There is a certain flair and an undeniable charm to the film versions of Jane Austen’s novels, be it "Pride And Prejudice", "Emma" or "Sense And Sensibility". Her stories concisely capture the essence of British class differences during the turn of the 18th/19th century. One of the most poignant adaptations of her material came with Emma Thompson’s take of "Sense And Sensibility", a romantic drama located in the lush settings of the English countryside that has now found its way to DVD through Columbia TriStar Home Video.
When rich Mr. Dashwood dies his second wife and their three daughters are left penniless while his son John inherits all the riches, including the estate the family used to life in. With a greedy and selfish wife by his side, John ushers the rest of the family out of the house to make sure he does not have to support or justify his poor relatives’ presence to his elitist friends and in-laws. Before they leave, the women also get to know Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), their brother-in-law and greatly enjoy his high spirited and easy-going nature that is so different from that of his stiff and avaricious sister. Especially Elinor (Emma Thompson) is growing increasingly affectionate over the bash young man, and spends a great deal of time with him, much to the delight of her mother.
But before long Edward has to go back to London, and the women have to move out of the family estate. Fortunately an uncle offers them a new home in a cottage in the countryside. While not fancy, it is big and cheap enough to accommodate the four women. Here Marianne (Kate Winslet) gets to know John Willoughby (Greg Wise) a young neighbor and the two fall in love, under the dismayed eyes of Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), a friend of the family who himself has feelings for Marianne. Before John can propose to Marianne however, he unexpectedly leaves the countryside for London without further explanation. The two sisters are heartbroken. Elinor had not heard from Edward in a long time and now Marianne had been left without explanation. One day they are invited to visit London and the young women decide to take the trip, intimately hoping to get the chance to meet their loved ones again in the big city!
"Sense And Sensibility" is a heartfelt drama that fortunately never gets overly melodramatic. It shows us strong characters who have learned to survive the hardships of life; and yet their hearts are in despair. The way novelist Jane Austen has set up the premises for this story is incredibly well done and has been masterfully adapted to a screenplay by Emma Thompson, for which she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe Award, and many other awards and nominations. The setup introduces us to the key players in the drama, establishing a rich background story with family history, feuds, class differences and everything else you could wish for.
Then, as the story progresses, we are taken closer to the two main characters, Elinor and Marianne, and many of the previous characters are carefully removed from the picture one by one to make sure the viewer’s attention is centered more and more on only these two personalities. After the story has found its resolution at the end of the third act, these characters are then slowly brought back into the picture one by one, just as they had been blended out. It is an incredible device that gradually builds the intensity of the inner character development of the story’s heroines, culminating in a powerful finale.
Beautifully photographed, "Sense And Sensibility" uses some incredible locations as the film’s backgrounds and shows us a highly romanticized version of the English countryside with lush colors, great views and or course, a bit of rain. Combined with the elaborate production design and the costumes, this film weaves a thick layer of nostalgia that heightens the drama and makes the problems at hand much more real. It is always a challenge to take something as literary and poetic as "Sense And Sensibility" and bring it to the big screen, but Emma Thompson has seemingly always had a hand for that, be it through her involvement in films like "Howard’s End" or this one. She has the ability to add a class and noblesse to her parts that makes every one of her performances intellectual, yet entertaining. In "Sense And Sensibility" she shows us the strongest of all sisters that is torn apart in her heart. While everyone around her is completely self-centered and self-complacent, she is the link that holds everything together while also dealing with her own pain. No one pays much attention to what she is going through, what ordeal she endures while putting on a happy face and taking care of everyone else’s problems, and her liberating finale is one of the greatest and most emotional moments of the film.
The entire cast of the film is first rate, bringing us a remarkable performance by Kate Winslet as Elinor’s sister Marianne, who gets so caught up in her own little world that she forgets everything around her. She is very different from Elinor and the friction between the two oftentimes resembles a mother-daughter relationship. Hugh Grant is showing us his best civilized face and Alan Rickman is coming across powerfully as the turned-down romancer, who is more concerned about his love’s well-being than his own interests. His subdued play is beautiful and every time he enters the screen we can feel how he is overwhelmed by his disappointment.
Columbia Tristar Home Video has prepared "Sense and Sensibility" as a Special Edition on this DVD and included a few additional features. The image quality of the anamorphic transfer is breathtakingly sharp and colorful. Highly detailed and with rich hues this transfer brings out the best of the film’s stylish photography. No distracting artifacts are visible and the picture has a very warm and balanced feel throughout. The film is presented in is original theatrical 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
"Sense And Sensibility" comes with a number of audio tracks, including a 5.0 channel Dolby Digital track in English, as well as Dolby Surround tracks in Spanish and Portuguese. The soundtracks are well balanced and create a good sense of ambience for the film. Dialogue is always understandable, although due to the heavy English accents, the subtitles came in very handy on this release. This release contains two separate audio commentary tracks. One by Emma Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran, the other with director Ang Lee and co-producer James Shamus. While the first commentary track mostly discusses story-related issues regarding Austen’s work and the film’s characters, the second one is a little more technical in approach and covers many of the filmmaking aspects of "Sense and Sensibility". A number of deleted scenes from the film, Emma Thompson’s entertaining Golden Globe acceptance speech, production notes and trailers round up this package from Columbia TriStar Home Video.
"Sense And Sensibility" is a great film and it has found a great new home on this DVD. The film is romantic, high-spirited, melancholic, passionate, tragic and funny at times.
Stylishly directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, this film nicely captures Austen’s early work and is a great period piece with a high entertainment value. If you are looking for a film that is neither clichéd, nor shallow, give this literary film a look. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I have.