Sense and Sensibility
Director: Ang Lee / Script: Emma Thompson (from Austen’s book) / DP: Michael Coulter / Editor: Tim Squyres / Music: Patrick Doyle
Cast: James Fleet / Tom Wilkinson / Harriet Walter / Kate Winslet / Emma Thompson / Gemma Jones / Hugh Grant / Robert Hardy / Alan Rickman / Greg Wise / Imelda Staunton / Imogen Stubbs / Hugh Laurie / Emilie Francois / Elizabeth Spriggs
In which Emma Thompson proved you can improve on perfection…
Ang Lee squeezed lightning into a bottle with his 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s early novel Sense and Sensibility.
A top-notch British cast? Lush, evocative locations, costumes and period detail? Naturalistic, subtle lighting? A sparkling screenplay from Thompson? A winning hand in any game of ‘Period Drama Top Trumps’, if ever there was.
Thompson actually won a deserved Oscar for her adaptation. After all, Austen’s early work wasn’t exactly brimming with dynamic plot-work. Typically, she has her leading men dashing off on all sorts of secret errands ‘to town’, leaving the womenfolk to tread water in their sewing circles and gossip until their return. Only then, does the plot get to move forward.
Lee was an unusual choice to helm this seminal ‘riches-to-rags-to-riches’ tale of everyday Upper-Middle class folk ‘scraping by on £500 a year’ (add a nought or two and what’s changed?). Nonetheless, his Taiwanese background, with its hierarchical society and social morés, proved more suitable than it might’ve looked at face value. He trusted his top-drawer company to excel and they didn’t disappoint, with not a bum note in any performance.
Thompson herself exhibits real vulnerability here, as she comes to terms with her social limitations and possibilities. Winslet is a gloriously brittle Marianne, laid low by the villainous Willoughby (Greg Wise, in a restrained, controlled take on the part). With able support from a bumbling James Fleet, feisty Harriet Walter, a very passable impression of Hugh Grant by, err, Hugh Grant, et-al, it’s fair to ask: ‘With a cast this good, how could Lee have done anything but triumph?’
There’s a reason why no-one’s attempted a ‘reboot’ of this twenty-two year old instant classic. Watch it and you’ll see why.
Besides: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
How did you find the silver? Was it all genuine?