Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sense & Sensibility (1996)

Sense & SensibilityWhen Emma Thompson was approached with the suggestion to write a screenplay based on Jane Austen's first novel "Sense and Sensibility" (1811), she was somewhat doubtful because, as she explains on the DVD's commentary track, she felt that other Austen works, like the more expressive "Emma" and "Persuasion" or the sardonic "Pride and Prejudice" (already the subject of several adaptations) would have been more suitable. Four years and 14 screenplay drafts later (the first, a 300-page handwritten dramatization of the novel's every scene), "Sense and Sensibility" made its grand entrance into theaters worldwide and mesmerized audiences and critics alike, resulting in an Oscar for Thompson's screenplay and six further nominations (Best Picture, Leading Actress Thompson -, Supporting Actress Kate Winslet -, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score for 20 minutes' worth of composition and Costume Design); and double honors as Best Picture and for Thompson's screenplay at the Golden Globes.

More than simple romances, Jane Austen's novels are delicately constructed pieces of social commentary, written from her rural Hampshire's perspective. Mostly confined to life in her father's parish, she was nevertheless well aware of early 19th century England's society at large, and fiercely critical of the loss of morals and decorum she saw in its pre-industrial emergent city life. Moreover, experience and observation had made her acutely aware of the corsets forced onto women in fashion terms as much as by social norms, confining them to inactivity and complete dependency on their families' and their (future) husbands' money. And among this movie's greatest strengths is the manner in which it maintains that underlying theme of Austen's writing and brings it to a contemporary audience's attention. "You talk about feeling idle and useless: imagine how that is compounded when one has no hope and no choice of any occupation whatsoever," Elinor Dashwood (Thompson) tells her almost-suitor Edward Ferrars, and when he replies that "our circumstances are therefore precisely the same," she corrects him: "Except that you will inherit your fortune we cannot even earn ours."

Rescuing much from the first draft dramatization of Austen's novel and amplifying where necessary, Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee ("who most unexplainably seems to understand me better than I understand myself," Thompson said in her mock-Austen Golden Globe speech) produced a movie scrupulously faithful to what is known about Austen's world and at the same time incredibly modern, thus emphasizing the novel's timeless quality. Paintings were consulted for the movie's production design, and indeed, almost every camera frame both landscapes and interiors has the feeling of a picture by a period painter. Thompson cleverly uses poetry where the novel does not contain dialogue; and again, she does so in a manner entirely faithful to Austen's subtleties most prominently in the joint recital of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 by Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and John Willoughby (Greg Wise), where an ever so slight inaccuracy in his rendition of a sonnet he claims to love foreshadows his lacking sincerity.

"Sense and Sensibility" revolves around Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, their quest for a suitable husband, and the sisters' relationship with each other. Emma Thompson maintains that she did not write the screenplay with herself as Elinor in mind and would not have been accepted for that role but for the success of her previous films ("Howards End," "The Remains of the Day"); yet, it is hard to imagine who could have better played sensible Elinor: "effectual, ... [possessing] a coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen [and thus considerably younger than Thompson], to be the counselor of her mother." And real-life 19-year-old Kate Winslet embodies sensitive, artistic Marianne: "eager in everything; [without] moderation ... generous, amiable, interesting: ... everything but prudent." (As an older actress was sought for that part, her agent presented her as 25.) An early scene in which Marianne recites Hartley Coleridge's Sonnet VII ("Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate truth") symbolizes the sisters' relationship and their personalities, as Marianne mocks Elinor's seemingly cool response to Edward's budding affection. (Mostly taken from the novel, the scene is embellished by the screenplay's sole inexactitude: Coleridge's sonnets were only published 22 years later). Yet, when all her hope seems shattered, Elinor, in a rare outburst of emotion, rebukes her sister: "What do you know of my heart?" only to comfort her again when she sees that Marianne is equally distraught.

Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman similarly perfectly portray the sisters' suitors Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, both embodying the qualities Austen considered essential: simplicity, sincerity and a firm sense of morality. Willoughby, on the other hand, while entering the story like the proverbial knight on a white horse who rescues the injured Marianne, does not live up to the high expectations he evokes; he causes Marianne to unacceptably abandon decorum and, just as he misspoke in that line from Shakespeare's sonnet, his love eventually "bends with the remover to remove." Similarly, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), the near-stumbling block to Elinor's happiness, ultimately proves driven by nothing but an "unceasing attention to self-interest ... with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience" (Austen) and is, despite a fortuitous marriage, as marginalized as the Dashwoods' greedy sister-in-law Fanny (Harriet Walter). Conversely, the boisterous Sir John Middleton and his garrulous mother-in-law, while annoying in their insensitivity, are essentially goodnatured; and marvelously portrayed in their flawed but warmhearted ways by Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs.

