25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 7 – Age Is Just A Number

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I find that the older I get, the more I’m willing to believe people in their 30s can play teenagers.


One of the things I love about the casting in Netflix’s The Crown, is that because the series will span a period of 60+ years, the producers have decided to recast ALL of the roles every two seasons. (With one season equating approximately one decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s life, that means that no actor or actress will play a character for longer than two decades of that character’s life.)

The creator and writer of The Crown, Peter Morgan, has a strict idea of what ages actors can play. From Harper’s Bazaar:

“‘You can’t ask someone to act middle-aged. Someone has to bring their own fatigue to it. The feelings we all have as 50 year olds are different than the feelings we all have as 30-year-olds. That informs everything we do.’ He expanded on that idea in a February 2017 interview with ScreenDaily: ‘I’ve got strong feelings about how far you can go as an actor, I think you can age ten years younger than they are and ten years older and no more.'”

It’s a really unique way to present a story, and I think even though the faces will change, audiences will respond favorably when a new cast takes over in Season 3 — because one of the things I think fans complain about most is poor casting.

That’s not to say an actor isn’t well suited for the role because of their talent, but talent takes a back seat if we can’t believe them in the role as that character. When you’re casting actors to play real people and portray real events, it makes even more sense to have them age as the characters age.

When it’s fictional, I think you can get away with it more. And when it’s a movie (which is far less encompassing than a multi-season show covering a multitude of decades) you can probably get away with it a LOT more.

But, as diehard fans of any novel will tell you, if the picture on the screen doesn’t match the picture they have in their heads… woe betide everyone involved in that movie.

There are very few, real flaws with the 1995 Sense & Sensibility, but the ages of the cast is, perhaps, one of them.

The first thing anyone notices about this movie is that very few of the cast’s ages line up with their novel counterparts.

I think we can credit a lot of this to the fact that this is just a movie. And as you’ve probably heard me argue before, adapted movies are just VERY well-financed fanfic. They are NOT perfect representations of the original novel.

(I swear I will have to repeat this until my dying day. Of course it’s not exactly like the book, it’s an entirely different medium! If you want something that’s exactly like the book, then go read the book and imagine it yourself. But don’t insult the vision of a filmmaker just because it’s not exactly your vision. And certainly don’t do it unless you intimately know the restrictions and compromises that must be made to turn a novel into a motion picture.)

That being said, there seems to be some confusion in general about what ages the characters in Sense & Sensibility actually are, how old the actors and actresses were when they played these characters, and how old Ang Lee actually intended them to be. From the Wikipedia page for the movie:

“Lee and Columbia wanted Thompson herself, now a ‘big-deal movie star’ after her critically successful role in the 1992 film Howards End, to play Elinor. The actress replied that at the age of thirty-five, she was too old for the nineteen-year-old character. Lee suggested Elinor’s age be changed to twenty-seven, which would also have made the difficult reality of spinsterhood easier for modern audiences to understand.”

So for today’s blog, I want to try to figure out exactly how old each of the main characters are, how old Ang Lee perhaps intended them to be, and whether or not the cast could reasonably be within that age range. Please let me know in the comments if you think I got something wrong, or if there’s a character I missed that you’d like to know about!


Elinor Dashwood

In the novel: 19 years*

In the movie: 27 years

Played by: Emma Thompson

Actual age** of actor: 35 years

Difference: 7 years for the movie, but way too old for the novel.


Marianne Dashwood

In the novel: 16 years

In the movie: Never said, but approximately in her late teens or early 20s.***

Played by: Kate Winslet

Actual age of actor: 19

Difference: More or less correct for the movie, and relatively correct for the novel.


Margaret Dashwood

In the novel: 13 years

In the movie: 11 years, but, she’ll “be 12 soon!”

Played by: Myriam Francois-Cerrah

Actual age of actor: 12

Difference: Perfect!


Mrs. Dashwood

In the novel: “hardly 40” as calculated by Fanny Dashwood.

In the movie: Unknown, but said to be significantly older than Brandon, and old enough to have a 27 year old daughter/young enough to have an 11 year old daughter. My guess is approximately late 40s or early 50s.

Played by: Gemma Jones

Actual age of actor: 53

Difference: Perhaps Jones was a little older than her movie character, but casting was generally in the right timeframe. Much too old for her novel counterpart though.


Edward Ferrars

In the novel: 23 years

In the movie: Maybe 30? No more than 35.

Played by: Hugh Grant

Actual age of actor: 34 years

Difference: About right.


John Willoughby

In the novel: 25 years

In the movie: Probably in his late 20s or early 30s. Young enough to still be considered “young” by Marianne.

