Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sense and Sensibility 1995

Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)Emma Thompson is a goddess.  I just want to put that out there as a fact, as irrefutable as the earth being round.  Her version of S&S from 1995 will be watched 100 years from now.  It just will. This film is one which I pop in to the DVD player when I feel like I need a good cry.  As I am typing this the music of Marianne at the piano playing her melancholy tunes instantly pops into my head.
 I am afraid of going on for fear of gushing here.  Of course, the main reason for the success of this film is Emma Thompson’s script (and she truly channeled Jane Austen for this) and her vision for the film.  Ang Lee as director gave the beauty of the locations and the talent of the actors the ability to shine here. Yes, there are small annoyances like Hugh Grant’s stiff neck substituting for real acting.  But Sir John and Mrs. Jennings are hilarious, John and Fanny Dashwood in the scene where she talks him out of giving the girls any of the inheritance is just as Jane Austen would have wanted it done.  The three sisters and their grieving mother draw you into their world.  Alan Rickman is wonderful as Brandon with his silky voice and sad eyes.  And Greg Wise is so dashing as Willoughby that Emma Thompson just had to marry him 8 years later, the lucky girl.  She deserves him.

 Music....perfection.  Beautiful scenery and locations....check. Top notch acting.... all there.  Very little to gripe about here other than the fact that it was only 136 minutes long and that she has not adapted any other Jane Austen novel or any period drama for that matter.  Nanny McPhee is cute, but we need your Cambridge trained brain working on other pieces for us Emma.  We love you. Actually, I just looked on IMDb and she is apparently the writer of the screenplay for My Fair Lady 2012.  I wait with bated breath.

Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries (Newmarket Shooting Script)One more note for anyone who loved this film.  You can purchase the screenplay (mildly interesting) which also includes her diary from the making of the film (hilarious and incredibly interesting). 

And now, I must also request some more non fiction writing from Ms. Thompson as her wit is too good to keep to herself.


  1. You are so right in saying that Emma Thompson is a goddess. I once said to one of my best friends that I wanted a friend like Emma Thompson only realizing later how it must have sounded. But since she shares my adoration for the great Emma Thompson, I was forgiven.

    To be honest, I didn't see how great this adaptation the first time around. I had read the novel a while back and loved it. I think I had different things in mind which were realized much closer in the newer ‘Sense and Sensibility’ adaptation from 2008. But years later I bought the DVD and re-watched this ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and enjoyed it so much. As you so rightly say, Emma Thompson has caught and channelled Jane Austen.

    I have the diary of Emma Thompson to the making of the film as well and that is a great diary, so insightful and human that even those stars seem like people next door, which they essentially are, I know. I am sure that Emma Thompson must have had an influence on Kate Winslet’s ease with women’s weight (though I always wondered why she was considered anything but gorgeous at all).

  2. Hi again Rena,

    I hope Emma Thompson writes a book someday because I already know that I would love it. Both Emma and Kate Winslet are amazing. I believe Emma taught Kate to roll her own cigarettes on the S&S set, for which she felt regret, but otherwise yes I think she was a great influence on young Kate.

    Did you ever hear the story that Emma Thompson threatened to quit Brideshead Revisited if they made Hayley Atwell lose weight? Go Emma!

  3. Have you read Kenneth Branagh's book (autobiography)? I enjoyed it. Just this much to the book itself, when I read it, it kind of felt easy accesing the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

  4. I love this adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I love Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as Elinor and Marianne. They both played their parts very well. I also love Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon. He has got a lovely voice and eyes, I agree 100% with you, Jenny! I love the scene where he sees Marianne for the first time! I'm not keen on Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrers but that's all I would change. The rest of the cast are great too.

    I haven't watched this for a while so I'll have dig out my DVD and have a rewatch.

    from Leeds.

  5. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration is an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken." Just love this movie. I love the old fashioned purenes of love that was common then. Hard for people today to see relationships as not primarily about sex but rather family and affection and honour even. I think that's why Col. Brandon's character is so refreshingly remarkable and admirable to people today. The old has indeed become new. Guy from Sydney

    1. Hello Guy from Sydney. So lovely to hear from a kindred spirit. I love S&S so much that I did a comparison of the two versions here (which has some great thoughtful comments below):
      Also one on the poetry from the film which I adore. Thanks for the lovely snippet in your comment above.

  6. We had a family reunion at the cottage where most of the film was made in the fall of the year before the film was released. We didn't know that until we went to see the film when it was released. I understand that the cottage is no longer available for rent.

  7. This 1995 film is actually not particularly faithful either to the text or to the themes of Austen's novel. Austen wrote Elinor Dashwood to represent a healthy balance of sense AND sensibility -- she feels no less strongly than Marianne, but simply doesn't make public displays of her feelings or burden others with them. In the 1995 film, however, Thompson's Elinor is weirdly snappish with Marianne and DOES have emotional displays that would be great embarrassments to the Elinor that Austen created. Four examples: her sobbing in the doorframe while Winslet's Marianne plays the piano, prompting Grant's Edward to console her; her nastily exploding at poor Marianne (the infamous "What do you know of my heart" scene); her sobbing uncontrollably at Marianne's sickbed, after the doctor has told her to "prepare herself" (Austen's Elinor, at least, would never need such a reminder); and her sobbing (again!) when Edward comes to propose. In the case of the proposal, keep in mind that Austen's Elinor leaves the room first, so that her family is not distressed and her dignity is kept intact. Thompson's Elinor has no such compunctions.

