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Sense and Sensibility (A Review)

Updated on November 27, 2014

About The Film

This version of "Sense and Sensibility", adapted from the novel by Jane Austen of the same name, was directed by Ang Lee, and stars Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, James Fleet, Harriet Walter, Emilie Francois, Elizabeth Spriggs, and Robert Hardy. It was produced and presented by Columbia Pictures Corporation and Mirage Enterprises respectively, and released in 1995 (1996 in the US).

Set in georgian England, the film tells the story of Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters who find themselves impoverished by the death of their husband and father. According to the law, the inheritance, which includes their home, goes to the eldest son of Mr. Dashwood's previous wife, leaving the current Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters effectively without a home, with next to nothing. Though they are rescued from homelessness, they are forced to deal with their poverty and the effect it has on their social life and relationships.

The Review

The setting of the entire film has a kind of pastoral feel. It seems to make a great backdrop for the interaction between the characters, which are quite well developed. The story centers on Elinor Dashwood, the eldest of Mrs. Dashwood's three daughters. She is very mature, reserved and possessed of a very pragmatic frame of mind. She places a very high value on integrity and a higher priority on necessity than on desire. She is also very disciplined. This, combined with a level of emotional stability that surpasses that of her mother, enables her to effectively step into her father's shoes and take charge of the family's needs.

Mrs. Dashwood is a gentle-natured woman and loving mother. She's just a bit soft-spoken, but rather emotional, which puts her in a better position to relate to her second daughter, Marianne. It also leaves her more vulnerable to the loss of her husband and the stress of their subsequent poverty. She also comes across as well practiced in the social graces typical to a woman in the societal position she held as Mr. Dashwood's wife.

Marianne Dashwood is much the opposite of her older sister. She is strongly led by her emotions and believes that everyone should be. She places little value on discipline. In fact, she disapproves of emotional restraint and believes that giving free reign to one's emotions is quite admirable. This is particularly true where matters of the heart are concerned.

Margaret Dashwood, the youngest of Mrs. Dashwood's daughters, apart from being a bit shy, is an 18th century tomboy. And, as is typical for kids her age, she's impatient to grow up.

John Dashwood, Mrs. Dashwood's stepson, on his own seems a nice enough fellow. But, as is quickly seen, he's easily swayed by his wife. This is a by-product of his obvious desire to avoid conflict. Left to his own devices, he might be a somewhat compassionate fellow. But not if Fanny has anything to say about it. Not if that compassion involves money.

Fanny Ferrars Dashwood is on what I would call the dark side of the character list. It's not that she's "evil" or anything. She's simply devoid of compassion. And she manages to suck it right out of her husband. She's concerned about nothing that doesn't involve the benefit of herself and her family, particularly, her mother and her brothers, Edward and Robert. Her brother Robert seems to share this disposition.

The Ferrars family finds it redemption, however, in the person of Edward Ferrars. Just the opposite of his siblings, he turns out to be an intuitively compassionate fellow. His amiability wins over Mrs. Dashwood and all of her daughters. He's described as being "proud in the best sense" by Colonel Brandon. He's also quite honorable. Once his word is given, he sticks to it regardless of the circumstances. But, at the same time, he doesn't allow that to get in the way of his compassion and sense of fairness. I have to say, I liked him right away.

Colonel Christopher Brandon is a rather quiet fellow, possessed of a kindly nature and an earnest desire to be helpful. Especially to those finding themselves in circumstances to which he can personally relate. He is also somewhat haunted by a sad history that is revealed as the film progresses. His affections run strong, but he governs them well. And they are such that they flourish even if they're unrequited, seeking only the benefit of their object, even at cost to his own heart. It can be seen that much of his maturity is owed to his age and experience, which leaves him, in some ways, kind of isolated socially.

Colonel Brandon's long time friend and cousin to Mrs. Dashwood, Sir John Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings are like two peas in a pod. They are a cordial, fun loving duo who's advanced age seems to have made them unconcerned about propriety. Their lack of concern manifests itself in their respective frankness and indiscretion. Sir John's frankness sometimes borders on tactlessness. And Mrs. Jennings seems oblivious and unconcerned that her prying manner, overt joking and poking fun at sensitive personal matters causes discomfort in many around her. But, all this considered, it can plainly be seen that their hearts are in the right place. They prove themselves to be quite dependable in a crisis, quick to help in any way they can.

John Willoughby, at first, seems a nice enough fellow. Very pleasing to the eyes of the Dashwood women, Willoughby quickly captures their affections with his charm and chivalry. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that he's not all he's cracked up to be.

Lucy Steele also comes across as sweet and unassuming. But, she too, is not what she seems. She kind of struck me as something of a self-seeking schemer. She seemed to enjoy "twisting the knife" a bit as well.

From the beginning of the film, Elinor is shown to be the anchor of the family. This serves to put a spotlight on her relationships. In the course of the change in her family's circumstances, she is introduced to Edward Ferrars, her stepbrother's brother-in-law. Though an attraction develops between them, circumstances force them apart and Elinor is forced to hide her feelings for Edward. Their hidden feelings for each other and thwarted relationship remain in the shadow of everything else that happens around Elinor. In the course of getting better acquainted with their rescuer, Sir John Middleton, the Dashwood women are introduced to Colonel Christopher Brandon. And, it is here that the story becomes wonderfully intricate. First, there is the beginning of a triangle starting with Colonel Brandon, as he is immediately taken with Marianne. But, the attraction isn't mutual. Later, Marianne is introduced to John Willoughby by way of an injury suffered during a walk with her sister. She is immediately taken with him and an unspoken relationship ensues. Meanwhile, there is a mildly simmering and largely unspoken animosity between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby. Second, a clear contrast is drawn between Elinor and Marianne in terms of their emotional comportment. Elinor's reserve and resignation is matched against Marianne's nearly reckless emotional abandon. And in the middle of all this, true faces, unspoken pasts, and secret intentions are revealed. All this coupled with the interaction between the characters, their personalities being what they are, make this movie thoroughly engrossing.

Recommendation

I would recommend this movie to anyone. And I do mean anyone. Whether they're into romance films or not. For myself, this film actually lies outside the sphere of my interest, as movies go. But, curiosity got the better of me, and, upon seeing it, I was hooked.

I know some personally that might have a problem with what I've referred to as a "pastoral" feel that this film has, but the characters would be enough to capture their interest. I, however, think that it makes a great environment for the story. For me, this is one of those movies where, when the credits start to roll, you kind of feel sorry that the movie's over.

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