Played by: Greg Wise

Actual age of actor: 29

Difference: Correct for the movie, a little old for the novel.


Colonel Brandon

In the novel: “On the wrong side of five and thirty.”

In the movie: Unknown. Marianne calls him “positively infirm,” but that’s certainly biased. Sir John Middleton says he’s “of a better age for Elinor” and Brandon himself professes that a young woman would never think of him as a suitor. However, he’s supposed to be younger than Mrs. Dashwood to some large degree, so I’d say he’s somewhere between the novel’s original 35 and his late 40s. (My personal best guess is early 40s.)

Played by: Alan Rickman

Actual age of actor: 49 years

Difference: “On the wrong side” of a decade older for the novel. Still probably a little too old for his movie character, too.


Fanny Ferrars Dashwood

In the novel: In her mid-to-late 20s.

In the movie: Oh my god who knows. My best guess is in her 30s or early 40s? She had to have married John as a young woman, and John is the elder brother of Elinor who is noted as being 27. (See John Dashwood’s entry next for more on this, but I assume he is no older than his mid-40s.) So Fanny is probably older than Elinor, but presumably younger than her husband.

Played by: Harriet Walter

Actual age of actor: 45

Difference: They aged her up for the movie, so she’s she’s either two decades too old for her novel character or about a decade too old for the movie. This one is honestly giving me a headache.


John Dashwood

In the novel: About 30, having married Fanny right after he came of age (generally about 25 for men), and he has a 5-year-old son in the novel.

In the movie: Significantly older than Elinor, who is 27. But I doubt he is supposed to be as old as Mrs. Dashwood, his step-mother. So I would guess either early to mid 40s.

Played by: James Fleet

Actual age of actor: 43

Difference: Dead-on (for the movie.) More than a decade older than his novel counterpart.


Lucy Steele

In the novel: 22 or 23 years

In the movie: Somewhere between Marianne and Elinor, so I would say 23 is about right.

Played by: Imogen Stubbs

Actual age of actor: 34

Difference: More than a decade older.


Robert Ferrars

In the novel: 21 or 22 years

In the movie: Younger brother of Edward, who I guessed is somewhere between 30-35. So I’d say Robert Ferrars is 25-30.

Played by: Richard Lumsden

Actual age of actor: 30

Difference: About right.


*All novel ages are calculated as when they first appear, and the novel takes place over the time period of about 2 1/2 to 3 years. So, for example, Marianne is about 16 1/2 at the beginning of the novel, but 19 when she marries Colonel Brandon.

** Refers to the cast member’s age at the time of filming/movie release. (You’ll have to add 24 years to everyone’s age if you want to know how old they are now!)

*** I’ve consulted numerous sites about the ages of the characters in the novel, but not much information exists about the age of the characters as depicted in the movie. Some, we know, and can age others up from there, such as knowing Elinor is meant to be 27, which can inform us about her mother, her elder half-brother John’s age, his wife Fanny’s age, and Fanny’s brothers ages from there. At the end of the day, some of this is just guesswork, and I don’t expect everyone will agree with my assumptions!


What do you think? Do you agree with the choice to age up Elinor? Are there any characters I left out that you’re particularly fond of? Did I get someone’s age totally wrong? Leave a comment and let me know!

-R

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9 thoughts on “25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 7 – Age Is Just A Number

  1. I always believed Alan Rickman as a 35 -38 year old in the movie. But I might be biased since I think Alan Rickman is [was 😦 ] perfect .

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  2. Fanny *is* a total headache. I applaud you for muddling through. Nearly did a spit take while reading her entry.

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  3. My problem is that nowhere in the movie do they tell me that Elinor has been aged up, so how was I supposed to know? In fact, I would have expected a lot more comments like John Dashwood’s about Elinor’s spinsterhood if she was supposed to be 27. Ang Lee certainly did not sell that to me, at least.

    I love this movie, but the fact that Emma is too old to be Elinor has always been my biggest criticism. I would have had less difficulty if I’d know her movie character was supposed to be older, but I still don’t know that it would have cured it. None of the other characters bother me that way.

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    1. Okay, so this is obviously bothering me still, as I keep thinking about it.

      If Elinor is supposed to be 27, I also would expect an explanation as to why she isn’t married yet. Prior to her father’s death she would have been a very eligible prospect, and it seems that Elinor would have done the sensible thing and accepted an offer from an eligible suitor. She isn’t Marianne, after all!

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  4. I honestly thought that Hattie Moran was a better fit for Elinor. Emma Thompson did bring the character to life but the way she moved you could tell she was older than a teenager. I think the age is just a number though I dislike the phrase. Sorry. I think that it is the way the actor brings the character out. Whether they have the right facial expressions etc.

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