Although Jane Austen's most famous novel Pride and Prejudice has been the subject of many a movie adaptation, Sense and Sensibility has not. Enter Emma Thompson. The well-known and highly regarded actress was determined to see the novel adapted for the screen and even wrote the screenplay. With Ang Lee directing, the result, released in 1995, is probably the best screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.
Two Sisters, Two Outlooks On Life
The 'sense and sensibility' of the title refer to different ways of dealing with life, and are represented by two sisters. Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) represents 'sense', while her younger sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) represents 'sensibility'. ('Sensibility' is a term modern viewers might not be familiar with; its modern equivalent might best be described as emotionalism.) The circumstances of their lives give both means of viewing and dealing with life a thorough trial.
Young gentlewomen in early 19th century England, the Dashwood girls are the offspring of their well-to-do father's second marriage. Upon his death, all his possessions go to the eldest son of his first marriage, and the second family is left in relative poverty. Brother John (James Fleet) and his fashionable but exceedingly nasty wife Fanny (Harriet Walter) take possession of the estate, with Elinor and her mother and sisters now the poor relations. (The scene in which Fanny convinces her husband he doesn't need to provide any extra income to his half-sisters is alone worth the price of admission.)
Nasty Fanny turns out to have a nice brother! Edward Ferrar (Hugh Grant) comes to visit his sister, and it's obvious that he and Elinor are attracted to one another. But Fanny and her mother intend for Edward to make a 'grand' marriage, and the attraction makes Fanny more determined to get the inconvenient relations out of what is now her house.
Offered a cottage by more generous relations, the Dashwood women move to Devonshire. Elinor expects to hear from Edward, but her hopes are denied.
Meanwhile, Marianne has caught the attention of Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), a worthy middle-aged man she doesn't even notice, so entranced is she by the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise). Willoughby can read a poem with true feeling and shares Marianne's taste in sonnets. How can generosity and common sense compete with that?
Will the reader be astonished to learn that Willoughby turns out to be a cad?
Memorable Characters and Scenes in Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility is full of memorable characters. Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Sprigg), irritating yet good-hearted, Charlotte Palmer (Imelda Staunton), who couldn't stop talking if her life depended on it, and the sugary but slyly malicious Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), who to Elinor's chagrin turns out to be secretly engaged to Edward.
The look of the film is just right; this is one of the few period movies I've seen in which the evening scenes genuinely appear candle-lit. Even the 'brilliant' ballroom scene appears dark to modern eyes. My main quibble with this film - and perhaps the younger readers could weigh in on the subject - would even a silly 19-year-old ignore Alan Rickman?