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Sense and Sensibility

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.

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