You’ve probably heard it by now: Alan Rickman died this morning at age 69. For most people, it’ll probably mean “Goodbye, Severus Snape”, but for me, it’s “Goodbye, Colonel Brandon”. That’s the first role I ever saw him in, and the one I’ve watched most often, over and over – Sense and Sensibility is only one of my top ten favourite films. I love it so much, I’ve written grad school papers on it – including a fairly detailed analysis of Rickman’s Colonel Brandon compared to David Morrisey’s version in 2008.
Rickman was the master of the black flapping cloak – an ability he rocked as Snape, of course, striding through the halls of Hogwarts with his gown swirling out behind him like the wings of an overgrown raven. But Colonel Brandon is no slouch in that department, either. “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad,” he begs Elinor in a broken voice, convulsively clutching at the wood panelling outside the gravely ill Marianne’s bedroom (the stage directions say “He is dangerously quiet”). Elinor (no doubt thinking that the last thing she needs now is an emo going off his rocker) sends him off to get her mother. He slams out of the house (cloak swirling), flings himself on his horse, and after one last desperate glance up at Marianne’s window from under his wide-brimmed brigand’s hat digs in his spurs and rushes off, ventre à terre, cloak flapping, to find relief for his beloved. We next see him galloping at full speed across the brow of a hill, silhouetted against the evening sky, his cloak – you guessed it – “billowing out behind him” (that’s in the script, verbatim) in the most impressively romantic manner.
Rickman’s interpretation of the character (going off Emma Thompson’s script) imbued Colonel Brandon with a romanticism that simply isn’t there in Austen’s book. Andrew Davies took this interpretation even further with his script for the 2008 miniseries – David Morrisey’s Col. Brandon is not only romantic, he is heart-throbbingly heroic – but he could not have done this had it not been for the Thompson/Rickman version in 1995. Scene after scene of the 2008 version is directly cribbed from the 1995 one: Brandon as music lover struck speechless by Marianne’s piano playing; Brandon as sensitive lover bringing Marianne thoughtful gifts; Brandon, frantic with worry, rushing out into the rain storm to find a wet-through Marianne and carrying her home in his arms… None of those scenes are in the book (Seriously! I know – they’re my favourites, too…). But once Rickman had embodied a Colonel Brandon who did these things, Marianne’s lover had become a romantic hero, and the flapping cloak was de rigeur.
So what could be more fitting as a tribute to the great man than this song, the scene that introduces Colonel Brandon to the film? “Weep you no more, sad fountains / Why must you flow so fast? … Rest you then, rest, sad eyes, / Melt not in weeping / While [he] lies sleeping / Softly, now softly lies / Sleeping.”
I will miss Alan Rickman – but I’m so glad that we will always have his Colonel Brandon.