Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”
Release Year: 1995
Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Emma Thompson
Marianne Dashwood – Kate Winslet
Colonel Brandon – Alan Rickman
Edward Ferrars – Hugh Grant
Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”
At two hours and 20 minutes, this was definitely a longer film for what was the norm in the 90s, though even that required a lot of adjustments of the original text. Quite a few characters are cut out, as well as several scenes throughout the story. It doesn’t exactly make the case that there were superfluous characters in the book, but I will say that other than some of the humor from the elder Miss Steele (who is cut in the movie), I never really missed any of the characters who were removed. The small changes made to the order of reveals (Brandon’s history comes out much sooner) and the cut scenes towards the middle and the end all feel natural and smooth. This is truly the test of a good adaptation, and this movie passes with flying colors. The heart of the story remains true even when drastically shortened.
Beyond the cuts to scenes and characters, the screenplay works hard to give its heroes a bit more to do, particularly Edward who barely speaks in the first half of the book. We see a lot of scenes with him bonding with Margaret and through this attention gaining notice by Elinor. There’s also an interesting addition here where Elinor responds to Edward’s complaints about not having an occupation that even his situation is better than what women have: no chance of even having an occupation so without income, they have very few options. It’s only a brief scene, but it does shine an important light on the differences between their situations.
Overall, it seems that this movie was quite well-received, both critically and by audiences. Alan Rickman, in particular, is still pointed to as the quintessential Colonel Brandon, and I think many Austen fans file this movie in the positive category of adaptations. I hadn’t re-watched it for quite some time, but now that I’ve been reminded just how good it is, I’m sure it will not be nearly as long before I pull it out once again.
Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”
Emma Thompson is a treasure. There is no denying this one universal truth. With regards to her casting, I would say that she reads as a bit older than what the book Elinor was supposed to be (around 19 or 20, I believe). However, in some ways, this older version of Elinor fits even better with the character we are given. The age difference being greater between Elinor and Marianne both makes Elinor’s own perfection when dealing with family trials more believable, but also makes Marianne’s youthful naivety and foolishness seem more in line with the silliness of younger person, leaving her basic sense and intelligence intact with the thought that she, like most, only needed to age out of the follies of youth.
The movie also made a few early efforts to give Elinor opportunities to show emotion which I think also helped translate her character better. In the very beginning of the movie, Edward comes across her silently crying as she watches Marianne play a sad piano piece, knowing that it will be one of the last times Marianne will have a chance to play. Towards the middle of the movie, she also shows more emotion when revealing her prior knowledge of Lucy and Edward’s engagement to Marianne.
Kate Winslet does well with Marianne’s character. Her hair is atrocious, but we can forgive her for that, I guess. She plays Marianne’s love affair with Willoughby with a lovely sense of naive innocence and shines in many of the scenes with him early in the movie. As the movie cuts out some things in the second half of the story, she fades largely into the background during the second hour. Though the scene when she looks down upon Willoughby’s home while standing in the raging storm has all of the classic tragic romance once could possibly want.
Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”
Seeming to recognize the want of action given to the heroes in the book, it is clear early on that the movie is trying very hard to give the audience opportunities to connect with our leading men during the few chances they get. Edward has a lot more screen time during his initial visit to the Dashwood family home, going on horse back rides with Elinor, playing swords with Margaret, etc. Hugh Grant does a good job lending his typical affable charm to the character and playing up the humorous side of the script. I’ve never loved Hugh Grant as an actor, but there’s no denying how charismatic he is and he makes Edward immediately appealing. Which makes it all the more weird when Edward disappears for a large chunk of time only to reappear briefly to deal with the Lucy situation, disappear again, and then show up for 5 minutes to reuinite with Elinor. The seriousness of the Lucy situation also makes for an awkward transition from funny, charming Edward to morose, gloomy Edward. Grant clearly does better with the former.
Ah, Alan Rickman. Another actor, like Thompson, who will always be a treasure. He is perfectly cast as Colonel Brandon, I think most people agree. The book itself gave more opportunities for Colonel Brandon to shine than Edward, and the movie follows this. Unlike Edward, his presence is more steady throughout and his characterization seems to flow more naturally. The movie also lets us in on his past much earlier in the story, with Mrs. Jennings revealing much of his past to Elinor even before Willoughby arrives on the scene. With this knowledge in advance, it’s easy to connect with Rickman’s serious, but endearingly earnest, take on Colonel Brandon. His romantic actions during Marianne’s illness also play directly to his strengths, rounding out the almost gothic romance of that entire scene.
Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
Greg Wise is a convincing Willoughby. He has enough of a good-natured face that viewers immediately want to like him, an important aspect of the character to more fully sympathize with one of our heroines being so taken in. He also does a good job with the scene in which he leaves Marianne behind and the one where he meets her again at the ball. In the former, he really sells the idea that it is a torment for him and that he truly feels the loss of his connection with Marianne and the family (even if we later learn it is of his own deciding). And at the ball, he still seems affected, but has a good sense of coldness to his demeaner. The movie, however, omits his later visit while Marianne is sick, so all of the coldness of his letter is left as is and not revealed to have been dictated to him by a cruel fiance/wife. Instead, all of Willoughby’s history is delivered by Colonel Brandon, and we are never given Willoughby’s version of events from his own mouth. This seems like a worthwhile cut, in my opinion, as that scene in the book did little to change my feelings towards Willoughby. And as far as the movie is concerned, there is no reason to attempt to redeem him after the fact.
