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on February 10, 2003
When Emma Thompson was approached with the suggestion to write a screenplay based on Jane Austen's first novel "Sense and Sensibility" (1811), she was somewhat doubtful because, as she explains on the DVD's commentary track, she felt that other Austen works, like the more expressive "Emma" and "Persuasion" or the sardonic "Pride and Prejudice" (already the subject of several adaptations) would have been more suitable. Four years and 14 screenplay drafts later (the first, a 300-page handwritten dramatization of the novel's every scene), "Sense and Sensibility" made its grand entrance into theaters worldwide and mesmerized audiences and critics alike, resulting in an Oscar for Thompson's screenplay and six further nominations (Best Picture, Leading Actress - Thompson -, Supporting Actress - Kate Winslet -, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score - for 20 minutes' worth of composition - and Costume Design); and double honors as Best Picture and for Thompson's screenplay at the Golden Globes.

More than simple romances, Jane Austen's novels are delicately constructed pieces of social commentary, written from her rural Hampshire's perspective. Mostly confined to life in her father's parish, she was nevertheless well aware of early 19th century England's society at large, and fiercely critical of the loss of morals and decorum she saw in its pre-industrial emergent city life. Moreover, experience and observation had made her acutely aware of the corsets forced onto women in fashion terms as much as by social norms, confining them to inactivity and complete dependency on their families' and their (future) husbands' money. And among this movie's greatest strengths is the manner in which it maintains that underlying theme of Austen's writing and brings it to a contemporary audience's attention. "You talk about feeling idle and useless: imagine how that is compounded when one has no hope and no choice of any occupation whatsoever," Elinor Dashwood (Thompson) tells her almost-suitor Edward Ferrars, and when he replies that "our circumstances are therefore precisely the same," she corrects him: "Except that you will inherit your fortune - we cannot even earn ours."

Rescuing much from the first draft dramatization of Austen's novel and amplifying where necessary, Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee ("who most unexplainably seems to understand me better than I understand myself," Thompson said in her mock-Austen Golden Globe speech) produced a movie scrupulously faithful to what is known about Austen's world and at the same time incredibly modern, thus emphasizing the novel's timeless quality. Paintings were consulted for the movie's production design, and indeed, almost every camera frame - both landscapes and interiors - has the feeling of a picture by a period painter. Thompson cleverly uses poetry where the novel does not contain dialogue; and again, she does so in a manner entirely faithful to Austen's subtleties - most prominently in the joint recital of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 by Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and John Willoughby (Greg Wise), where an ever so slight inaccuracy in his rendition of a sonnet he claims to love foreshadows his lacking sincerity.

"Sense and Sensibility" revolves around Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, their quest for a suitable husband, and the sisters' relationship with each other. Emma Thompson maintains that she did not write the screenplay with herself as Elinor in mind and would not have been accepted for that role but for the success of her previous films ("Howards End," "The Remains of the Day"); yet, it is hard to imagine who could have better played sensible Elinor: "effectual, ... [possessing] a coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen [and thus considerably younger than Thompson], to be the counselor of her mother." And real-life 19-year-old Kate Winslet embodies sensitive, artistic Marianne: "eager in everything; [without] moderation ... generous, amiable, interesting: ... everything but prudent." (As an older actress was sought for that part, her agent presented her as 25.) An early scene in which Marianne recites Hartley Coleridge's Sonnet VII ("Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate truth") symbolizes the sisters' relationship and their personalities, as Marianne mocks Elinor's seemingly cool response to Edward's budding affection. (Mostly taken from the novel, the scene is embellished by the screenplay's sole inexactitude: Coleridge's sonnets were only published 22 years later). Yet, when all her hope seems shattered, Elinor, in a rare outburst of emotion, rebukes her sister: "What do you know of my heart?" - only to comfort her again when she sees that Marianne is equally distraught.

Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman similarly perfectly portray the sisters' suitors Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, both embodying the qualities Austen considered essential: simplicity, sincerity and a firm sense of morality. Willoughby, on the other hand, while entering the story like the proverbial knight on a white horse who rescues the injured Marianne, does not live up to the high expectations he evokes; he causes Marianne to unacceptably abandon decorum and, just as he misspoke in that line from Shakespeare's sonnet, his love eventually "bends with the remover to remove." Similarly, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), the near-stumbling block to Elinor's happiness, ultimately proves driven by nothing but an "unceasing attention to self-interest ... with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience" (Austen) and is, despite a fortuitous marriage, as marginalized as the Dashwoods' greedy sister-in-law Fanny (Harriet Walter). Conversely, the boisterous Sir John Middleton and his garrulous mother-in-law, while annoying in their insensitivity, are essentially goodnatured; and marvelously portrayed in their flawed but warmhearted ways by Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs.

