Four years ago, I took a class entitled Gender and Literature where Sense and Sensibility was on the reading list. Looking back, I really wish I had just found this film and watched it, rather than show up to class pretending like I had tried to read the book (sorry Prof. Friedman). For the slow reader with a visual mind, Austen can be a grueling experience. Thank goodness her major works have been made into films.
When Mr. Dashwood dies, all his money goes to his son from a previous marriage, leaving his daughters and wife penniless. The ladies must move from their lavish home to a quaint cottage. They seem stuck, knowing that men don’t want to marry poor women, but the only way a woman can make money is by marrying it. Elinor (Emma Thompson), the eldest sister, is smart, quiet and proper. She helps with the finances and patiently waits for a suitor, hopefully Edward (Hugh Grant), but his mother won’t let him marry a poor girl. Marianne (Kate Winslet) is a romantic, openly expressing herself and enjoys Shakespeare and piano. She has ties to two men, she’s set up with Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) who she dismisses as too reserved. When dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise) rescues her from a twisted ankle in the rain, Marianne immediately thinks she’s found love. And there’s little Margaret, about twelve, who is still able to enjoy climbing trees. Ah, to have a treehouse.
The film, meticulously written by Emma Thompson, who also played Elinor, is a great adaptation that hardly deviates from the novel. The whole story is here and the characters are done well and more lively (except Hugh Grant is a more handsome Edward than we expect from the novel). I would suggest this film as a study aid to go along with the novel.
I was surprised to see Ang Lee as the director, this is his first American film. It does carry his charm, and he expertly displays the green countryside setting well. It’s said that he read Thompson’s screenplay before ever reading the novel, if that helps or hinders can be discussed later. Still, Lee seemed like an odd choice for this project, until I investigated his earlier films, which also had themes in family concerns over marriage.
My favorite thing about Austen being translated into film is how we can see and hear the conversations. When first reading the novel, I would read a section then think, “Wait, are these chicks are having a 19th century cat fight?” then reread it (out loud is most helpful), adding some attitude. With the film, the attitude is already there (although the occasional head bob and “oh-no-you-din’t” I interpreted still had to be inserted).
For those completely unaware of anything Austen, that’s it in a nutshell. Women have always been crazy and competing for men, Austen just brings out the wonderfully proper and politely bitter personalities from the 19th century. In terms that would get you chased out of a literature class, it is an engaging chick flick, but without the sucky dribble that modern day scenarios inevitably bring.
I think I hear literature experts crying… “If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.”