Sensible film making

Emma Thompson's labor of love pure perfection

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

In a wave of films inspired by the works of Jane Austen (Clueless and the upcoming Emma), there is one picture so perfect, so utterly enjoyable that it seems destined to become a classic.

Adapted for the screen by actress Emma Thompson over a period of more than four years, Sense and Sensibility stands as not only the best film of 1996, but one of the best in recent memory. While Thompson has proven herself to be an outstanding actress with memorable roles in films like Howard's End, The Remains of the Day, Much Ado About Nothing and the recent Carrington, Sense and Sensibility stands as a milestone in an already fruitful career.

For Thompson, the idea of adapting Austen's timeless novel was a dream come true. Her eagerness shows in the deftly written, often witty script. It is the story of two distinctly different sister: the impetuous, passionate Marianne (Kate Winslet) and the sensible, cautious Elinor (Thompson). While Marianne's untamed actions often cause chastisement from her older sister, Elinor's reserved state often throws Marianne into unbelievable repose.

After their father, Henry Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) dies unexpectedly, his son from his first marriage, John (James Fleet) inherits his estate with his wife, Fanny (Harriet Walter). This leaves Elinor, Marianne, their youngest sister Margaret (Emilie Francois) and their mother (Gemma Jones) with no home and little money.

Through the trials of finding a new home and scraping together a living, Elinor's heart is captured by Fanny's younger brother, Edward (Hugh Grant). Being the unemotional woman she is, though, Elinor keeps her feelings within herself. Soon after, Edward is called away, leaving Elinor longing for her secret romance.

Marianne is also romanced by a suitor, the handsome Willoughby (Greg Wise), who may not be all that he seems. It is the noble Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), though, who truly loves Marianne, regardless of her rejection.

Brandon waits, patiently and with a heavy heart, in hopes of a reciprocation from the young Marianne.

In the hands of a lesser screenwriter and director, the film would be a pleasant, if forgetful, romantic romp. With Thompson penning the script and the always able Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman) providing meticulous direction, Sense and Sensibility is a film that will not be forgotten soon.

Everything in the film is delightful, from the bright, springtime lighting to the smallest supporting players. Elizabeth Spriggs, Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie in particular are excellent. Spriggs makes for a perfect gossip-monger always ready to dish the latest dirt. Staunton is a laugh as her jumpy daughter-in-law Charlotte, and Laurie's deadpan portrayal of Charlotte's disenchanted husband provides plenty of chuckles.

The movie does not belong to anyone one actor, with each player turning in a stellar performance in their own right. As the willful Marianne, Winslet is a powder keg of emotion, jumping off the screen and into our hearts. She is more than just a distressed damsel, though, inciting frequent uproars because of her free spirit.

Rickman and Wise are also quite able as two of Marianne's suitors. Rickman's quiet, understated turn is complemented by Wise's brash, direct performance.

Grant continues his bumbling from previous films in this offering, but he seems more sincere. His performance makes Edward a likable fellow, enraptured by Elinor, who is unsure of how to act on her feelings.

Casting Thompson as the eldest Dashwood sister caused some critics to cite her too old for the part, but this is complete hogwash. Thompson is a delight as Elinor, capturing all the pent up frustration and fear of a woman bound to her morals but aching with love. In two specific scenes, Thompson is nothing short of brilliant, unleashing the pain of hiding her true emotions in such a manner as to incite both tears and laughter from the audience.

There simply isn't enough to say about Sense and Sensibility, which recently earned six Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. Director Lee has created a movie that doesn't scream at you with loud performances or hit you over the head with scenes calculated to incite reactions.

His pictures move quietly, with a poignant reserve in each and every scene. When the emotions finally come forward, though, the impact is unforgettable.

As mentioned, Thompson's screenplay is expertly conceived, with touches of quick humor and sincere emotion. It would be no surprise to see her walk away with an Oscar for not only actress, but screenwriter as well.

Underneath it all, Sense and Sensibility deals with a number of intricate themes, including confronting your fears and letting go of what seems to be the "safe" route in life. Both Elinor and Marianne are essentially searching for the same thing in life, but their ways of going about it are completely different.

Elinor is trapped by her fear of actually being vulnerable and revealing the burning desire inside, while Marianne's unbridled spirit may be a disguise for her hidden fear about committing to a relationship.

Also evident is a strong sense of family ties in the Dashwood family, a group of four women struggling to survive in a male-dominated world. Their perseverance pays off in the end, but the struggle is long and hard. Sometimes love isn't the easiest path, but it, like, the movie itself, is one well worth taking.

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