"Sense and Sensibility" came out at the height of the mid-1990s' Jane Austen revival. Of all movies released then, and alongside 1996's "Emma" (which has "Hollywood" written all over it) and the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" (which finally established Colin Firth as the leading man in the U.S. that he had long been in Britain), Emma Thompson's "Sense and Sensibility" is one of those adaptations that future generations of moviegoers will likely turn to in years to come. And it is truly an experience not to be missed.

Also recommended:
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Wordsworth Library Collection)
Jane Austen Collection (Sense & Sensibility / Emma / Persuasion / Mansfield Park / Pride & Prejudice / Northanger Abbey)
Pride and Prejudice (10th Anniversary Collector's Set) (A&E, 1996)
Persuasion
Howards End - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Shakespeare's Sonnets (Folger Shakespeare Library)
Sonnets from the Portuguese: A Celebration 0f Love
77 comments| 356 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Emma Thompson's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel and Ang Lee's direction of it prove to be a stunning and talented combination. This story about the complexities of love, society, and family won my heart in the first few minutes with its excellent acting, smart dialogue, and lush period setting.
The movie focuses primarily on the two oldest sisters of the Dashwood family - Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her younger sister Marianne (Kate Winslet.) Elinor is practical and independent-minded, caught between her societal position as a woman and what she wants for herself. In contrast, Marianne is impetuous, artistic, passionate; she pursues her emotions as though nothing else matters. When both sisters fall in love with different men, they react very differently to the awakening of their affections.
The acting in this film could not have been any better. Although critics have complained that Emma Thompson is too old for the part of Elinor, she at once dispels all doubts with her expert performance. She becomes Elinor so thoroughly that it's difficult to imagine another actress tackling this role. As the romantic Marianne, Kate Winslet is charmingly breathless; she captures the essence of her character with seemingly no effort. Hugh Grant is awkwardly sincere as Edward, and the normally sinister Alan Rickman portrays with heartbreaking honesty the love-struck Colonel. To bring all this talent together, Ang Lee provides nuanced direction that captures both the beauty and the humanity of Austen's novel.
On the surface, this is a quiet movie, but underneath the turmoil of life - whether in Austen's time or ours - simmers. Viewers who enjoy character-driven films should love it.
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on April 30, 2000
This recent movie adaptation of Jane Austin's "Sense and Sensibility" is just marvelous. Emma Thompson's enchanting screenplay is so close to the novel, and that's such a rare treat in a movie version. Yes, Emma Thompson is a bit old for the part of older sister Elinor but, she's so endearing, I'm willing to let it go. The supporting cast is very powerful, with performances by Kate Winslet, Greg Wise, Imogen Stubbs, Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant toping off a fabulous ensemble. Winslet is especially wonderful as the younger Dashwood sister. She's completely sweet, young and innocent. Her heartbreak at the hands of handsome and dashing Willoughby is extremely powerful and emotional. It's an all around well acted movie. Lots of wondeful performances. This is acutally a very funny movie and so beautifully shot by Director Ang Lee. Every aspect of the movie is wonderful. It's treat for all Austin fans and an all around wonderful film.
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on May 18, 2000
Don't miss this movie! It's a brilliant adaptation of the Jane Austen classic and simply lovely to watch. Emma Thompson did an excellent job on the screenplay, and deservedly won an Oscar for her efforts.
I agree that in the age department, Emma Thompson was not suited to carry the role of Elinor Dashwood (who's supposed to be only 19). However, Ms Thompson's acting was brilliant and flawless, and as the story unfolds and draws you in, you hardly remember to notice or care about the age factor anymore. I thought Emma Thompson's portrayal of Elinor was not unlike the character of Margaret Schlegel (which she played in "Howards End") who's also a kind gentlewoman who loves too much and suffers inwardly.
As a story, "Sense and Sensibility" (S&S) has a far more serious premise compared to 2 other Austen works ie. "Emma" and "Mansfield Park". Perhaps this partly explains why S&S is the more highly-acclaimed movie (it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars) compared to Gwyneth Paltrow's "Emma" and Frances O'Connor's "Manfield Park". In S&S, there are very sad scenes involving unrequited love, quiet suffering (Elinor's and Col. Brandon's) and long illness (Marianne's). Many scenes will make you reach for that box of tissues eg. when the always calm-and-collected Elinor burst into uncontrollable tears the moment she hears the (happy) truth concerning Edward Ferrar's situation, and when Marianne (still lying ill in her bed) thanks Col. Brandon softly (for all his help and kindness).
I also admire Alan Rickman's acting. He is perfect as Col. Brandon, a very good man whose love for Marianne is (sadly) unrequited. His love is of the best kind - he doesn't court with (empty) flowery words, instead he displays so much care, concern, lovingness and tenderness by his every look towards Marianne and by his every action to make her well and happy. I was nicely surprised that in the movie, Col. Brandon looks more dashing and handsome than John Willoughby (to me anyway).
Kate Winslet's "Marianne" is adorable as well. She sings beautifully and has such grace and beauty that it's no wonder men fell in love with her at first sight.
I shall not give away the ending, of course. But for the benefit of any viewer who have not read the novel but wish for a better and more satisfying understanding of the final scene involving Marianne, just remember the following sentence which I quote from the novel:
"Marianne could never love by halves."
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on July 25, 2002
Jane Austen is a fine writer, but her wordiness tends to drain the life from many of her characters. Thankfully, Emma Thompson recognized the limitations of the novel and adapted her screenplay accordingly, enhancing the humor of the original story and heightening drama to make the film more captivating. A cast was then chosen, made up of very talented thespians, including Miss Thompson herself. Add to that splendid English landscapes, excellent directing, haunting music, and superb cinematography, and what emerges is a modern masterpiece.