Imogen Stubbs’ Lucy Steele is particularly slimy feeling. From the very first, the actress manages to instill a certain look into Lucy’s eyes that immediately triggers suspicion to the viewers. This suspicion is, of course, immediately gratified by her revealing her history to Elinor. The movie cuts out her older sister, so instead we see Lucy herself revealing her history to Mrs. John Dashwood. What follows, Mrs. John Dashwood physically attacking her, plays for great comedic value and also as a satisfying moment for the viewers themselves.
Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
The movie does hard work to try to up the ante for the romance in this story. As I mentioned in my review of the book, there is really very little there. Like I said above in the heroes section, they gave Edward a lot more time in the beginning of the movie to show his growing attachment to Elinor and general character as a whole. This does a lot of good work making their relationship one that viewers become invested in. The movie also adds a scene in the first act where we see Edward begin a confusing conversation with Elinor about his early education that later pays off when we discover his relationship with Lucy and can connect it back to Edward’s attempts to let Elinor know what his hold up is. But, again, there’s no escaping his total absence for much of the rest of the movie. The story also cuts out his visit to the cottage, which is probably for the best, but this choice also just expounds the problem of his dropping off entirely for much of the movie. By the time we get to the romantic conclusion, I, for one, felt more joy in Elinor finally being rewarded just in general than in any real investment in the relationship as a whole.
Colonel Brandon still comes out as the more romantic of the two. Though here, even the movie struggles to really develop a relationship between its two “lovers.” The early scenes between Marianne and Colonel Brandon are barely worth mentioning. We see them playing yard bowling, but never really hear them even talk to each other. But through Rickman’s superb acting and the fact that many of his scenes are with the equally superb Thompson, it’s still easy for viewers to become invested in at least his side of the romance. They add to the ending for Marianne and Brandon as well, since the verging on “marry with the expectation of love to come later” theme of the book for these two wouldn’t work well with modern audiences who want their fairytale ending. So, instead, we get nice scenes of Brandon reading poetry to Marianne quietly as she recovers.
Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
They cut out several of the comedic characters, like the elder Miss Steele. But, of course, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John are left intact, re-imagined as living together after Mrs. Jenning’s daughter, Sir John’s wife, died. The actors play off each other very well and the other characters are barely missed.
Hugh Laurie, bizarrely, shows up as the grumpy Mr. Palmer. Just another example of the fact that if you watch enough Jane Austen adaptations and Harry Potter, you’re almost sure to run into every famous British actor we know from the last 30 years or so. His Mr. Palmer is just as surly as ever, but he does bring a more sympathetic turn to the character when he expresses worry for Marianne and regret in his family needing to essentially abandon them when they move due to a concern for their young baby.
Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”
Emma Thompson was nominated for “Best Actress” for this movie and won for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” I believe she is the only actor to be nominated for two categories like this in one film?
The movie ends with a double wedding, a change from the book in which the two sisters marry several months apart. But, the fun fact of it all, is that the scene itself is very like that of the ending of the BBC “Pride and Prejudice” which also features a double wedding for two sisters and also came out in 1995. Collusion? Coincidence? You decide!
Gemma Jones, who plays Mrs. Dashwood, will next appear in this re-read as another famous Austen mother: Mrs. Jones (Bennett) in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” She will be joined by fellow cast mate, Hugh Grant, who plays the Wickham character in that adaptation.
Greg Wise and Emma Thompson are married. Wise was told by a palm reader, or some such thing, that he would have a love connection with someone in the movie. He went on a date with Winslet, the only single person at the time, but it wasn’t a match. Later, he and Thompson, who got along well on set, married after she split from the cheating Kenneth Branagh (who cheats on Emma Thompson!? A question we all asked of Alan Rickman’s character in “Love, Actually.” If you’re not careful, the recurring cast members in these films can feel a bit inbred when you start putting them all together…).
Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”
This is a blatant abuse of category creation purely for self-indulgence.
My best friend in college and I had a running joke/list of the most ridiculous crying scenes in movies, and the performance given by Thompson when Elinor discovers that Edward isn’t married was always at the top of this list. This is not to say that the scene is poorly acted, just that, for a crying scene, it’s definitely not subtle.
In two weeks, I’ll review the much longer 2008 version of “Sense and Sensibility.”
2 thoughts on “My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” ”
it’s not a double wedding in the film. They’ve been married already. This is some time after that event. (See Thompson’s audio commentary track on full -featured CDs. She mentions this is a common confusion of viewers.)
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Ah! Good to know! But I’m not sure how the viewer is supposed to clue in to that with what we end up actually seeing. Clearly I wasn’t the only one confused! Though, it’s kind of a nonissue because it’s not the kind of change, had it been a double wedding, that makes any material difference one way or the other. Thanks for fact check! – S