Aug. 13, 2005
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Grade: 90/100

Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant

What it's about. An impoverished aristocratic family includes two marriageable young women, reserved and polite Elinor (Emma Thompson) and passionate, comparatively reckless Marianne (Kate Winslet). Since they have no dowry, a worthy match proves more difficult. Can author Jane Austen provide a satisfactory, yet surprising ending? Was there ever any doubt?

How others will see it. Costume dramas set in England during its glory years of Empire have long basked in Oscar glory. However, just because the movie is about comparatively wealthy white English gentry with no discernable occupations, doesn't mean it isn't accessible.

After all, the basic theme is finding true love, the desire of all young people who haven't learned yet that while love is fickle, being able to pay your bills solves innumerable problems.

Can one identify with the situation of the two sisters? Of course. Will a generation brought up on MTV or reality shows embrace this slow-moving costume drama? Only if they give it a chance, something not likely to happen when a promised blockbuster provides an alternative.

How I felt about it. There's not much suspense in the story for me. The sisters will find deserving love, even if the man is not their (original) romantic ideal. The last point is a key to Austen's works. She doesn't present a traditional romance, where the best candidate is clear all along. Rather, a person's best qualities are deep within, and only make themselves plain when a crisis must be faced.

Sense and Sensibility is an apt title. Thompson is sensible, Winslet is sensitive. But the fires of passion still burn inside Thompson, even though she cloaks them with civility and modesty. In the end, the story clearly favors her over Winslet, who must marry a patrician who will balance her fire with maturity.

Comparisons are also clear between Winslet's suitors. The dashing but unreliable Willoughby (Greg Wise) and the dependable but stiff Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). On a sunny day, Willoughby is the hands-down choice. Winset can love him, but only respect Rickman, who will nonetheless stand by her despite the worst of tempests.

Although we are obliged to feel happy for Thompson, who lands her awkward but charming alter ego, perhaps we should also feel remorse for Winslet, who escapes death only to enter into a long, placid, and perhaps stultifying relationship.