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:
Jane Austen is one of the most acclaimed English writers of all time. Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion are prime examples of her talents as a writer. 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, intelligence, and patience as survival weapons. She also was adept at exploring the now seemly ridiculous absurdities of England’s class structure at the turn of the 1800s.
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 (Hulk and 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 tight budget. Producer Lindsay Doran 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 Taiwanese films, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, which are not all that different from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The hard work, clear devotion and love they poured into bringing Austen’s first novel to the screen really paid off.
Although the film gets most of its energy from the dialogue, director Lee doesn’t neglect other areas. Lee uses different techniques to further emphasize the obvious difference of temperaments of the two sisters. Bright colors and strong lights 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 without any hackery.
Sets, costumes and locations are very important in a film of this nature, and Michael Coulter’s (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually) cinematography helps capture even the most insignificant details. The soft pastel colors of the wallpaper, the greens of the landscapes, the blues of the sky, etc., they are all presented in the most engrossing manner. 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 (Indochine and Bridget Jones’s Diary) lyrical and dainty 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.
Each member of the handpicked cast has been given plenty of opportunities to shine. Thompson and 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:
Sense and Sensibility became the surprise hit of 1995, and eventually won the Golden Globe as Best Picture of the year (in a heated competition with Braveheart). Usually film adaptations of literary classics are as inert and lifeless as the wallpaper of the drawing rooms in which they take place. This film adaptation of Austen’s novel is an exception. Full of charm and romantic feeling, Sense and Sensibility offers endless pleasures as the audience submerges into a world where life’s obstinate difficulties are handled with humor and grace. Director Lee and writer Thompson managed to create an utterly delightful, completely disarming and exquisite film that keeps the audience entertained from the spirited beginning to the very satisfying ending. With all its genuine class and elegance, Sense and Sensibility deserves to be viewed at least once. Co-produced by Sidney Pollack (Out of Africa) and James Schamus (Indignation). Color, 136 minutes, Rated PG.