Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best Three Austen Adaptations - Sense and Sensibility

This is number two in my favorite three Austen Adaptations.  You can read about the first of the list here: Pride and Prejudice (2005).

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise, Alan Rickman

This is my favorite Austen book and this is an excellent adaptation of it.  It's the triple threat of fabulous screenplay, fabulous cast and fabulous director that makes it special.  And the fact that its just a really terrific and interesting story.   Here are some of the things that make me love it. 

1)  The complex message:  On the surface this novel has a very clear message - that sense is better then sensibility.  Emotional reserve and selfless courtesy are the proper way to live ones life.  If you look closer, however Austen seems to be a little unsure of this.  For sure Colonel Brandon is a good man but can anyone really get excited about he and Marianne? And why show us Willoughby's remorse, regret and unhappiness.  She of course could be making the point writ large, implying that if you give into your emotions your damned to the boring old colonels and the rich but soulless women.  But its hard not to feel that Marianne and Willoughby have lost something very precious.  The movie captures this intricacy of the book perfectly without being overdone.

2) The music.  Like Pride and Prejudice (2005) the music in this film is beautiful and enhances and informs the general atmosphere.  One of my favorite scenes is when Brandon walks in on Marianne singing - the song is beautiful and you can see why Brandon is immediately enchanted.

3) The wit:  Emma Thompson, in her writing and her acting really captures the wry wit of Austen perfectly.  For a story that actually focuses quite a bit on tragedy and loss there are many subtle funny moments that are pitch perfect.  Austen's voice is really captured.  And witnessing Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson exchange ultra dry witty repartee is something to behold.

4) The emotional scenes:  And by this I guess I really mean the emotional scenes for Elinor.  First, at Marianne's sick bed when she loses it and begs her sister to stay with her.  Not only does it express her love for her sister but it also shows the audience how Elinor is truly suffering under all the blows she and her family has taken - she's shouldered them all with a straight back but deep inside she is a wreck.  And of course the scene where Edward reveals he is not married.  I was recently watching the Vicar of Dibley and there's an episode where they are making fun of the astonishing noise Emma Thompson makes as she loses it ("Who makes that Noise?" only to set up the VoD character making this noise later for real)  - it is a little funny but again is sort of a perfect reaction  - that visceral, deep down response to letting heartbreaking disappointment go.   

5) The bit parts:  The cast here is just all around lovely.  Lucy Steele is appropriately conniving and odious, John Dashwood and his wife are the perfect pair of manipulator and manipulatee, Greg Wise is a dashing and sympathetic Willoughby, Lady Middleton and Sir John are gloriously feckless, gauche and irritating, and finally Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie as the Palmers cannot be bested.

6) The pretty:  And the film just looks gorgeous.  This is a strength of Ang Lee and he really delivers.  The whole film has a look that settles into your memory.  

How do you like this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility? What did you like or dislike about it?  What are your top three Austen adaptations?  Do you think Austen's message is a little confused in Sense and Sensibility or do you think she comes down solidly for sense?

Next up...Emma.