‘Sense and Sensibility’ part of Hallmark salute to love

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The Hallmark Channel has never missed an opportunity to create a romance movie. Many of those offerings have centered around Christmas.

This month has been a salute to one of the greatest romance writers of all time, Jane Austen. Weekly movies based on her work have been part of what the cable channel has been calling “Loveuary with Jane Austen.”

Next up is “Sense and Sensibility” scheduled to launch at 8 p.m. Feb. 24. The movie is an opportunity to continue the love for Austen while also showing more diversity. The film was created under the Mahogany banner for Hallmark that for more than 30 years has been committed to connecting, celebrating and uplifting Black culture.

Toni Judkins, senior vice president development for Hallmark, was determined that this version would remain loyal to the original text. It is also a way to make the production different from all the other adaptations of “Sense and Sensibility.”

“We felt what was important to do was to bring all the richness that embodies Mahogany and have that in various layers throughout the project. So, it wasn’t really a call to try and make this an African American experience, just being true to the property, but adding those layers be it color, or little Easter eggs,” Judkins says.

The made-for-cable film follows the Dashwood women after the death of the family patriarch. Their financial circumstances drastically change, and they are forced to leave their home for a modest cottage in Devonshire.

Practical eldest daughter Elinor (Deborah Ayorinde) falls for the equally pragmatic gentleman Edward Ferrars (Dan Jeannotte). Her passionate sister Marianne (Bethany Antonia) meanwhile spurns the advances of their steadfast new neighbor Colonel Brandon (Akil Largie). When Elinor and Marianne’s romantic prospects do not turn out as hoped, each sister learns to embrace the other’s approach to matters of the heart.

Ayorinde – whose past work includes “Them” and “Luke Cage” – was familiar with Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” but had never watched any of the film or TV adaptations. She only watched “Sense and Sensibility” after she had landed the role in the Hallmark production.

She has concluded that Austen was ahead of her time.

“I think about just what it would be like to be a woman and think like her and be so racy and call certain people out,” Ayorinde says. “Because even though that’s obviously the way they spoke then, we don’t speak now, but I felt like the words just flowed, because it makes sense.

“It’s actually true today. A lot of the things that Elinor was dealing with, I felt like I could relate. As far as the accent goes, my natural accent is kind of a world between American and British. So, for me as an actor, whatever I need, I kind of lean on whatever side. I feel like as an actor, when you understand what your character is trying to say, I feel like it just falls into place.”

Her ability to deal with Austen’s words so easily was a blessing as the entire film was shot in 15 days. Despite the fast pace of the story set in Regency-era England no shortcuts were taken.

Author and Regency-era historian Vanessa Riley served as a historical consultant.

“Part of my role was to make sure everyone understood from a historical standpoint what were the traditions and illuminate more of Black history,” Riley says. “Black history is Regency history. They’re Easter eggs throughout because you will see paintings of Black heroes who lived during this timeframe.

“Famous women that you all should know, that should all be in our history books. And every aspect was intentional from the hair to the costumes. They let me nerd out and I was really appreciative of that.”

Even the colors for the dresses had to be exactly right for the time period. That task fell to Kara Saun of “Project Runway” fame. She worked closely with Riley to make sure the looks were right from the period of financial problems to the more successful moments.

Saun used muted colors at the beginning and then went to a more vibrant color palette as the film progressed.

“I really wanted to bring our own unique style and vision to ‘Sense and Sensibility.’  And the way that you can think about it really is these colors did exist in the Regency Era,” Sau says. “There was this mint color.  There was this raspberry color.  Just think of anything in the color of a flower basically that you can make into fabric. “Everything that I designed in this movie had a reason for being.  There’s nothing there just by chance.  It’s all intentional. Each character had their own colorway. I really kept the characters in the colorway that, to me, represented who they were, and that’s these really rich and vibrant colors just like the characters were really rich and vibrant.”

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