Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Janespotting: Sense and Sensibility (1995 film)

I'm going to wrap up my survey of works inspired by Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility with the 1995 starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and just about everybody who's anybody in British film. (As a fun aside, check out the number of actors common to this film and the Harry Potter films ... at least six, by my count.) In addition to starring as Elinor, Emma Thompson also wrote the screenplay, winning an Oscar and Golden Globe, among other awards, for her work. The film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (losing to Braveheart, really?), won the Golden Globe for best drama (take that, Mel!), and was generally beloved by critics and Austen devotees. I didn't really count myself as a devotee at the time, but the film set off a desire to seek out more of Austen's work, and I date my mini-obsession with Austen to seeing the film.

I think the film works even if you aren't a fan of Austen, or even period drama. Thompson cuts to the essentials, and they are very clear: the Dashwood women are left with little money and are dependent on others for a comfortable lifestyle. It would be nice if marriage could be for love, but it's not always possible. Thompson cuts out characters who don't reinforce this basic situation—the child-obsessed Lady Middleton and beau-obsessed Anne Steele, for instance—and we don't really miss them. She brings Austen's wit to the fore, and we see Fanny Dashwood's cheapness and social climbing. Best of all, she develops the dry wit of both Elinor and Edward; it makes them more interesting characters, and makes their romance really seem like a meeting of minds. When reserved Elinor can't control her emotions at the denouement ... well, I can't help but watching that scene a couple times over.

Although Elinor and Edward's romance provides the final conclusion, and that of Marianne and Willoughby supplies the passion and drama, the romantic hero of the film, at least in my eyes, is Colonel Brandon. That's entirely the fault of Alan Rickman, who could read the phone book and hold me transfixed. His Colonel Brandon is tender, agonized, resigned, hopeful—all with a few looks, some softly spoken words, and a shy smile when he is finally rewarded with true love. Every time Rickman is on screen I can't help but want more Brandon in the story.*

So overall, I have to consider this version of Sense and Sensibility to be one of the finest adaptations of Austen's work, as I think it actually improves some aspects of the original. Is it the best? Well, it's hard to argue against the faithfulness and completeness of the Pride & Prejudice miniseries ... so maybe it's the best film adaptation ever. I will have to reserve judgement on that, however, until I revisit the excellent film version of Persuasion.... And that will have to wait until later this year. This will be the last Janespotting entry for a while; I'm devoting my summer to my remedial lit project. Coming not too far in the future, I hope, will be a review of Dante's Inferno.

*It makes me really anticipate Rickman's work in the final Harry Potter films, to see him show Snape's tragic history. I also should get a copy of the 1990 supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Rickman has a wonderful leading man role, as well as an unfortunate mustache; if you haven't seen it, you should.


  1. Sense and Sensibility (1995) was my first exposure to Jane Austen, and it too sparked my mini-obsession with her works. :) While the film remains one of my favorites, I actually prefer the more recent BBC adaptation.

    Every time I watch the movie, I always point out to my mom — who often watches it with me — who's in the Harry Potter movies. And I'm with you on the Snape thing. It'll be great to see Alan Rickman play out Snape's history.

  2. Oh, I really enjoyed the recent miniseries, too, I just think the wit in the '95 film is superb. If you watch the DVD, check out the extras, which give Emma Thompson's Golden Globe acceptance speech, which she gives in the voice of Austen. It's quite a hoot!