I still don’t understand how the man who made this film could have gone on to make… every thing else Ang Lee has made. Yes, it’s still romance month here at Nate Chen Publications and we’re wrapping it up with a true classic. This film is fairly old, in fact it turns 20 this year, but it’s based on a story by Jane Austen so it’s less a question of whether it’s aged well and more a question of whether it’s timeless.
Sense and Sensibility is two love stories in one, the first focusing on Ms. Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars, a pair of people eminently suited to one another. Both are quiet, serious people of good sense who see in the other admirable qualities and good character. If this sounds kind of boring don’t worry, circumstances and previous history are very much set against them. There’s inheritances, overbearing mothers, previous commitments and general social standing to take into account, after all.
The second romance focuses on Elinor’s younger sister Marianne, a free sprited and sentimentally minded young lady who faces no obstacles to her paramour, John Willoughby, except that of Willoughby’s character itself. He’s a real cad, eventually proving to have gotten another woman pregnant and run from the fact. When he looses his inhertiance over the matter he leaves Marianne and goes looking for a wife who can support him. Marianne eventually winds up married to the kind, generous but reserved Colonel Brandon.
This story contrasts two different ideas of romance. The first is represented by Elinor and Edward, who don’t have a particularly exuberant or emotional connection. That’s not the same as saying they don’t connect, because they do. It’s just not in the big, expressive way most of the people around Elinor can understand. Marianne is even worried about her sister, wondering if she gets what love is. Marianne, on the other hand, falls hard and extravegantly. She practically throws herself at Willoughby (by the standards of the time) and takes not time to build a connection beyond a superficial emotional reaction. She never stops to see where she stands with him, instead building castles of dreams that ultimately prove to have no foundation.
Like all of Austen’s stories, in most of their adaptations, Sense and Sensibility takes a lot of time to look at the characters and how they relate to each other. With Emma Thomson and Kate Winslet staring as the two leading ladies we can see a lot of the contrast between the two characters, with the less expressive Elinor coming across as a woman who says little but feels deeply and the vibrant Marianne practically floating across the screen in most of her scenes. Of course, this is most effective when the romantic couple are together. Both Elinor and Edward and Marianne and Willoughby spend a lot of time in conversation. They manage to avoid boredom while clearly illustrating the character traights and connections that will eventually make Elinor and Edward’s relationship work when Marianne and Willoughby’s will fall through.
What I love the most is how the film manages to stick to a dry tone, rarely taking love entirely seriously but still recognizing that the people it portrays could very well be us. The mixture of humor and sympathy, along with an understanding of the importance in a meeting of characters and minds, as well as hearts, makes this a great romantic film. If you’ve never seen it, now’s the time to go and check it out.