SENSE AND SENSIBILITY is the latest Jane Austin movie to come to
the big screen. Taking her first crack with a movie script, Emma
Thompson adapted the novel for the cinema. For the director, we have
the wonderful and imaginative Ang Lee from EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN among
other highly acclaimed movies. To compliment these, almost all of the
roles are well cast. The result for me was an excellent movie, but
one, nevertheless, that disappointed me and found me checking my watch
during the slow parts. Perhaps my disappointment lay in having
recently seen similar but much better film adaptations in PERSUASION by
Jane Austin and FEAST OF JULY by H. E. Bates.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY tells the story of two families joined by a
common father, Henry Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson). At the start of the
story, the father dies and by law and by custom he passes his huge
estate onto his eldest son, John (James Fleet), but admonishes him to
take care of his sister, Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones). John's evil wife
Fanny (Harriet Walter) soon convinces him that the Dashwoods, having no
estate to take care of, can get along fine on the 500 pounds per annum
from the will and need no help from them.
Mrs. Dashwood's family consists of two daughters of marrying age,
Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet) and one about nine
(Emile Francois). The Dashwoods stay briefly at the family estate
while Fanny counts the silver. During this interlude, Fanny's younger
brother, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), stops by for a visit. He is a
modest man of minimal emotions. He proclaims that, "All I want, all
I've ever wanted is the quiet of a private life, but my mother wants me
Eventually, Edward falls in love with Elinor, but Marianne is not
impressed, declaring, "Can love really be satisfied with such polite
affections? To love is to burn." Fanny can not stand the idea of her
brother falling in love with poor relatives and gets the Dashwoods out
of her house and Edward off to London. The Dashwoods rent a mere
"cottage" owned by their cousin, a boisterous, rich, but fairly crude
gentleman (Robert Hardy).
At the cottage, they met two mysterious men, the war hero Colonel
Brandon (Alan Rickman) and the handsome young John Willoughby (Greg
Wise), who both fall instantly in love with Marianne. They are jealous
of each other, and John claims that "Brandon is the sort of man
everyone speaks well of, but nobody talks to." To further complicate
matters, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs) drops by to confess her love for
Edward. A soap opera of the highest caliber.
Many wonderful scenes abound. The best is a sad scene of Marianne
in blowing cold and gray rain while dramatic music plays. Many small
scenes were wonderful too. One of my favorites was the one where
Marianne and John Willoughby challenge each other in a sort of love
duet to recite Shakespeare's sonnets by heart.
The best piece of acting is by Kate Winslet from HEAVENLY
CREATURES. She is a stunning actress who shows more emotion that
everyone else in the movie combined. I hope to see her in many more
films. The brilliant Emma Thompson gives a perfectly acceptable
performance, but one of the least impressive of her career. Hugh Grant
plays Hugh Grant and sticks to a single awkward expression.
Emile Francois and Gemma Jones have small parts but do a lot with
them. Imogen Stubbs, best in the great, but largely unknown movie A
SUMMER STORY, gives a fetching performance. Alan Rickman and Greg Wise
play excellent mysterious roles. Only James Fleet and Harriet Walter
seem miscast. As villains, they are never believable and play their
roles as too much of a caricature.
The best part of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY may be the costumes (Jenny
Beavan and John Bright), especially the men's hats with the large
flowing brims. Made me want to run out to my local haberdasher - too
bad hats are no longer in high fashion. The sets by Luciana Arrighi
are highly evocative of that era. The music by Patrick Doyle has the
drama of some of the melodramas of the 30s and 40s. The cinematography
by Michael Coulter does a good job of bringing out the inherit beauty
of the surroundings.
Now for the problems with SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. For some reason,
Ang Lee decides to hold back too much. The emotional punch of
PERSUASION rarely occurs here; there just is not enough tension and
passion. Lee keeps throttling his actor and actresses. Given the high
energy of his other pictures, I remain nonplused why he approached this
movie the way he did. The slow editing by Tim Squyres must also share
some of the blame. In an otherwise enjoyable show, I found myself
getting bored at times. Admittedly SENSE AND SENSIBILITY has a
wonderful ending and people do leave the theater with an upbeat feeling
even with all of its flaws.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY runs a long 2:15; my seat was complaining
well before the end. It is rated PG, but is totally non-offensive G
fare. I think it would interest kids over about eight. Even though I
was quite disappointed by the film, I did like it a lot and recommend
it to you. It gets *** in my book.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes