Starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise. Screenplay (Oscar-winning) by Emma Thompson. Directed by Ang Lee. Briefly: less funny and more romantic/melodramatic than most of the recent Jane Austen adaptations. By the same token, it's possibly the best of the bunch. * * * * 1/2 out of 5 The plot is really too complicated to get into here; basically, you have 3 genteel but impoverished sisters living in Regency England. There's Elinor (Emma Thompson), the sensible oldest sister, Marianne (Kate Winslet), the impetuous middle girl, and Margaret - your standard cute-kid/comic-relief. Elinor has carefully concealed her love for easy-going Edward (Hugh Grant), whose sense of honor obliges him to keep his engagement to another woman, a gold-digger whom he no longer loves. Marianne falls madly in love with the handsome cad Willoughby (Greg Wise), unconsciously tormenting the older Colonel Brandon (who, being played by Alan Rickman, is not even remotely handsome), who admires her from afar. It all comes right in the end, after Elinor becomes less introspective and Marianne more level-headed. Got all that? Basically, there are two ways to read the original novel: as an interesting but flawed romantic melodrama which ought to be "fixed", or as an affectionate satire which isn't meant to be as subtle or as realistic as Austen's other full-length novels, and succeeds at its own level. I belong to the latter school of thought (why and how is a matter for the book review page, if I ever get it going). The makers of this film belong to the former school of thought and they fix the story with great gusto. The screenplay omits some supporting characters, and occasionally modifies dialogue and motivation to make it more palatable to a modern audience. For example, both film and novel have Brandon telling Elinor some of his personal history, ending with the seduction of his ward by Willoughby. He tells Elinor to relay as much of this as she sees fit to Marianne, who is traumatized by Willoughby's rejection of her. In the book, he seems to think that Marianne will be somehow comforted by the thought that Willoughby is unworthy of her love, that he isn't worth grieving for (and if you think that that is a deliberate prelude to stealing Marianne from Willoughby, then you obviously don't know Brandon). I believe that this scene is meant to be at least partly satirical. In the movie, the scene is played straight: Brandon's revelations are intended to explain how Willoughby came to marry another woman, and to indicate that he probably did love Marianne. The film also emphasizes the fact that Willoughby abandoned the ward and her unborn child in an oddly contemporary tone. Apparently, not meeting your child support payments is a far more heinous crime than seducing a fourteen-year-old girl! Actually, I doubt that this was the producers' intention but it certainly plays that way. The film also adds little touches to reveal the true nature of the characters. For example, in one scene both Willoughby and Brandon bring flowers for Marianne. Brandon's are rather expensive hot-house specimens, Willoughby's are wildflowers. Aha! you think, the wildflowers represent the dashing young lover of nature, and the hot-house blossoms symbolize the old fogy who thinks he can buy everything, even beauty or love. But when you read between the lines, you realize that the real meaning of the flowers lies in the amount of effort needed to acquire them. Willoughby simply swiped some from "an obliging field", with very little trouble. Hence his emotions can be seen as shallow. Brandon, on the other hand, has spent a fair amount of time and money to get the "right" flowers. Marianne, then, means a great deal to him. I've gone on way too long already: let's wrap with a quick analysis of the acting. Greg Wise: near perfect casting. He has the right blend of charisma and superficiality for Willoughby. Hugh Grant: he plays Edward as being nice but spineless. It works, but I'd always visualised the character as having a little more dignity. Alan Rickman: an actor I'd rather liked from Die Hard. I didn't remember seeing him in Prince of Thieves, aka Dances with Peasants, because I'd suppressed all memories of the trauma involved in viewing that movie. Here he plays a chacter that I love and all the literary critics despise, and in doing so justifies my opinion of the character. In other words, he does a good job. It's worth noting that while many critics misinterpret the novel's Brandon as a dull and sensible person, the film makes it absolutely clear to the dimmest soul that he's a tragic romantic, much like Marianne. To call Brandon a common-sensical character is like saying that the real face of evil in Star Wars is Obi-Wan Kenobi, or that Van Helsing is the real villain of Horror of Dracula: if you want to believe that kind of tripe no one can stop you, but you're doing so in defiance of the evidence. Thompson and Winslet: probably the best casting possible in this day and age; but not perfect. Thompson is a little too "Mr. Spock", Winslet a little too "Dr. McCoy". The film does emphasize that neither of their points-of view is perfect, and many critics would say that it does this better than the novel. Again, this seems to be a case of the critics assuming that Jane Austen is of the Regency, therefore she is a prim old maid who believes in this or that "outdated" idea about the superiority of common sense. Bottom Line: For women, it's a must-see movie. If you like arguments, it's especially fun to bring a Titanic fan and afterwards state flatly that Alan Rickman could beat Leo up and steal his girl any day of the week...for men, it's probably a waste of time.