"Sense and Sensibility" came out at the height of the mid-1990s' Jane Austen revival. Of all movies released then, and alongside 1996's "Emma" (which has "Hollywood" written all over it) and the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" (which finally established Colin Firth as the leading man in the U.S. that he had long been in Britain), Emma Thompson's "Sense and Sensibility" is one of those adaptations that future generations of moviegoers will likely turn to in years to come. And it is truly an experience not to be missed.

Also recommended:

The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Wordsworth Library Collection)

Jane Austen Collection (Sense & Sensibility / Emma / Persuasion / Mansfield Park / Pride & Prejudice / Northanger Abbey)

Pride and Prejudice (10th Anniversary Collector's Set) (A&E, 1996)


Howards End The Merchant Ivory Collection

Shakespeare's Sonnets (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Sonnets from the Portuguese: A Celebration 0f Love

(2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)Emma Thompson's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel and Ang Lee's direction of it prove to be a stunning and talented combination. This story about the complexities of love, society, and family won my heart in the first few minutes with its excellent acting, smart dialogue, and lush period setting.

The movie focuses primarily on the two oldest sisters of the Dashwood family Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her younger sister Marianne (Kate Winslet.) Elinor is practical and independent-minded, caught between her societal position as a woman and what she wants for herself. In contrast, Marianne is impetuous, artistic, passionate; she pursues her emotions as though nothing else matters. When both sisters fall in love with different men, they react very differently to the awakening of their affections.

The acting in this film could not have been any better. Although critics have complained that Emma Thompson is too old for the part of Elinor, she at once dispels all doubts with her expert performance. She becomes Elinor so thoroughly that it's difficult to imagine another actress tackling this role. As the romantic Marianne, Kate Winslet is charmingly breathless; she captures the essence of her character with seemingly no effort. Hugh Grant is awkwardly sincere as Edward, and the normally sinister Alan Rickman portrays with heartbreaking honesty the love-struck Colonel. To bring all this talent together, Ang Lee provides nuanced direction that captures both the beauty and the humanity of Austen's novel.

On the surface, this is a quiet movie, but underneath the turmoil of life whether in Austen's time or ours simmers. Viewers who enjoy character-driven films should love it.

Buy Sense & Sensibility (1996) Now

This recent movie adaptation of Jane Austin's "Sense and Sensibility" is just marvelous. Emma Thompson's enchanting screenplay is so close to the novel, and that's such a rare treat in a movie version. Yes, Emma Thompson is a bit old for the part of older sister Elinor but, she's so endearing, I'm willing to let it go. The supporting cast is very powerful, with performances by Kate Winslet, Greg Wise, Imogen Stubbs, Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant toping off a fabulous ensemble. Winslet is especially wonderful as the younger Dashwood sister. She's completely sweet, young and innocent. Her heartbreak at the hands of handsome and dashing Willoughby is extremely powerful and emotional. It's an all around well acted movie. Lots of wondeful performances. This is acutally a very funny movie and so beautifully shot by Director Ang Lee. Every aspect of the movie is wonderful. It's treat for all Austin fans and an all around wonderful film.

Read Best Reviews of Sense & Sensibility (1996) Here

Jane Austen is a fine writer, but her wordiness tends to drain the life from many of her characters. Thankfully, Emma Thompson recognized the limitations of the novel and adapted her screenplay accordingly, enhancing the humor of the original story and heightening drama to make the film more captivating. A cast was then chosen, made up of very talented thespians, including Miss Thompson herself. Add to that splendid English landscapes, excellent directing, haunting music, and superb cinematography, and what emerges is a modern masterpiece.

This is no movie for action fans; it is far too cerebral and requires a serious attention span. For those who enjoy a good love story well told, this film delivers. The characters are three-dimensional and their dilemmas full of human drama, bound as they are by the morals and manners of the times. Three sisters and their mother are left virtually penniless by the stricture against females inheriting property then in place in English law. The half-brother to the Dashwood women receives it all, but his selfish wife talks him out of helping his stepmother and half-sisters. It is up to the two older girls---sensible Elinor and passionate Marianne---to seek their fortunes in romance while lacking a dowry to help them.