This is no movie for action fans; it is far too cerebral and requires a serious attention span. For those who enjoy a good love story well told, this film delivers. The characters are three-dimensional and their dilemmas full of human drama, bound as they are by the morals and manners of the times. Three sisters and their mother are left virtually penniless by the stricture against females inheriting property then in place in English law. The half-brother to the Dashwood women receives it all, but his selfish wife talks him out of helping his stepmother and half-sisters. It is up to the two older girls---sensible Elinor and passionate Marianne---to seek their fortunes in romance while lacking a dowry to help them.

Elinor finds her soulmate in shy, retiring Edward Ferrars, brother of the selfish sister-in-law, a man lacking in the usual Victorian ambitions. Her budding romance is shelved when his sister makes it clear that Elinor is "unsuitable" for Edward. The sisters and their mother then go to stay in a cottage owned by a kindly relative, Sir John, and his mother-in-law, the irrepressible Mrs. Jennings. The old woman is a confirmed gossip and matchmaker, bound to see one of the two sisters hitched up to Colonel Brandon, the most eligible bachelor in the area.

Brandon first sees Marianne singing a melancholy song and is incurably smitten. She in turn loses her heart to a dashing young man named Willoughby, who is her ideal of a Victorian-era gentleman, complete with a pocket book of sonnets. Brandon, who loves her more than his own happiness, steps aside and even encourages their relationship, despite his dislike for the handsome rogue.

Things take an unexpected turn for the worse for both sisters---Willoughby abruptly drops Marianne and flees to London with no explanation and Elinor discovers that Edward is engaged to a shallow young woman named Lucy Steele. The ensuing twists and turns in the plot make this film both agonizing and entertaining to watch. Mercifully, everyone winds up happy at the end wedded to the right person.

The whole film is solidly done, but it is the acting that really shines. Thompson is perfect for the role of the calmer sister, while Winslett is brilliant as the mercurial Marianne. Grant is endearing as the gentle Edward; Rickman finally gets to display his considerable ability to act the part of a very good and unselfish man. The rest of the cast keeps pace with the leads, and Hugh Laurie is indescribably funny as the sarcastic Mr. Palmer. One very beautiful aspect of this movie, along with the tendency to get drawn into the story, is the evocative musical score that tugs at the heartstrings.

