Thoreaus of Passion: Colonel Brandon

Sometimes when your husband is away on a business trip to Japan, you start chatting with him on Instant Messenger about attractive literary characters. I’m sure this is totally normal, and, just to prove to you how normal it is, I am going to include part of the actual transcription of our conversation about this week’s literary hot guy, Colonel Brandon, from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” The context for this is that we were discussing DocMollyday’s final project for her design class, in which she came up with packaging design for a product called “Darcy Tea.” (Hilarious, by the way. I would totally buy this.) Said husband suggested she do an entire line of products using lots of Jane Austen characters, and he was trying to decide whether it would be better to use Edward Ferrars or Colonel Brandon for a Sense and Sensibility themed tea.

(03:09:36 AM) Husband: colonel brandon tea?
(03:09:38 AM) Husband: yeah brandon
(03:09:41 AM) Husband: fuck edward
(03:09:45 AM) Sophistikatie: haha
(03:09:50 AM) Sophistikatie: you don’t like edward?
(03:10:50 AM) Husband: well he’s kind of a pussy
(03:10:53 AM) Husband: colonel brandon is awesome
(03:11:03 AM) Sophistikatie: i like brandon the best as well
(03:11:10 AM) Husband: he’s got like shit that went down in the past
(03:11:14 AM) Husband: real restraint of character
(03:11:17 AM) Sophistikatie: edward was a bit better in the more recent version of it, but still
(03:11:17 AM) Husband: he can ride a horse fucking fast
(03:11:26 AM) Sophistikatie: brandon gets in a fucking duel over marianne
(03:11:39 AM) Sophistikatie: that shit is for real
(03:11:41 AM) Husband: he is a badass
(03:11:44 AM) Sophistikatie: he really is
(03:11:50 AM) Sophistikatie: i love him
(03:12:17 AM) Sophistikatie: man, fuckin a
(03:12:40 AM) Sophistikatie: marianne got really fucking lucky that willoughby turned out to marry that one bitch
(03:12:49 AM) Sophistikatie: or else she would have just been stuck being a stupid bitch all her life

That’s right, husband and wife, keeping it classy, half a world away from each other.

Honestly though, Brandon is a badass, and the two movie adaptations I’ve seen do a great job highlighting this, to the detriment of the other male hero of the piece, Edward Ferrars. The 1995 version, directed by Ang Lee, features Alan Rickman as Brandon, while the BBC’s 2008 series cast David Morrissey (who, by the way, does a great job playing the crazy Bradley Headstone in “Our Mutual Friend.” See, it all comes full circle.) Both of them are able to portray the strength, yet tenderness inherent in Brandon’s character.

The thing that is so cool about Brandon is how patient he is. He’s already had one lost love in his youth, and he is willing to slowly court Marianne, and then even back off when he thinks she’s found another person with whom she can truly be happy. He’s the perfect model of Regency masculinity, loving with no expectations. Not that he’s a pushover, though. No, Brandon is compelling because he waits, brooding on the sidelines, planning, ready to sweep in and pick up the pieces after Marianne inevitably has her heart broken, yet is so sensitive and full of despair (especially in the movies) that you can’t help but be attracted to him.

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon

It doesn’t hurt to have Alan Rickman’s voice going for you, either. David Morrissey has a wonderful voice, although not quite up there with Rickman’s. Rickman’s voice when his Brandon is searching for Marianne is heartbreaking in its restraint. To follow that with the scene in which he finally carries her back, accompanied by the swell of music from Patrick Doyle’s score and the sweeping camera work by Ang Lee, is totally swoon worthy. Also, I cannot tell you how many times I have rewound the scene in which he is leaving Marianne’s room and she calls him back to thank him. Seriously, I think Alan Rickman probably changes one muscle in his face, and yet completely transforms his expression from one of anxious doubt to cautious hope and longing. It is amazing to watch a master at his craft, and Rickman totally nails this reading of the character.

As much as I love Rickman’s performance, David Morrissey’s is a bit edgier, although this probably fits less with Austen’s original conception of Brandon. We get to see a little bit more indignation towards Willoughby. (As a side note, it really wasn’t fair of them to cast Dominic Cooper as Willoughby in this piece. As immensely talented as he is, he looks like a weasel. You just wonder at Marianne, passing up the tall, strapping, taciturn guy for an actual fucking weasel. What were you thinking, Marianne?)

A Weasel

Dominic Cooper as Willoughby

Again, the scene in which Brandon carries her back to the house when she’s sick is totally sexy, although this version takes it a bit further by having Brandon about to undress her to get her out of her wet clothes. Normally I don’t condone a lot of the sexing up that’s done in some of the more modern adaptations of these books, but here, I think it actually flows well. Brandon is worried about her, and is so concerned with making sure that she receives the right treatment quickly that he begins frantically undoing her dress. The reason it’s sexy isn’t because he’s undressing her. It’s sexy because he stops suddenly and looks down at his hands, realizing that he’s about to compromise her. It works well because nothing really happens; you get a hint of impropriety so glaringly obvious that it’s understated in its innocence.

Not that this version is about understatement. I think the electric guitar riff that plays over Brandon in a couple of scenes, especially the scene in which he duels Willoughby, proves that. As silly as I find it, I appreciate how balls out it is. The production crew really wants you to know how cool their version of Brandon is, and go out of their way to show you. I’m surprised they didn’t just give him a motorcycle to ride instead of a horse.

Virility= how many ducks you've killed

Overall, Colonel Brandon is someone that everyone can get behind. He’s a man’s man, yet still elegant, with refined musical taste (although this is exaggerated in the movies and a well tended estate. Obviously, the movies play up his character in rather exaggerated ways which are meant to appeal to modern sensibilities concerning what is attractive. Though many people used to be disappointed with Marianne and Brandon’s relationship, the movies have helped to alter that, making him a more beloved character who seems to actually fit with Marianne’s romantic sensibilities. Add that to the fact that he can ride a horse fucking fast, and you’ve got the perfect period hero.

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3 thoughts on “Thoreaus of Passion: Colonel Brandon

  1. Sara says:

    You know, your description here actually almost makes me want to watch these, even though Austen bores me to tears. Almost. Keep trying, Katie, you might convert me, yet!

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