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Sense and Sensibility (1995)


Finally, a film to make Jane Austen proud. The third adaptation of her work this year (the first being Clueless‘s modernization of Emma; the second, the dreadful Persuasion), first-time screenwriter Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee have crafted a magnificent and exquisitely detailed piece of art which redeems the failures of the other two.

Sense And Sensibility tells the story of the Dashwood family, who, after the death of Mr. Dashwood, lose all their wealth to the son of Mr. Dashwood’s prior marriage. The four Dashwood women, the mother and three daughters (Elinor [Emma Thompson], Marianne [Kate Winslet], and young Margaret), must find a way to make ends meet as the elder daughters face the daunting problems of love and romance.

Competing for the affections of Marianne are the dashing playboy Willoughby (newcomer Greg Wise) and the upright Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). Meanwhile, Elinor finds herself falling for Edward (Hugh Grant), who, without spoiling the plot, isn’t completely forthright with Elinor about his availability. Throughout it all, the high society gossips make everyone squirm with their constant chatter.

Sound like a 19th century soap opera? It is, and an awfully good one at that. But on top of a nicely-crafted story, Thompson has enriched what could have been a dull period piece (see Persuasion for a frightening example of this) with an unexpectedly hilarious series of vignettes that underscores the endless procession of romantic misunderstandings and entanglements that weave through the girls’ lives. And oddly, though the romance and courtship of that bygone era is archaic, the scenes are equally relevant today. Of course, it’s not all mirth and hilarity: judging from the bawling woman sitting next me, this film can really pull the tears out, too.

Thompson and especially Winslet (who was so exquisite in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures are perfectly matched as near opposites who find some common ground as the film progresses. Grant and the other supporting cast members are also admirable. Taiwanese director Ang Lee infuses the film with some variety and cleverness, too. In all, the film really comes together as a whole.

While some of the overly talky scenes tend to drag on too long (thus pushing the film into 2 1/4 hours of length), making the mind often start to wander, we’re still left with a memorable film that brings out everything we love about these kinds of stories. And best of all, it leaves us with the message that while nothing is ever as perfect as it seems, things have a funny way of working out for the best.