JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Sense & Sensibility (1995)

Welcome to the September meeting of the JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

You need to no Almack’s voucher to join the club. In fact, there’s no club to join! We’re very non-exclusive here. Welcoming. Common, even! (Well, some of us are. I am.)

And the first Tuesday of every month, anyone who cares to stop by Risky Regencies (“the friendliest Regency site in cyberspace, guaranteed, or your money back”) can say any clever or inane thing about the current month’s choice of Jane Austen adaptation.

We’ve had a lot of interesting discussion in our first two meetings (PERSUASION (1995) and EMMA (1996)) — and a lot of fun, too! (Or, at least, I had fun. Which is really all that matters, if you think about it.)

Now on to today’s adaptation: the 1995 feature film SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

I have put cast info and other details below, in case they aid the discussion. Feel free, of course, to discuss any aspect of the film that you please!

Director: ANG LEE

Screenwriter: EMMA THOMPSON


Emma Thompson: Elinor Dashwood

Kate Winslet: Marianne Dashwood

Hugh Grant: Edward Ferrars

Alan Rickman: Colonel Brandon

Greg Wise: Willoughby

Gemma Jones: Mrs. Dashwood

Emilie François: Margaret Dashwood

James Fleet: John Dashwood

Tom Wilkinson: Mr. Dashwood

Harriet Walter: Fanny Dashwood

Elizabeth Spriggs: Mrs. Jennings

Robert Hardy: Sir John Middleton

Imelda Staunton: Charlotte Jennings Palmer

Hugh Laurie: Mr. Palmer

Imogen Stubbs: Lucy Steele

If you want ideas for discussion questions to get you started, here are a few:

Which character do you most resemble?

Do you think this was one of the better Austen adaptations you’ve seen? Why or why not?

What do you think of Emma Thompson’s screenplay?

Did you think the interpretations of Marianne, Edward, and Colonel Brandon were true to Austen’s book? If not, do you think this was a problem?

Do you think Willoughby was a complete villain from the start, or did Marianne have a chance of saving him from himself?

Or, of course, ask or answer any question of your choosing.

All comments are welcome. Let the discussion begin!

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester and firm despiser of flannel waistcoats. Except when it’s cold.

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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
15 years ago

I love this film, although not as much as I love the film version of Persuasion. I think Emma Thompson did a remarkable job of cutting down the novel to a reasonable length without sacrificing too much. And the scene where she breaks down when she realizes that she and Edward can finally be together still makes me weep. As for Willoughby, I would like to think that he and Marianne might have had a chance, but it would have involved significant growth from his character. Maybe I’m just partial to Alan Rickman’s performance as Colonel Brandon, but I did think that he balanced her passionate nature, grounded her a bit, where as Willoughby sort of encouraged the more dangerous aspects of her character.

15 years ago

Ooh, I’m first! LOL πŸ™‚ First off. . . looooooooooved it! πŸ™‚ And loved Colonel Brandon, thank you very much! πŸ™‚

I know people talk about the ages of the actresses, but see, for me it still works very well because today, we don’t think of 19/17 year olds (think that was the age in the book) as being mature and strong like Elinor. Besides, regardless on how old Kate Winslet is, Alan Rickman is still, I’m fairly certain a number of years older than her (and if it were me, I sure wouldn’t mind that! LOL) so it still works for me.

I was disappointed to see that the scene where Brandon brings Marianne back in the rain didn’t happen in the book though. . . poor Jane, I’m sure she would have written it in if she saw that. πŸ™‚

But I think it needed. . . well, probably not needed but I think I would like to have seen Willoughby’s explanation/apology. I don’t remember it well now, but it seemed like it was a big scene when I read it.

PS — there’s something I still don’t understand book or movie wise. . . why the heck was it such a bad thing for Edward to almost have married Lucy (right, Lucy? I forget now!) but it was okay for her to end up with Edwards brother?

