Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 16 min.

Release Date: December 4th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Ang Lee Actors: Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, Robert Hardy, Elizabeth Spriggs, Greg Wise, Imelda Staunton, Imogen Stubbs, Hugh Laurie

 


 

O

n his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) pleads with his son, John (James Fleet), to take care of his second wife (John’s stepmother) and her children, who are legally excluded from the will. John and his wife Fanny (Harriet Walter) debate how much money to give, and whether or not to provide a lump sum, all while they drive up to the enormous Dashwood manor, ready to expel Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her daughters Marianne (Kate Winslet) and Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Margaret (Emilie Francois). Understandably, everyone is at odds, bitter about the upheaval in their lives and livelihoods.

Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) also arrives for a visit, adding extra strangers to the household and additional discomfort. Yet he’s gentler and more accommodating, sympathetic to the girls’ losses, grieving process, and transition to new premises – with considerably less money. But when Edward and Elinor start to have feelings for one another, Fanny unambiguously expresses her displeasure with such a union, considering her brother far too superior for the penniless Dashwood woman, ultimately forcing the four Dashwoods to move into a modest cottage owned by cousin Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy).

A period piece based on the work of Jane Austen, “Sense and Sensibility” is impressively authentic in appearance and atmosphere. From costuming to dialogue to locations, this is an appropriately-budgeted undertaking, making the most of visual designs and decorations (the cinematography likewise does wonders with exterior shots). And then there’s the acting; the leads and the supporting cast are exceptional, taking antiquated wordplay and topics and making them sound invigorating and believable. Alan Rickman as Colonel Christopher Brandon (the most eligible bachelor in the county) is particularly amusing, playing an understated, brooding role, while Hugh Laurie as a perpetually irritable nobleman and Elizabeth Spriggs as a bubbly relative are hysterical.

The subject matter, too, is expectedly confined to Austen’s forte, fascinated with matchmaking, familial dramas and visitations, clashes of wealth and poverty, and dashing, poetic men competing over proper ladies – all marked by a certain politeness and decorum. But these concepts are similarly well handled, complemented by alternating comic relief and tears, generating a good deal of relationship conundrums. With its undivided focus, it perfects the art of gossipy exchanges and fragile romances – ones that mysteriously separate lovers for distressing extents. Plus, it’s refreshing to see a script centered around two strong female stars, having a better developed relationship with each other than with the men they pine for.

The numerous romantic entanglements grow ever more complex, commensurately substituting for action and adventure. In fact, as unexpected encounters pile up, the tension becomes palpable; in Austen’s world of amorous imbroglios, overflowing with misunderstandings, betrayals, and decisions bound by duty and honor and financial security, upper-crust affairs have never felt so riveting. Thanks primarily to the performances, these characters have an undeniable gravity and significance. This lends to a simply outstanding finale, a fairy-tale sort of outcome that seems so rare – and rarely effective – in these sorts of adaptations, even if it doesn’t linger long enough on the most poignant of the couples.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10