October 24, 2014

Films

Sense and Sensibility – 1995 | 135 mins | Drama, Comedy, Romance | Colour

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Plot Synopsis

Sense and Sensibility

It’s a curious thing that the best 1995 adaptation of a Jane Austen book happens to be of her worst novel. Sense and Sensibility was the author’s first published work and, as is often the case with early writing efforts, displays an undeniable shallowness: themes are half- developed, characterisation is uneven, and plotting follows a predictable straight-forwardness. Austen’s later books, including Persuasion, which was developed into a wonderfully sumptuous film, and Emma, plumb the human soul far more deeply, creating characters and situations of greater versatility and vitality. That’s more in the nature of literary criticism than a film review, however. Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful motion picture, even given the weaknesses of the source material. Emma Thompson‘s screenplay has remained faithful to the events and spirit of the book, while somehow managing to plug a few holes and infuse the tale with more light humour than is evident in Austen’s original text. The resulting product is a little too long, but still represents a fine time at the movies, especially for those with a bent towards historical romantic melodramas.

As mentioned above, the story isn’t all that complex or surprising, and those unfamiliar with Austen’s work won’t be left in the dark. We’re introduced to the three Dashwood sisters: Elinor (Emma Thompson), the eldest – an old maid past marriageable age who keeps her emotions bottled up in favour of a constant show of public decorum; Marianne (Kate Winslet), the middle child, who is Elinor’s opposite in temperament and attitude; and Margaret (Emilie Francois), an eleven-year old who seems to be following in Marianne’s uninhibited footsteps. The girls live with their mother (Gemma Jones) in a small country cottage to which they are “exiled” after their half-brother inherits their father’s estate and decides there’s not enough room for everyone. During the course of Sense and Sensibility, three men come in and out of the Dashwoods’ home: Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), a charming, if somewhat inept, young gentleman who captures Elinor’s heart; Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), a gallant neighbour who is hopelessly smitten by Marianne; and the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise), who is the living embodiment of Marianne’s every fantasy. The story of who ends up with whom, and how they get that way, is told with deft skill and a pleasantly humorous romantic touch.

As is so often the case in British productions, acting is more important than the script or the impressive production values. Emma Thompson‘s Elinor can join the actresses’ characters from Howards End, The Remains of the Day and Carrington as examples of top- notch, finely nuanced performances. Here, perhaps borrowing a leaf from Anthony Hopkins, she develops a poignant portrait of a woman who must conceal a broken heart beneath a proper, civilised exterior. Thompson, who has never before played a character suffering from this kind of repression, proves she’s as good at this as she is being the free spirit. Kate Winslet fits perfectly into the period setting, recalling a younger Helena Bonham Carter. Her youth and energy are perfect for the overly emotional Marianne. Winslet isn’t as accomplished as Thompson at capturing the camera’s attention, but rarely is she completely eclipsed, either. She interacts effectively with her co-star as Marianne and Elinor learn from each other when it’s best to temper emotions and when it’s best to let them go.

As expected, the supporting cast is excellent. Emilie Francois is a marvellous find as little Margaret. Hugh Grant brings his usual boyish charm to Edward, and Alan Rickman, too often pigeonholed into villainous roles, shows for the first time since Truly, Madly, Deeply that he’s very much at home in a romantic part. Greg Wise is suitably roguish, and veterans Gemma Jones, Harriet Walter and Robert Hardy give personality to characters with less screen exposure. The novel’s flaws guarantee that Sense and Sensibility cannot be a perfect motion picture, but it would be difficult, I think, to do much better with the material than Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee have here. With more Jane Austen on the way it’s still too early to say which adaptation will stand out as the best, but Sense and Sensibility makes a strong case.

Reviewę James Berardinelli.

Production Team

Ang Lee: Director
Philip Elton: Art Direction
Geoff Stier: Associate Producer
Michael Coulter: Cinematography
James Schamus: Co-Producer
Laurie Borg: Co-Producer
John Bright: Costume Design
Jenny Beavan: Costume Design
Tim Squyres: Editing
Sydney Pollack: Executive Producer
Jan Archibald: Make-up Dept
Morag Ross: Make-up Dept
Patrick Doyle: Original Music
Lindsay Doran: Producer
Luciana Arrighi: Production Design
Emma Thompson: Script
Andrew Kris: Sound Dept
Joe Cimino: Sound Dept
Pietro Cecchini: Sound Dept

Cast

Emma Thompson: Elinor Dashwood
Kate Winslet: Marianne Dashwood
Alan Rickman: Colonel Brandon
Hugh Grant: Edward Ferrars
James Fleet: John Dashwood
Tom Wilkinson: Mr Dashwood
Gemma Jones: Mrs Dashwood
Robert Hardy: Sir John Middleton
Imogen Stubbs: Lucy Steele
Imelda Staunton: Charlotte Palmer
Hugh Laurie: Mr Palmer



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