In 1995, Sense and Sensibility became the second Jane Austen adaptation to be written for the silver screen. Until that point all versions since the original Pride and Prejudice (1940) had been produced for television. (Persuasion had been shown in theaters two months earlier, but was originally written for television.) The film was written and starred in by Emma Thompson, who has quite a family connection with Austen films! Her sister, Sophie Thompson, played Mary Musgrove, Persuasion 1995, and Miss Bates, Emma 1996; mother Phyllida Law, played Mrs. Bates, Emma1996; brother-in-law Richard Lumsden, now married to Sophie Thompson, played Robert Ferrars in this S&S and companion Greg Wise starred as John Willoughby. In The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries(her first book….an appropriate way to commemorate her first film) Emma Thompson gives a very up close and personal look at what went in to making this film, from start to finish. We are shown the difficulties of writing a script (S&S took five years!), casting a film, shooting a film, starring in a costume drama and all the little twists and turns of being so intimately acquainted with Jane Austen. Unlike any other book available on the making of any of Jane Austen’s films, this one gives you the entire picture from the point of view of both a starring actress and screenwriter. Also included is the complete script used in the film, which features a few scenes that were later cut.
Sense and Sensibility was the first English language film for Taiwanese director Ang Lee. Known for his work with such films as Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, he was thought to be specially adapted for a film about the inner workings of a family of women. It is interesting to note that, though vastly different in content, both films include sisters who share the question, “What do you know of my heart?” Is this not the whole point of Sense and Sensibility? Ang Lee notes that, “Austen is a combination of sharp satire and emotional drama; it’s usually seen as sense being Elinor and sensibility being Marianne, but I think everybody has both of them. It’s an irony that Elinor marries for romance, and Marianne for righteousness.”
Filmed in many of the great houses of England, including several National Trust properties (Thompson speaks at length, in her book, on the problems faced by a film crew in a Trust house) and boasting a stellar cast, Sense and Sensibility was a knock out at the Oscars, being nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning Emma Thompson an Oscar for Best Screenplay of the Year. This honor was also accorded Thompson by The Golden Globes, The Broadcast Film Critics, The New York Film Critics, The Los Angeles Film Critics and the Boston Film Critics. This script, along with incredible acting from all participants helped to make Sense and Sensibility one of the most popular of all Jane Austen’s films.
The cast, which included Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Greg Wise, Gemma Jones, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, Immogen Stubbs, Elizabeth Spriggs, and Robert Hardy deserve tremendous amounts of praise for their convincing portrayals of their respective characters.
Surprisingly, there were a few complaints voiced on this subject when the film was finally released. The Jane Austen society is reported to have been concerned that Hugh Grant was too “handsome” to play the shy, retiring Edward Ferrars. Indeed, Emma Thompson lamented, “[He is] repellently gorgeous, why did we cast him? He is much prettier than I am.” That is a matter of opinion.
A greater concern was with scenes critics called “extra Edward” and “extra Brandon”. In keeping with the recent trend of giving Austenesque heroes more screen time than they get in the books, this helps them fill out their character and provide more depth and life. Scenes like these tend to show the heroes riding, hunting, sporting, or writing….doing something that gives you more insight into who they are and why they act the way they do.
This is definitely not Jane Austen’s way. She never wrote a scene in which a woman was not present. Fortunately, most fans love their heroes so much, that they do not have a problem with the “extra” bits. It is only when these scenes would materially change the character or story that they become a problem. For the most part, these additions(Edward helping Margaret, Brandon walking out or reading to Marianne) help us to understand and sympathize with the characters. Unfortunately, such judicious editing can also work in reverse as is the case when we are prohibited from seeing Willoughby’s confession. Perhaps this would have caused us to pity him more?
Lindsay Doran, producer of the film and original instigator of the whole project, does perhaps deserve the most credit. From original idea to post production, she was involved in every step of the process, which included selling it to a studio, finding a screenwriter, casting, filming, and distribution. It is to her passion for the story and determination to get it told that we owe our present state of happiness.
It is surprising that there are only a few actual “Austen” lines (about five!), from the book, Sense and Sensibility, in the whole film. Emma Thompson has done a wonderful job translating Jane Austen’s prose into dialogue in such a way that one thinks that it must be Austen! While expanding the character of Margaret Dashwood, and cutting out Nancy Steele and most of the Middleton family, we are still left with the same familiar story and the Elinor the Jane Austen loved.
Adding to the pleasure of the dialogue is Patrick Doyle’s lush score, which features two songs written for the film which were adapted from period poetry. Jenny Beavan’s (A&E’s Emma, Anna and the King) costume design is an added bonus. She and John Bright designed all the garments for the film, and deserve praise not only for their period authenticity, but for the way they bring the characters to life in vivid contrast and color.
Sense and Sensibility is available on both video (VHS and PAL) and DVD. The DVD includes extra features such as: Emma Thompson’s Golden Globe acceptance speech; Deleted scenes, including the famous Edward/Elinor snog; a variety of language choices; two separate voice-overs: Emma Thompson/Lindsay Doran and Ang Lee/James Schamus. The marvelous soundtrack, composed by Patrick Doyle is available on CD. The book, The S&S screenplay and Diaries, is available in most bookstores, or can be ordered from Amazon.com. Both th
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