Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Sense and Sensibility: The Perfect Film?


Sense and Sensibility is one of the few films that I have watched countless times since I was a child, yet never bored of. Every time I sit down to watch it, it feels fresh, new, and exciting, and never fails to make me burst out laughing at it's witty dialogue, nor cry at it's beautifully acted performances. Watching it last night for the millionth time really reminded me that this film is, in one word - perfection. The film is about as British as you can get, and being a Brit I absolutely love this about it (yes I am probably biased here). However, we must remember that the director is non-other than Taiwan's Ang Lee, but I can tell you now that no British director could have filmed this adaptation better. Lee masterfully directs the scenes and really makes us feel a part of this world of the Dashwood sisters, and not overpowering us with shots of Georgian architecture or the British countryside. It's focus is the characters and their lives rather than overdoing the feel of the period e.g. the ballroom scene in London has no real establishing shots, whereas in other period dramas, they would have packed them in. Chris Tookey has said that Lee allows the screenplay to speak for itself, trusting the actors to do their magic, and he's spot on. For once, and I find that films today could take note of Lee's work here, that the camera shots, locations, period, costumes, etc, are taking a backseat to the script and the actors, therefore totally involving in the narrative. But maybe that's why this film works, because Lee knows that you do not need to show-off the fancy sets, rather focus on the screenplay and characters, allowing the scenery etc to speak for itself. 

Apart from adapting the novel and writing the screenplay herself whilst not losing the essence of the story, Emma Thompson also plays one of the leading characters. It is a really interesting part she plays because throughout the duration of the film her character, Elinor Dashwood, is hiding her feelings, not confiding how she feels about Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) to anybody, and not telling a soul about her finding out that Edward is in fact already engaged. To be able to act convincingly like a woman who has fallen in love and found out that he is in fact already engaged is remarkable. When you watch Thompson in this film she is very understated, quiet, reserved and not revealing anything, but not lacking in humour or honesty in her opinions. She does not fade into the background at all. She is a strong character regardless of her reservedness, because she is also the eldest sister. What is most endearing about her performance is the fact that she looks so melancholy always, and you see her, a young woman with so many secrets kept hidden, with all the money and marriage worries of her family on her shoulders, that when she finally explodes into tears and sobs at the end of the picture we feel a relief ourselves. Her performance is an intense one, and I believe it is her solidity in the picture that allows the other actors to bounce off of her and fulfill their potential in their roles.

Kate Winslet's performance as Marianne Dashwood is really a credit to her as a hugely talented actress. She was very young in this film, around 20 years old, and yet she plays the role so professionally that you would think she had been acting in film longer than some of it's other more experienced actors. The character of Marianne is a very young, naiive woman who believes in love and dying for love. Whereas some actresses might have said Marianne's lines without avoiding sounding stupid or cheesy, Winslet speaks them convincingly, sounding completely innocent. It's not the nicest feeling as you watch Marianne fall for Willoughby (Greg Wise) because you're just dreading the heartbreak that you know she will encounter before long. By the end you are kind of happy that he broke her heart because it meant that she married the wonderful Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) a loving and deserving man whom she never really gave a chance before (sidelining him because he was much older than her). I think if anyone has had to watch a friend be lead on, heartbroken, or even been the heartbroken one themselves, then they can really connect with Marianne. The delight and excitement she exudes upon first meeting Willoughby has doom written all over it, and it doesn't get much doomier or gloomier than when she walks to Combe Magna in the rain.

Thompson and Winslet definitely steal the show - both are at their absolute best. However every other performer in this beautiful production does an outstanding job of bringing the novel to life and making every single second of this film enjoyable. Hugh Grant is only ever in chick flick after chick flick these days and although he's always good, he is never really given a chance to do something different to the smooth-talking British charmer. But here he really shines as the ridiculously awkward but very sweet Edward, who is torn between the commitment he made to another woman when he was very young, and the deep love he now feels for Elinor. In fact, I think it's safe to say that this is the only Hugh Grant film where I feel like he isn't playing Hugh Grant.

The rest of the supporting cast features a real treasure of British talent, including Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Elizabeth Spriggs, Robert Hardy and Gemma Jones to name a handful, all provide laugh after laugh, and making it feel like we peeping through the keyhole of a group of people from Georgian England. Even the youngest Dashwood played by Emilie Francois is sublime in this period drama that really exceeds itself with every viewing.

One cannot talk of Sense and Sensibility without applauding Alan Rickman's performance as Colonel Brandon, a man with a tragic past who falls in love with Marianne. He is the best of men who is a good friend to all. As far as performances that make women fall in love with the character go, Colonel Brandon is up there as one of the best. There is an air of unquestionable dignity and honour, even heroism, when he walks into the room. Rickman really gives off an aura of a brave Colonel who has fought many battles - physical and emotional. The first time he sees Marianne singing and playing the piano is really intense - he seems completely spellbound by her voice and beauty, to the point where you feel slightly rude that you have witnessed such a personal moment for the character. It is really terrible that many young people only know Rickman as Professor Snape, for although he was outstanding and perfect in that role, he has done so many more amazing things on screen.

Of course, what really merges the direction of Lee with the brilliance of the acting in this picture, is the stunning score composed by Patrick Doyle. Very solemn for the scenes where you are tearing up, and dramatically joyous for the happy ones. Doyle's score is one of those wonderful occurences in movies when you cannot imagine a film without that particular soundtrack, where the score elevates the film to another level because it manages to express, via music, the feelings, trials and events of the characters lives beautifully.

Sense and Sensibility is one of the greatest films of all time. With a storyline that will make you laugh and cry just as much as any other comedy or romance will, and without being cheesy or crude. I cannot understand how anybody wouldn't enjoy it - it hits just the right note. If you ever catch this on television, then please watch it, I promise it will become one of your all-time favourite films. A masterpiece in directing. A masterpiece in acting. A masterpiece in film.


  1. I love your blog and your Youtube channel. I am an English Lit student as well and loved all Jane's works. Honestly, I am more of a Persuasion fan, but this was a great movie. I loved how the director included those funny side characters - Mr Palmer,Mrs Palmer and the music score was amazing.

    1. Aww thank you! Really happy to hear! As far the books go, Persuasion is my favourite too :) Wasn't keen on the BBC adaptation of it though. When people see Sense and Sensibility they would assume it would be a very serious period drama, and sure it has serious parts, but it is also funny a lot of the time. Thank you for commenting :)

    2. I haven't liked any of the Persuasion adaptions, the BBC need to do another one soon.