Hmm. . . that’s all I can think of off hand at the moment, except loved Colonel Brandon! πŸ™‚ I mean, that scene where he’s waiting to hear something, asks what can he do, she says get our mother. . . sigh. πŸ™‚


15 years ago

Okay, so I would have been first if I didn’t blab on. LOL πŸ™‚ Never mind with that. πŸ˜‰

As to Willoughby, I’m not really sure. . . I would imagine since he and Marianne were a lot alike, there might not be a whole lot of change, but that’s a tough one, no crystal ball and all. πŸ™‚


Tracy Grant
15 years ago

This is my favorite Jane Ausen film adaptatio and one of my favorite movies in general. Emma Thompson ‘s script and Ang Lee’s directing are so wonderfully nuanced and layered. The importance of money/fortune and the sometimes corrosive effect this has on human relationships is captured with wonderful subtlety (I love the image at the end of Brandon tossing the coins in the air and some of the characters scambling for them while others bask in the wedding glow; a beautiful image and at the same time deeply ironic). The acting’s terrific and I found the characters quite true to the book, except that I liked Edward better–in the book he frustrated me as being weak and vacillating, in the movie he came across more as struggling to do the right thing. I think this may have been more portrayal than the actual dialogue, which I think is fairly true to the book.

The one scene I really miss from the book is the scene where Willoughby comes late at night to the house where Marianne lies ill and tells the truth of his actions to Elinor. I always saw that as the linchpin scene in the book. I’d love to hear Emma Thompson’s explanation of why she changed it. The scene with Brandon telling Elinor is also strong, but not, imo, as immediate.

As for Willoughby–I’d like to think he could change, but I’m inclined to agree with Marianne’s comment toward the end that if he’d married her “he’d have had a wife he loved but not money and might have soon learned to rank the demands of his pocketbook over those of his heart.”

Cara King
15 years ago

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon wrote: where as Willoughby sort of encouraged the more dangerous aspects of her character.

Good point. Even if Willoughby had “reformed,” he still might have been bad for Marianne!

Lois wrote: why the heck was it such a bad thing for Edward to almost have married Lucy (right, Lucy? I forget now!) but it was okay for her to end up with Edwards brother?

I always interpreted it, Lois, that both Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars were very good at getting what they wanted, and manipulating others… Put that together with the fact that Robert was his mom’s golden boy and clear favorite, and eventually she was worn down to accept Lucy…

Tracy Grant wrote: The one scene I really miss from the book is the scene where Willoughby comes late at night to the house where Marianne lies ill and tells the truth of his actions to Elinor.

I missed that too, partly because I recall one scholar arguing that if the happy medium in Austen’s concept was supposed to be somewhere in between sense and sensibility, this is really the only point where Elinor realizes she may have done harm by being too much in the sense camp!


Keira Soleore
15 years ago

I liked–and thought was fairly accurate–Emma Thompson’s screenplay and depiction of Elinor. I also liked how she maintained Jane Austen’s voice.

Ang Lee is amazing–there hasn’t been a movie he’s made where I haven’t been in raptures afterwards, and this one is no exception.

Best of all, I loved Patrick Doyle’s music. I’ve liked his stuff in Henry VIII and Gosford Park.

The only sour note for me for Hugh Grant. I’m just not a fan of that hesitating, stammering character he always plays.

15 years ago

This was a very hard movie for me to enjoy for the longest time because I was taken out of the movie when I saw a pair of anachronistic Chinese B&W Double Happiness palace vases displayed prominently by the front door. Those vases were obviously from the Gwang Hsu Period (1875-1910). Grrr. Everytime I saw those vases, it bugged.

However, I caught this movie again on TBS (I think) and I was impressed by Winslet (I cant imagine anyone else playing this part) and Rickman, how out of place Hugh Grant seemed, and how magnificent Thompson was, both in the acting and screenplay adaptation.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

“Ang Lee is amazing–there hasn’t been a movie he’s made where I haven’t been in raptures afterwards, and this one is no exception.”

This is so true, Keira! I’m really looking forward to “Lust, Caution.”

S&S is my second favorite of the Austen movies (after Persuasion!). I adore Alan Rickman, but agree that the lack of the Willoughby scene towards the end was a big loss to the story (otherwise, I thought the tone and major themes of the book were well-maintained). And I get the feeling that, while Marianne and Willoughby might have been wildly happy at first, their lack of money and connections would have soured their relationship in the end.

