Skip to main content

Barton Cottage makeovers

Both versions of the recent adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, (1995 & 2008) are different interpretations of Jane Austen's book, but I enjoy them very much. I am always interested to see how film-makers and designers convey the settings as well as all the lovely costumes. What a great job that must be, to come up with the concepts for places like Barton cottage and Delaford Park and to go looking for the actual locations. I'm sure, like me, you've probably been on holiday and thought how a particular place might make an excellent alternative for a place you've read about in the book.
That said, the film and programme makers do tend to take liberties with Jane Austen's original ideas. Let us look at what she says about Barton Cottage. At the beginning of chapter six we get a description.

The first part of their journey was performed in too melancholy a disposition to be otherwise than tedious and unpleasant. But as they drew towards the end of it, their interest in the appearance of a country which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bed-rooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair. In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed! -- but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy. It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.

We get the impression of a small, neat house - hardly the romantic vision of the tumbledown cottage by the sea that is depicted in the latest BBC adaptation. Of these two comparisons I think Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility comes closest; but in a way, I think both cottages help to provide the contrast between their present situation and that of Norland Park. This is where I'm prepared to forgive a lot of departure from the books in their interpretation; a film-maker is making decisions based on the visual impact, feeling and style that he wants to convey.

Once the house is found the designers go to work on changing it to suit the style of the era. It's fascinating to see the before and after photos of both Barton Cottages. If the designers have done their job well we really believe that the Dashwood family are living there. Part of the magic of adaptations like these is becoming swept up in another world and time, and I think, on the whole, they do their job exceedingly well.