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Sense and Sensibility


1981, 1995 | 2008

Sense and Sensibility 1899 edition1899 edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literature form

Literary, romance

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 119,500 words

1995 Sense and Sensibility scene
The Dashwood women in the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

Heart and mind on the big screen

Sense and Sensibility (1995): Theatrical film, approx. 136 minutes; director Ang Lee; writer Emma Thompson; featuring Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, Greg Wise, Hugh Laurie

Now this is a movie. After a couple of sincere but slow depictions of the Jane Austen great novel were produced for television serials, British actor and writer Emma Thompson brings Sense and Sensibility to life on the large screen. This is a classic that moves—in all senses of the word.

Somehow Thompson has seemed to get all the novel's highlights into the two hours-plus of the film without it appearing crammed. It all flows nicely through dramatic heights and intimate moments, keeping viewer interest engaged continually—even for those Austen fans who know the book's twists and turns by heart.

I say all the central points have "seemed" to be hit because if you analyze it too carefully you'll find this cinematic treatment jettisoned many scenes from the book, simplified most, and completely re-imagined others. Yet this Sense and Sensibility presents as a complete work of art and entertainment. It's made to appeal to the novel's loyal readers as well as to the much great number of movie-goers who have never picked up an Austen work.


So, with those rewrites, does this adaptation still capture the book's spirit, the author's intentions? No and yes.

As portrayed by the stellar, all-British cast, the characters are all a little bit different from those of the book, as if in the dance of their relationships they have each shifted a step sideways—some but not all in the same direction. This may be partly attributable to great actors who infusing their roles with unique energies.

It may also be partly the result of reworking by Thompson and direction by Taiwanese director Ang Lee (in his first big Hollywood production), both trying to make the characters more relatable to a modern audience in a condensed format.

And they dance beautifully together. For example, Kate Winslet's Marianne is less ridiculous and more sympathetic, while Thompson's Elinor is seen more as imprisoned by circumstances, rather than as suffering merely an innate prissiness and repressive personality, and yet the sisters are closer than ever, as they work out a dynamic of hurt and regret that, at times, rivals their romantic endeavours.

Official trailer of the Emma Thompson-written, Ang Lee-directed Sense and Sensibility of 1995.

At the same time, the good men of the story get to shine on screen. The stalwart but dull Colonel Brandon gets his due in the hands of Alan Rickman more than in Austen's—a masterly performance of small expressions and gestures speaking volumes of strength below the surface. Hugh Grant's awkward Edward Ferrars is also a delight—dropping the actor's usual nervous tics and totally nailing the ultimate romantic reconciliation with Thompson.

As for bad men, this version's Willoughby, may the most dashing yet. Greg Wise's role is curtailed in terms of screen time but leaves its mark. In one noteworthy departure from the original story, the rogue does not return during Marianne's sickness to seek forgiveness. Rather, in the last scene as the two sisters and two good men marry, Willoughby is shown watching the proceedings from afar on horseback before riding away. I'm not sure whether that step down from the euphoria of the wedding celebrations actually works or what we're supposed to feel about it, but it is an interesting distancing touch.

Until that last-second enigma though, Sense and Sensibility (1995) is an immersive and seamless entertainment for both heart and mind.

— Eric



1981, 1995 | 2008