Elinor finds her soulmate in shy, retiring Edward Ferrars, brother of the selfish sister-in-law, a man lacking in the usual Victorian ambitions. Her budding romance is shelved when his sister makes it clear that Elinor is "unsuitable" for Edward. The sisters and their mother then go to stay in a cottage owned by a kindly relative, Sir John, and his mother-in-law, the irrepressible Mrs. Jennings. The old woman is a confirmed gossip and matchmaker, bound to see one of the two sisters hitched up to Colonel Brandon, the most eligible bachelor in the area.

Brandon first sees Marianne singing a melancholy song and is incurably smitten. She in turn loses her heart to a dashing young man named Willoughby, who is her ideal of a Victorian-era gentleman, complete with a pocket book of sonnets. Brandon, who loves her more than his own happiness, steps aside and even encourages their relationship, despite his dislike for the handsome rogue.

Things take an unexpected turn for the worse for both sisters---Willoughby abruptly drops Marianne and flees to London with no explanation and Elinor discovers that Edward is engaged to a shallow young woman named Lucy Steele. The ensuing twists and turns in the plot make this film both agonizing and entertaining to watch. Mercifully, everyone winds up happy at the end wedded to the right person.

The whole film is solidly done, but it is the acting that really shines. Thompson is perfect for the role of the calmer sister, while Winslett is brilliant as the mercurial Marianne. Grant is endearing as the gentle Edward; Rickman finally gets to display his considerable ability to act the part of a very good and unselfish man. The rest of the cast keeps pace with the leads, and Hugh Laurie is indescribably funny as the sarcastic Mr. Palmer. One very beautiful aspect of this movie, along with the tendency to get drawn into the story, is the evocative musical score that tugs at the heartstrings.

All in all, this is a wonderful example of a film genre that is so often overlooked in today's world---period romance. More movies like this one desperately need to be produced. Buy this one today because it's a gem, perfect for an afternoon of inclement weather with your own soulmate.

Want Sense & Sensibility (1996) Discount?

Don't miss this movie! It's a brilliant adaptation of the Jane Austen classic and simply lovely to watch. Emma Thompson did an excellent job on the screenplay, and deservedly won an Oscar for her efforts.

I agree that in the age department, Emma Thompson was not suited to carry the role of Elinor Dashwood (who's supposed to be only 19). However, Ms Thompson's acting was brilliant and flawless, and as the story unfolds and draws you in, you hardly remember to notice or care about the age factor anymore. I thought Emma Thompson's portrayal of Elinor was not unlike the character of Margaret Schlegel (which she played in "Howards End") who's also a kind gentlewoman who loves too much and suffers inwardly.

As a story, "Sense and Sensibility" (S&S) has a far more serious premise compared to 2 other Austen works ie. "Emma" and "Mansfield Park". Perhaps this partly explains why S&S is the more highly-acclaimed movie (it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars) compared to Gwyneth Paltrow's "Emma" and Frances O'Connor's "Manfield Park". In S&S, there are very sad scenes involving unrequited love, quiet suffering (Elinor's and Col. Brandon's) and long illness (Marianne's). Many scenes will make you reach for that box of tissues eg. when the always calm-and-collected Elinor burst into uncontrollable tears the moment she hears the (happy) truth concerning Edward Ferrar's situation, and when Marianne (still lying ill in her bed) thanks Col. Brandon softly (for all his help and kindness).

I also admire Alan Rickman's acting. He is perfect as Col. Brandon, a very good man whose love for Marianne is (sadly) unrequited. His love is of the best kind he doesn't court with (empty) flowery words, instead he displays so much care, concern, lovingness and tenderness by his every look towards Marianne and by his every action to make her well and happy. I was nicely surprised that in the movie, Col. Brandon looks more dashing and handsome than John Willoughby (to me anyway).

Kate Winslet's "Marianne" is adorable as well. She sings beautifully and has such grace and beauty that it's no wonder men fell in love with her at first sight.

I shall not give away the ending, of course. But for the benefit of any viewer who have not read the novel but wish for a better and more satisfying understanding of the final scene involving Marianne, just remember the following sentence which I quote from the novel:

"Marianne could never love by halves."

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