Connect with us


Sense & Sensibility (#087)

“100 Films for 100 Rainy Days”



Directed by: Ang Lee » Written by: Emma Thompson » Based on the Novel by: Jane Austen, 1995 » Region/Time: U.S.A./U.K., 136 minutes

Starring: Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood » Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood » Emilie François as Margaret Dashwood » Gemma Jones as Mrs. Dashwood » Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars » Alan Rickman as Col. Christopher Brandon » Greg Wise as John Willoughby » Harriet Walter as Fanny Ferrars Dashwood » James Fleet as John Dashwood » Robert Hardy as Sir John Middleton » Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings » Imogen Stubbs as Lucy Steele » Hugh Laurie & Imelda Staunton as Mr. & Mrs. Palmer.

“Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise!” – Marianne Dashwood

I love chick flicks. There, I said it. I’m not ashamed. And for me, Sense and Sensibility is the very best of all. Unfortunately, like the western, when I look at my list of 100 films for 100 rainy days, the chick flick seems to be underrepresented. Here, then, is a short list of some others to check out from different countries, ranging from the most comic to the most serious: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Say Anything…, Amelie, My Sassy Girl, Earrings of Madame De…, Scent of Green Papayas and Un Coeur En Hiver.

Sense and Sensibility is based on the first, and what many consider to be the least, of Jane Austen’s novels. The novel, however, was turned through Emma Thompson’s award-winning screenplay into what I consider to be the best big screen Austin adaptation – including the clever, but less-than-faithful Clueless and Bridget Jones. She was able to retain the wit and social commentary of Jane Austen, while by simplifying the plot line, she smoothes out some of the more contrived portions.

The movie concerns itself with the life and loves of two sisters, Elinor (she’s the sensible one) and Marianne (she’s the one that is all sense and emotion) Dashwood. At the outset of the movie, their father is dying. On his deathbed, he tells his son by a previous marriage (John) that because of the law, the estate will pass to him. The father urges John to look after his step-mother and her three daughters. Once John tells his wife Fanny (the real villain of the film) of his grand plan to give £3000 to his step-family, she steadily works him down to a vast sum of £0 and convinces him to remove them from their current residence.

During the course of being kicked out of their house, Elinor spends time with the delightfully shy, yet kind and witty, Edward Ferrars. Due to the social restrictions of the times, both are highly circumspect in anything they say (or don’t say, mostly) regarding love or marriage. However, their future together seems certain until Edward’s sister, Fanny, sees the attraction and does everything in her power to break the burgeoning relationship apart.

Moving to a small cottage in the country, they are introduced to the bombastic and gregarious Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, who do not stand for propriety and quickly “winkle out” the presence of a “Mr. F” in Elinor’s life. They spend much of the film teasing Elinor of this and trying to figure out his identity. Marianne, too, is courted by their friend Colonel Brandon, but she feels he is too old, instead falling for the dashing and bold Willoughby. Where Elinor was cautious and hesitant concerning Edward, Marianne is brash and unguarded with Willoughby.

Complications ensue, as they always do. Motives for various characters also change, and watching the film again, I have a completely different view of Lucy’s motivation, for example, than the first time I saw the film.

Of course, the stories of both sisters lead to heartbreak and despair before finally resolving into love, happiness and marriage, but then who would expect otherwise from Jane Austen? By the end of the movie, however, it seems like it is Marianne who gives into sensibility in choosing her husband and Elinor who is overwhelmed by her senses. It is this scene near the end of the movie, in which all the misunderstanding are cleared up, and two characters hesitantly proclaim their love for each other, that elevates the entire movie. I think it is one of the most moving scenes in all of cinema and the film sensibly wraps up within a minute or two, giving people just enough time to wipe their eyes before the credits roll.

Sense and Sensibility belongs to that Merchant/Ivory style of English film, sumptuous to look at, fully of historically accurate costumes and set design, in which characters, being English, are completely unable to express their own emotions. It is surprising then, that the film was helmed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee. Lee had already made two films dealing with parents trying to marry off their children (Eat Drink Man Woman, Wedding Banquet) and would go on to make several others dealing with unrequited love (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain).

Ang Lee has always had a knack for bringing out humanist performances from his actors and highlighting little-known actors. The performances of Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman are career highlights and Kate Winslet (like Zhang Ziyi or Jake Gyllenhall in other Lee films) puts in a performance that ignited her screen career. Sprinkled throughout the film are cameos from some of the greatest British actors, such as Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small) or Hugh Laurie (House) as the sarcastic Mr. Palmer. If you watch this movie and Gosford Park, you will have pretty much seen every actor in the Harry Potter series. The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice attempted to replicate the success of this film, but, while enjoyable, isn’t as good, probably as the more difficult novel requires a longer adaptation, like the popular BBC TV series.

Up Next in the Film Canon: Racism, Germany and the melodrama.

Continue Reading
Click to comment