Monday, March 11, 2013

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Director: Ang Lee                                        Writer: Emma Thompson
Film Score: Patrick Doyle                            Cinematography: Michael Coulter
Starring: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant

Sense and Sensibility is one of those films that comes along once in a great while, a classic piece of literature that is translated into a transcendent film. A large part of the credit must go to Emma Thompson, for adapting the novel into a brilliant screenplay. And I’m not the only one who thinks that; Thompson was awarded the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for 1995. And though she didn’t win, she was also nominated for best actress in a leading role, but inexplicably lost out to Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking.

Based on the novel by Jane Austin, the story is beautifully constructed. It begins with the death of gentleman Tom Wilkinson, in a rare cameo appearance. His second wife is left with almost nothing and she must care for her three daughters afterward. Emma Thompson is the oldest, and the most sensible from the title. The second daughter is Kate Winslet, who is a romantic who lives for sensation. They both fall in love, with equally disastrous consequences, and it’s a testament to Austin’s brilliant writing that she makes everything come out happy in the end. She would have been made for Hollywood.

But after Thompson’s script, what really helps the film rise above the many other dramatizations of Austin’s novel is the acting. In addition to Thompson herself, is Kate Winslet, who does a terrific job of throwing herself into an emotional part, and acquits herself well. Alan Rickman, however, is the center on which the entire story revolves. The guy is just a tremendous actor with the skills to play almost any part and be convincing. His Colonel Brandon is exceptional, pursuing Kate Winslet with exquisite patience and gentlemanly respect. Hugh Laurie has a small, but whimsical role. Hugh Grant is the only real miscast. He works . . . but just barely. And even the minor roles are done great, though, so the whole thing works.

Ang Lee’s direction is by no means stellar, but certainly good enough not to get in the way of the story. And it is a great story. What makes this film so great is that it doesn’t just do a good job of retelling the story, it translates it for a modern audience in a way that brings out all of the humor of the novel, without hiding it in the subtlety of Austin’s writing. A great score by Patrick Doyle is true to the era, and of course the production design and costumes are impeccable. The film lost out in the Oscars, but it was a tough competition with Braveheart taking the award. In the end, Sense and Sensibility is one of the best films of the last two decades, romantic, emotional, funny, and rewarding on repeated viewings. It’s just great.

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