Sense and Sensibility (1996)


During England’s Georgian era, two very different and newly impoverished sisters (Emma Thompson, The Remains of The Day, and Kate Winslet, Titanic), face the capricious whims of fate and destiny in their pursuit for true happiness.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“True affection is by far the most valuable dowry.”

Jane Austen is one of the most acclaimed English writers of all time. Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, established the ideas and concepts she visited again and again in future works. All of her stories deal, more or less, with women facing strenuous circumstances with only their wit and intelligence as survival weapons. She also was adept at exploring England’s 19th century class structure.

This film adaptation of Austen classic novel is one of the best adaptations of a literary classic to ever grace the silver screen. Director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and actor-turned-screenwriter Emma Thompson not only succeed in capturing Austen’s incisive observations of a bygone era, they succeeded in making the period piece relevant to contemporary eyes by giving a modern feminist twist to the classic novel.

Sense and Sensibility was clearly a labor of love for all the people involved in its production. Believe it or not, this gorgeous-looking production was made on a relatively small budget. Producer Lindsay Doran (Nanny McPhee) seems to have been the major driving force behind the project, as she urged Thompson to write the screenplay while she worked on raising the necessary money for the film.

Although director Lee had never made an English-speaking film before, he was selected on the strength of his wonderful, highly-acclaimed Taiwanese films, The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). The hard work, clear devotion and love they poured into bringing Austen’s first novel to the screen really paid off — Sense and Sensibility became a huge critical and financial success.

Despite the fact that Sense and Sensibility gets most of its energy from the literate dialogue and astute characterizations, director Lee doesn’t neglect other areas. Lee uses different techniques to further emphasize the difference in temperaments of the two sisters. Bright colors are combined with more ornate and serene colors to vigorously stress the true nature of the characters. Lee does an admirable job of balancing these interesting visual conceptions, rendering these traits with precision and clarity.

Sets, costumes and locations are very important in a film of this nature, and Michael Coulter’s (Four Weddings and a Funeral) cinematography helps capture even the most insignificant details. Considering the delicate balance of contrast in the film’s image due to the fact that many scenes had to be filmed using mostly candles and very subtle artificial lighting, Coulter’s work remains exceptionally clever, effective.

Patrick Doyle’s (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bridget Jones’s Diary) Oscar-nominated music score contributes to enhance the whole movie experience, and remains one of the best examples of how a gentle but forceful soundtrack can elevate this kind of drama to new levels of satisfaction. The extraordinary costumes were designed by Jenny Beavan (The Remains of the Day) and John Bright (A Room with a View).

Each member of the handpicked cast has been given plenty of opportunities to shine. Thompson and Kate Winslet are, of course, superb. Hugh Grant (Notting Hill) as Edward Ferrars and Alan Rickman (Die Hard) as Colonel Brandon are great too. Hugh Laurie (TV’s House) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) are hilarious as Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. Elizabeth Spriggs (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) is my favorite, though — she plays busy-body Mrs. Jennings, and she’s a delight from beginning to end. Greg Wise (Johnny English), whom would later marry Thompson, plays John Willoughby. The cast also includes Gemma Jones (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) as Mrs. Dashwood, and James Fleet (Charlotte Gray) as John Dashwood. Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) has a cameo as Mr. Dashwood.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

As a rule of thumb, film adaptations of literary classics tend to be a little too self-important. This film adaptation of author Jane Austen’s popular 1811 novel is an exception to the rule. Full of honesty, humor, charm and romantic feeling, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility is an utterly delightful and handsome production that keeps the audience entertained from the spirited beginning to the very satisfying ending. Highly recommended! Color, 136 minutes, Rated PG.

9 responses to “Sense and Sensibility (1996)

  1. Excellent review, Eric! However, the movie does not deserve to be seen just once. It should be viewed over and over again… A true Gem!

    Liked by 2 people

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