    Honestly, the 1995 film is also -- perhaps surprisingly, for a movie that was written and co-produced by women -- very, very sexist compared to the book. Ang Lee very likely had something to do with this sexism, although the women should not be off the hook, either. But the fact remains that the vast majority of the female characters in the film are stereotypes of overly-emotional, "hysterical" women -- a very misogynistic trope. Thompson's Elinor is generally portrayed as the exception to this (the "exceptional woman" who "isn't like all those OTHER girls"), but, at the same time, the narrative of the film seems to be about her "loosening up" and becoming more emotional, which is in itself a sexist trope. The other women fare even worse, with Mrs. Jennings reduced from the gossipy but deeply kind woman of the book -- the woman who willingly stays at Cleveland to nurse Marianne -- to a mere, annoying caricature who mocks everyone and leaves the Dashwoods to fend for themselves. Contrary to the book, Charlotte Palmer is unattractive in the 1995 film, and this "unsexiness" is what the filmmakers draw from again and again for comedy; in their minds, it's supposed to be funny that she is plain, "shrill," and clearly an annoyance to her long-suffering husband. In contrast, Mr. Palmer is presented far too sympathetically in the film; in the book, Elinor is able to see past his rudeness and recognize that he is mostly a decent person, but she still knows that he is vain, idle, and needlessly harsh to his mother-in-law, his child, and his wife, so she compares him unfavorably with Edward. But in the 1995 film, the viewer gets the strong impression that Elinor and Mr. Palmer would definitely be open to an affair with each other, if only the annoying Mrs. Palmer weren't in the picture. This is a deeply perverted reading of Austen, IMO.

    The doctor (who is an apothecary in the book) also has too strong and too sympathetic a presence in the film. In the novel, Elinor did not have Mr. Harris hovering over her all of the time as (Dr.) Harris does in the film. I think that the filmmakers simply couldn't see Elinor shouldering any burden completely on her own (or even with Mrs. Jennings's help), so they decided that she needed the strong, commanding, paternal guidance of the doctor. Ugh.

    1. Of course, Winslet tried hard to present a believable and compelling Marianne, but the excesses of the script got in her way, and she wasn't really a good enough actress at 19 to overcome the obstacles. The film depicts poor Marianne as cartoonishly over the top at times, with very out-of-character giggling (mostly when she is with Willoughby), childish meanness (when she mockingly imitates Elinor in the bedroom), and modern mannerisms. There are moments of near-brilliance, but they're few and far between. She has no connection whatsoever with Rickman's stiff and drab Brandon. And, near the end, she has lost nearly all of her vivacity and is merely dull, quiet, compliant, and listless. When she was with Willoughby, she at least expressed her opinions (even though, UNLIKE in the book, she and Willoughby already agree on everything -- in the book, however, Willoughby acquiesces to and adopts all of HER opinions), but with Rickman's Brandon, she has nothing of substance to say; she just sits back while he speaks to her condescendingly, as though he's humoring a young child ("It is a secret."). The shot is framed with him looming over her as she rests in her chair, showing his dominance over her. He later sends a letter essentially ordering her to play a particular piece on the piano. I suppose that HER wants and needs mean little to him. I blame both the script and Ang Lee's direction for these flaws.

      Worst of all, though, may be how the film presents Willoughby and Eliza ("Beth" in the film). In the book, Willoughby cruelly seduces and abandons a 15-year-old girl, and Elinor, Brandon, Marianne, and Mrs. Dashwood are ALL properly horrified and ALL condemn him for it. In the 1995 film, however, "Beth" is actually around 20 years old, so Willoughby's cruelty is significantly blunted in the audience's mind. Additionally, Thompson's Elinor is told by Rickman's Brandon that even though Willoughby did this, "his intentions were honorable" because he meant to propose to Marianne. In the next scene, we see Thompson's Elinor telling Winslet's Marianne that Willoughby loved her, and, even later, Thompson's Elinor is going on about "poor Willoughby" who will "always regret" Marianne. Ridiculous! Austen specifically tells us that Willoughby was well able to console himself with his shallow pursuits, which makes sense, considering how much of a callous narcissist he is. The 1995 film goes out of its way to find excuses for Willoughby's bad behavior and make him appear to be the "romantic hero" who tragically got away from Marianne.

      To sum up: any film version of S&S that so thoroughly misunderstands Elinor's and Willoughby's characters as this one does, and that reduces nearly all of the other characters to caricatures, is NOT a great adaptation, no matter how superficially pretty it is or how famous its actors are.




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