15 years ago

Since I suffer from a common Alan Rickman obsession, I can watch this film over and over and over… That scene where he sees Marianne play for the first time. Ah. Where he cautions Colonal Brandon’s depth and world-weariness, his self restraint, all played to a T.

The age differences didn’t bother me at all in the film, which is weird, because all through the book I was thinking Mrs. Dashwood deserved Colonel Brandon!

I would have liked the rather gothic, late-night confession scene too. But I’m guessing Thompson may have thought she didn’t need it by adding Willoughby on his horse watching the wedding, and by Marianne’s statement. Also, that scene would have cut into the “will-she-make-it-or-won’t-she” tension of Marianne’s illness.

OT, I’ve always wanted to get two dogs, and name them Wickham and Willoughby. πŸ™‚

Cara King
15 years ago

OT, I’ve always wanted to get two dogs, and name them Wickham and Willoughby. πŸ™‚

Bad dog! Bad dog!


Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Sense and Sensibility is my THIRD favorite Austen adaptation. First is Persuasion, and second are both the BBC and film versions of Pride & Prejudice.

I loved Kate Winslet’s Marianne! Emma Thompson was too old to play Elinor, but I loved her performance so I forgave her. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief into thinking Hugh Grant was Edward. He was always Hugh Grant to me. I can see what everyone sees in Alan Rickman, but he doesn’t do it for me (Not like Gerard Butler…)
As for Willoughby. As Romance writers, we would have redeemed him
in the next book, if not in this one.

Marianne is my favorite character in the book and movie, though. She makes the most changes. I love how she makes such a mature choice in the end. You just know she is going to have a happy life!

Cara King
15 years ago

Ah! I found it. In Emma Thompson’s diaries of making the movie, referring to things that at one point or other were in the script, but then cut out, she wrote:

…bringing Willoughby back at the end: a wonderful scene in the novel which unfortunately interfered too much with the Brandon love story.


15 years ago

Thanks, Cara!

It’s good to know Emma Thompson was thinking like a romance writer. tee-hee

Cara King
15 years ago

I do love this adaptation a lot, but I confess I am in the minority in not caring for Kate Winslet’s performance. Though it’s not so much the performance, as the casting, which bothers me.

About Marianne, Austen writes: Her form, though not so correct as her sister’s, in having the advantage of height, was more striking… Her skin was very brown… and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardly be seen without delight.”

Elinor and Marianne always seemed to me to be 18th century archetypes, as the English saw them: the serene, reserved Northern European blonde, and the fiery, dark, passionate Southern European one (with the “Latin” temperament which the English often associated with dark looks.)

So, first off, I had trouble getting past Winlet’s pale delicacy. Yes, I know, superficial.

But beyond that, I always saw Marianne as someone who really did have deep passions. Her fault was that she didn’t *control* them.

To me, though, Winslet’s portrayal always seems to be of a very young, rather spoiled girl who is full of fancy and affectation. Her passions never seem real to me, just put on in a romantic manner.

Anyway, that’s the problem I’ve always had with Winslet’s Marianne. (Though I’ve liked her in a lot of other things!)


Cara King
15 years ago

By the way, I thought I would list some things I love about this production:

— the hats

— the way Emma Thompson’s script makes clear the constraints of the period, and the way it “shows” parts of Edward which Austen only “told,” making him seem less of an idiot.

— Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Imogen Stubbs, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman

— the wit

— the gorgeous scenery

— the way the movie doesn’t dismiss Margaret or Mrs. Dashwood the way Austen does


15 years ago

Some of the things I would have said about this film have already been said. So I will skip all those, and go on to politely disagree with several of the previous comments (but to agree with Tracy, I think): I liked Hugh Grant’s portrayal of Edward a lot, and I think it an example of the film actually improving on a weakness of the book.

All of Jane Austen’s novels are great books, but I think that S&S in particular has a few flaws. One of these is that, frankly, Edward is a drip. Another is that while Elinor and Marianne are supposed to both be heroines, I think the author is clearly on Elinor’s side. I know I am not the only reader who has sometimes thought, “Oh, come on, Elinor, throw over Edward and marry Brandon!”

