Hallmark Brings the Black Diaspora Into Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

The historical advisor and creative director of Hallmark’s Sense and Sensibility discuss preserving the essence of Jane Austen.

Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Deborah Ayorinde, Bethany Antonia, Beth Angus in Hallmark's Sense and Sensibility
Photo: Steffan Hill | Hallmark

Hallmark Channel is capping off a month of original films themed around Jane Austen’s works with the premiere of a new feature-length adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The classic story about whether young women should choose husbands based on romantic notions of love or practicality has been adapted for both television and film several times before. Many fans may remember either the 1995 film adaptation directed by Ang Lee or the 2008 BBC and PBS television miniseries starring Dominic Cooper and Charity Wakefield. 

This Sense and Sensibility stands out from the other recent period adaptations of Austen’s works, however, as it’s produced by Hallmark’s Mahogany brand, which is devoted to producing original films and series with Black screenwriters, actors, directors, and other creatives. Unlike Netflix’s 2022 Persuasion adaptation, which used the controversial strategy of “color-blind casting,” Hallmark’s Sense and Sensibility deliberately sought out Black actors for principal and supporting roles. Deborah Ayorinde stars as Elinor Dashwood and Bethany Antonia stars as her sister Marianne. Akil Largie plays Colonel Brandon and Dan Jeannotte plays Edward Ferrars. 

Den of Geek spoke to the film’s historical advisor Dr. Vanessa Riley and creative director Tia A. Smith to find out how the project balanced adapting the universal themes from the classic novel and making a production the wider Black diaspora can identify with.

Riley’s role as a historical advisor and “serious history nerd” was to assist set designers and the costuming department on styling to ensure onscreen details both large and small conformed to the Regency Era. She has spent the past decade researching the era for her Regency-set historical fiction, romance, and mystery novels. This movie is her first time serving as a historical advisor for a film or television period drama.


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