'Sense and Sensibility'
Based upon Jane Austen's satire of 18th-century dating games, this rapturous romance is not only laugh-out-loud funny but demonstrates how little humankind has evolved in matters of the heart.
Decked out in silver sets and nicely trimmed topiary, the story begins in what was the
opulent Georgian estate of the second Mrs. Dashwood, whose circumstances are much reduced
upon her husband's death. By law, the property passes to John, his son by his
first wife and a henpecked boob who goes back on his promise to provide for his stepmother
and half sisters. -- Rita Kempley
Uncommonly Good ‘Sense’
By Desson Howe
First there was "Clueless," the delicious, Valley Girl satire based on Jane Austen's "Emma." Then came "Persuasion," a superb treatment of Austen's final novel, which opened in Washington a month ago.
Now, "Sense and Sensibility," which Emma Thompson adapted and stars in, has arrived. Mirabile dictu, the news is still good. Even without seeing the Austen adaptations still headed this way (another "Emma" film, a BBC "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries), it's safe to call this the 19th-century novelist's best posthumous year.
"Sense and Sensibility," which also stars Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet, takes a breezy, playful stroll through Austen's world of pettiness, heartbreak and suppressed passions.
You know you're in for a good time right from the start, as Elinor Dashwood (Thompson) gently urges her dour-faced sister, Marianne (Winslet) to stop playing a funereal air on the piano.
"Marianne," she says sweetly, "can you play something else? Mama has been weeping since breakfast."
Marianne plays an even gloomier dirge.
Their mother (Gemma Jones) is grieving for her late husband, Henry, whose death has suddenly left the comfortable family relatively destitute. According to the law, the estate must go to the deceased's son by a former marriage (James Fleet).
This means the women (including younger sister Margaret, played by Emilie Francois) must move to a cousin's humble cottage in Devonshire, while their home becomes the property of the spineless Fleet and his cheap, coldhearted wife, Fanny (Harriet Walter).
Shortly before the move, Elinor meets and falls for Fanny's brother Edward (Hugh Grant), a foppish but charming fellow. But the scheming Fanny, who has higher aspirations for her brother than Elinor, spirits Edward away to London.
Denied her romantic destiny, Elinor languishes stoically in the country. Meanwhile, passionate Marianne opts for the dashing, too-good-to-be-true Willoughby (Greg Wise) over Colonel Brandon (Rickman), a stalwart type who can't match the pizazz of his rival.
Director Ang Lee, who made the upbeat "Eat Drink Man Woman," plays this double love story as brightly as possible. There's peppy social satire in the smallest of gestures—a befuddled glance or an irritated, snooty utterance. Even the worst of cads, including Fanny and that dashing Willoughby, are reduced to a sort of amusing loathsomeness.
"May I have your permission to ascertain if there are any breaks?" Willoughby asks Marianne, when he first meets her, lying in a twisted heap from a hillside tumble.
Every sadness, too, is limned with humor, as when Elinor's Devonshire cousin, Sir John (Robert Hardy), and his gossipy mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs), try to coax out the identity of Elinor's mystery lover.
"We'll winkle it out of you," says Mrs. Jennings.
"She's awfully good at winkling," declares Sir John.
"He's of no profession," offers Elinor's younger sister, by way of a clue.
"No profession?" says Sir John. "He's a gentleman then."
Elinor and Marianne will both learn the ways of sense and sensibility in a world obsessed with class and status. But most marvelously of all, love—despite all manner of complication placed before it—is always a certainty to win out in the end. No wonder they're making movies out of all of Jane Austen's novels.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG) — Contains nothing offensive.
Uncommon 'Sense': A Work of Heart
By Rita Kempley
Let neither pride nor prejudice dissuade you from the abundant pleasures of "Sense and Sensibility." Based upon Jane Austen's satire of 18th-century dating games, this rapturous romance is not only laugh-out-loud funny but demonstrates how little humankind has evolved in matters of the heart.
Emma Thompson, who plays the sensible Elinor, the eldest of the poor but pretty Dashwood girls of Sussex, also wrote the adaptation. It is both her first script and the first non-Chinese project for Taiwanese director Ang Lee, whose films "Pushing Hands," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," like Austen's novels, expose the comic nuances of love and family life. Lee might be more familiar with green tea than Earl Grey, but it's hard to imagine anyone better suited to this material.
Decked out in silver sets and nicely trimmed topiary, the story begins in what was the opulent Georgian estate of the second Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones), whose circumstances are much reduced upon her husband's death. By law, the property passes to John (James Fleet), his son by his first wife and a henpecked boob who goes back on his promise to provide for his stepmother and half sisters.
Indeed, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are still wiping away the tears when John and his odious wife, Fanny (Harriet Walter), move in and begin to elbow them out of their home. If Elinor and her ebullient younger sister, Marianne (radiant Kate Winslet), are to regain a comfortable living and their status, they must attract suitable husbands despite their lack of dowries.
Elinor—19 in the novel but in her twenties here—is believed well on her way to spinsterhood when she attracts the attention of Fanny's bashful but ingratiating brother Edward (Hugh Grant). But before the two have a chance to express their feelings, Fanny sends Edward off to London on urgent business. And when a wealthy country cousin offers them a cottage on his estate, the Dashwood women retreat to Devonshire and a life of genteel poverty.
Eligible bachelors prove more plentiful than you might imagine, for the Dashwoods are as comely as they are destitute. Marianne, her practical sister's emotional opposite, is soon swept off her feet by a figure off the cover of a romance novel—the dashing John Willoughby (Greg Wise). Though Elinor urges discretion, the reckless Marianne is soon flaunting her passionate if chaste affair.
Just when the pot is boiling, however, Willoughby too departs for London on urgent business. But not before another of Marianne's admirers, the Byronic Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman), sets out for the city on a matter of mysterious urgency. The young ladies soon follow their hearts' desires to London, only to learn that they've been replaced by wealthy rivals.
Each responds according to her temperament, though neither Elinor's common sense nor Marianne's romantic "sensibility" alone can assure a happy ending. The solution, of course, is learning to balance the two.
"Sense and Sensibility," elegantly staged and masterfully acted down to the smallest role, requires a bit of patience toward the end, as the outcome becomes increasingly obvious. But what romantic comedy does not broadcast its good intentions well in advance? And Austen—the great-great-grandmother of the genre—would doubtless have it no other way.
Sense and Sensibility is rated PG.