All in all, this is a wonderful example of a film genre that is so often overlooked in today's world---period romance. More movies like this one desperately need to be produced. Buy this one today because it's a gem, perfect for an afternoon of inclement weather with your own soulmate.
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on October 23, 2003
Many years ago I was swept away by this enchanting movie. It has hooked me for many years since. The cast is perfectly selected and the scenary is breath taking. This movie is worth watching over and over again as I have gladly done. Emma Thompson does a wonderful job in this movie and I did not find out until much later that she wrote the script as well. I highly recommend this movie for any season and to any person willing to let these wonderful characters into their hearts. I hope you enjoy the movie half as much as I have. If you enjoyed this movie I also highly recommend the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.
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on January 2, 2003
How can a romantic comedy about seeking marriage mates win the Berlinale, one of the most prestigious film festivals? Well, this splendid adaptation of a classic Jane Austen novel did just that in 1996, combining fabulous writing (and acting) of Emma Thompson and great directing of Ang Lee ("The Wedding Banquet", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon").
Other performances are also first-class. Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant shine (personally, I've never seen a role to be so fitting for Grant, although "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "About a Boy" came close). The whole cast is flawless.
When the film came out, even the self-proclaimed film saviour Quentin Tarantino could not help himself but quip: "Who the F... is Jane Austen?" Yes, this English author who lived 200 years ago wrote only romantic novels about girls (and men) who are in want of a spouse. But she achieved perfencion in this very limited space (the novel "Pride and Prejudice" is probably the best). In this movie, the very human side -- the desire not to be alone, to spend a lifetime with the One -- is described with power. Finding the true love was the prime thing for the two Dashwood sisters. But, is it still not true for most of us, even in this cold, material world?
Emma Thompson, already an Oscar winner for her leading role in "Howards End" (1992), won the Oscar for this film's adapted screenplay, becoming the first artist ever to achieve such a feat -- winning the Academy Awards for both acting and writing.
Apart from saving all important aspects of the story, Thompson included very poignant and sharp moments in the script. When her character Elinor and Edward Ferrars (played by Grant) are on a cruise ride, she says, 'you inherit your money. We cannot even make it,' hinting at the situation of middle class women two centuries ago, when their fortunes depended heavily either on inheritance from father or property of husband -- and it was imaginable they should go to work. A great social commentary.
Beatifully shot, with delicate music score by Patrick Doyle, "Sense and Sensibility" is predominantly an entertaining film. But its social and human undertones are undeniable. It did win Berlin festival and the Golden Globe, but lost the Oscar race to "Braveheart". Maybe for the lack of great human topic that would rank it along "Schindler's List" or "The English Patient". Yet I feel that there was not the film in 1995 to deserve the big Oscar more than this one.
If you have sense and sensbility, you will laugh and you will cry. This is a film to love.
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on January 21, 2003
What can I say but I loved this movie! Whether or not you are a Jane Austen fan, you can appreciate the beauty of this film. Emma Thompson has adapted a screenplay from Jane Austen's novel of the same title that deservedly won the Academy Award and she managed to turn in a subtle, nuanced performance as the elder Dashwood sister, Elinor. Kate Winslet, pre-Titanic, is glorious and simply glows as the passionate middle sister, Marianne. Hugh Grant is at his bumbling, awkward best as Edward, the man who quietly steals Elinor's heart. But the best, by far, is Alan Rickman, whose Colonel Brandon is sensitive and intelligent. You simply ache for him as he steps aside, despite his love for Marianne, to allow her to seek happiness with the caddish Willoughby. In the background of these emotional maelstroms is a musical score that captures all of the drama so well your heartstrings will be tugged, in addition to lovely costumes and breathtaking scenery of the English countryside. Simply put, if you want to watch a movie that will fill you with the same longing that Colonel Brandon suffered and love that makes you burn, as Marianne so wished for, this is the movie for you.
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VINE VOICEon August 22, 2007
There is not one single bad thing I can say about this film. None. It is my 3rd most favorite film of all time. The acting is some of the finest out there, the costumes, plot, drama, wit; superb. I gush about this film to everyone I know. When I am in a foul mood, all I need to do is put this in my dvd player and I am perfectly fine 2 hours later. Anyone who is and isn't a Jane Austen fan should watch it. If you love period films, then this is the movie for you. Like I said, I could never critique it properly because I could never find the right words to describe it.

Though people would consider it a 'chick flick', I have seen this with my fiance and he actually liked it as well. I cant stress enough how wonderful all the actors are. Kate Winslet, who is probably my favorite British acress is spectacular in this, Emma Thompson and of course the ridiculously perfect Alan Rickman all make this film worthwhile to watch.
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on September 24, 1999
I wasn't going to buy this DVD. I already have the film on VHS normal and VHS widescreen. Now I have all 3 formats.
The commentary track by Emma Thompson and Lindsay Doran is the most entertaining I've heard on any DVD. The two of them obviously enjoyed making the film and they have lots of little stories to tell about it. Their comments fill in a lot of questions I was left with after reading Emma Thompson's published screenplay.
I was curious to see the infamous kissing scene. I see why it was left out, but it's nice to have finally seen it. Mix it with brief cuts that are in the trailers and not in the film, and there's some interesting extra material. But of course films are best if they leave you wanting more.
The only thing I'd change about this movie, if I could, would have been to have the sisters both be teenagers. Emma Thompson did a great job as a twentysomething older sister, but Elinor's character really should have been an older, serious teen against Marianne's impulsive teen. Pronouncements by Emma's Elinor carry too much conviction because she's just those few years older. The "I wish Marianne had a better acquaitance with the ways of the world" exchange with Col. Brandon has a very different flavor if it comes from, say, a nineteen-year-old.
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