“Do you pity me, Miss Dashwood?” – Willoughby seeks forgiveness
Given the benefit of additional time, the BBC’s 2008 miniseries adaptation of Sense and Sensibility allows for more scenes that faithfully reproduce moments and dialogues present in the novel. Scenes and characters that were cut from the earlier film adaptation are granted inclusion in this longer adaptation, making a still stronger case for fidelity to the original novel. The inclusion of these additional details is intended as a means to better convey that expectational text of Austen’s particular style of structure, that “tiny world of her own” that has become synonymous with her name (Priestly 99). The 2008 adaptation particularly aimed to assert its strict adherence to Austen’s original, particularly through depicting moments and dialogues not represented in the 1995 adaptation.
Among these added scenes there was one that was considered crucial in the context of Austen’s text and yet entirely absent from the 1995 film adaptation: John Willoughby’s confession and appeal to Elinor during Marianne’s illness. Emma Thompson found that she could not include this scene in her screenplay for the 1995 film adaptation, where Willoughby, Marianne’s first love, tries to explain himself. Thompson called it “a wonderful scene in the novel which unfortunately interfered too much with the Brandon love story” (E. Thompson, Screenplay and Diaries 272). Andrew Davies’s screenplay included the scene, albeit in a condensed version that was still further cut down in the final film (Morahan, “Audio Commentary”). Even with major cuts from the pages of dialogue, the final filmed scene still details many of those words said by Willoughby and Elinor, through a careful transfer from the dialogue in the novel to the screen.
Willoughby and Elinor conduct their high-tension conversation in an overwhelmingly large space for only two people. Despite the many cuts, each aspect of the novel’s original dialogue is touched upon: Willoughby’s initial desire only to play with Marianne’s feelings but that leads to genuine love, his intention to propose, his seduction of Brandon’s ward Eliza, and his harsh rebuff of Marianne in London with his letter which ended their relationship. His appeals ends in the same exact words as appear in the novel, spoken more gently to Elinor than the rest of their conversation as they come face to face: “Now do you pity me, Miss Dashwood? Or have I said all this to no purpose?” (Sense and Sensibility 2008). Extracting herself from a close proximity to Willoughby, Elinor ends with the declaration about her sister Marianne: “She can never be more lost to you than she is now” (Sense and Sensibility 2008). Her closing statement gives the scene its finality, making it an integral part of the narrative by closing Willoughby’s narrative thread rather than letting his sudden desertion of Marianne go entirely unexplained.
In order to make this scene be an effective ending to Willoughby’s story, the actual outcome of the confession and appeal for forgiveness is entirely altered from the novel. Where the close of this scene in the novel has Willoughby and Elinor end their conversation amicably, with Elinor’s forgiveness, the film avoids any obvious declaration of forgiveness. In the adaptation, rather than the reassurance and forgiveness he receives in the novel, Elinor resolves to not grant him any pity in that moment, even when she stands within inches of his heartbroken expression that the viewer sees in a close up shot. If the adaptation were to directly mimic the text, it would be unable to deliver the true sense of resolution that is expected from Willoughby’s confession. In order to satisfy the expectational text of Austenian narrative precision and still remain faithful to the text, the adaptation is forced to preserve but also reorder the novel’s original dialogue. The screenplay terminates Willoughby’s physical presence in the narrative but still allows for a later, private forgiveness of his actions, managing to end Willoughby’s involvement on a positive note, while still refraining resolving his role on terms that could almost be deemed friendly, thus maintaining that expectational text of Austen’s meticulous plot structuring.