Grant’s Edward is more likeable than the Edward in the book–he comes across as less weak, and more genuinely attractive. I found it quite believable that Elinor would fall for him. This was a combination of his portrayal and Emma Thompson’s screenplay: she gives Edward a number of funny or appealing lines that are not in the book.

And one more word in defense of Hugh Grant as an actor: while his romantic comedy roles tend all to be somewhat similar, he is definitely capable of a much wider range. Anyone who doubts, go see An Awfully Big Adventure. (Which has Alan Rickman, too, so it’s a two-for-one deal! Though neither of them plays the most admirable character…)


Tracy Grant
15 years ago

Toddl, that’s exactly what I was trying to say about Hugh Grant’s potrayal of Edward, said much more eloquently! Cara, very good point that Thompson’s screenplay shows things about Edward which are told in the book which, imo, make him much more sympathetic.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I loved this adaptation as well; the changes from the book were carefully thought out and (heresy, I know!) in some places I felt they were improvements.

One thing I liked that I don’t think anyone else mentioned is the reduction of the number of sisters. I seem to recall there were several not very interesting younger sisters besides Elinor and Marianne. I liked that instead we had only Margaret, whom one can easily imagine growing into a heroine in her own right.

Georgie Lee
15 years ago

I love this film. I’ve watched it so many times, I’ve almost worn out my DVD copy. This is an excellent adaptation that actually added something to the original novel. The way the screenwriters combined the two Miss Steeles into one worked very well. Also, I loved the way Margaret was given some character by making her a tomboy.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Todd, you should write an essay “In Defense of Hugh Grant.” πŸ™‚ I liked him best in The Englishman Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain. But other than that, I do find his mannerisms distracting enough that I cannot focus on the character he’s playing.

Cara, thanks for those journal notes by Emma Thompson. That’s a find. I hope we will be able to look at similar journals by other screenwriters/directors when we do the other books.

Tracy, about the scene where Brandon tosses coins in the air–Am I right in recalling that Colin Firth did the same in the BBC P&P?

Amanda, YES, on Lust, Caution.

About cutting off multiple sisters, in books they serve to explore different facets of the main character, for continuation of the series, etc. In a movie, they’re noise that distracts. So I s’pose cutting them off means more camera time for the h/h.

Cara King
15 years ago

Elena, I do think there are only three Dashwood sisters in the book. But, as Georgie Lee pointed out, this movie did cut Miss Steele (Lucy Steele’s beau-crazy older sister) — might that be what you’re remembering?


Elena Greene
15 years ago

Oh, you’re right, Cara, there were only the three. I was probably thinking of the Steele sisters. But now that I think about it, the film also simplified the Middleton/Jennings family. No Lady Middleton in the film, not that she was memorable enough to be missed. I think these were all smart changes when going to film.

15 years ago

I liked S&S very much. Hugh Grant made his persona work with the part, and I remember reading somewhere that Emma Thompson said she learned never to cast a leading man who was more beautiful than you from her experience with S&S. As for Kate Winslet, her innate intelligence made Marianne’s growing maturity believable for me. Greg Wise as Willoughby was certainly appealing and poignant, and it makes me happy to know that he and Emma Thompson are a Real Life couple. I do think he’s a tragic figure who’d been careless (and occasionally heartless) in his youth but not evil — but perhaps I’m merely shallow and Greg Wise so appealing that it colors my view of the character.

15 years ago

Keira wrote:

Todd, you should write an essay “In Defense of Hugh Grant.” πŸ™‚

Well, it so happens that his mother is a good friend of the mother of the wife of a friend of mine. So, we’re practically family.

I liked him best in The Englishman Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain. But other than that, I do find his mannerisms distracting enough that I cannot focus on the character he’s playing.

I guess tastes may vary, along with mileage. I think my favorite Hugh Grant film is Notting Hill–but I have a sentimental attachment for it, as well, because it reminded me strongly of the time that Cara and I lived in London, and I saw it on my own when I was missing her. So, call me a big softy. πŸ™‚


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