director: John Alexander
Director of photography: Sean Bobbitt
Film Editor: Roy Sharman
Production designer: James Merifield
Costume designer: Michele Clapton
Music by Martin Phipps
Casting director: Kate Rhodes James
Elinor Dashwood: Hattie Morahan
Marianne Dashwood: Charity Wakefield
Edward Ferrars: Dan Stevens
Colonel Brandon: David Morrissey
John Willoughby: Dominic Cooper
Mrs. Dashwood: Janet McTeer
Fanny Dashwood: Claire Skinner
Sir John Middleton: Mark Williams
Lady Middleton: Rosanna Lavelle
Lucy Steele: Anna Madeley
Robert Ferrars: Leo Bill
John Dashwood: Mark Gatiss
Mrs. Ferrars: Jean Marsh