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25 Years Later: Sense and Sensibility

23 February 21 words: Hollie Anderson

This period drama, released in 1996 in the UK, is in many ways a standard nineties rom-com; but does this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel actually have too much sense, and not enough scandal?

Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet
Running time: 136 minutes

Sense and Sensibility follows and trials and tribulations of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood after the death of their father leaves them, their mother and younger sister next to destitute. The film has a simple plot that plays up the difference between the two sisters - one is too restrained and sensible, and the other too emotional and sensitive. Both these flaws cause havoc in their attempts to marry until they learn to reflect a little of their sibling’s traits. 

All in all it’s a very sweet, gentle film with a few lovely moments of humour. The film has a great ensemble of A-listers; Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet playing the leads. Meanwhile, the love interests are played by Alan Rickman - who is heartbreaking as Colonel Brandon - and Hugh Grant joins as his usual blithering self in the role of Edward Ferrars. Other brilliant additions that tick the boxes of a typical nineties flick include Greg Wise, Harriet Walter, Gemma Jones, Robert Hardy, Imelda Staunton, James Fleet and Hugh Laurie. 

Sadly though, my love for Jane Austen and long-standing affection for the film can’t hide how slow paced and stifled the film is. Compared to the more popular of Austen’s stories, Pride and Prejudice, Marianne’s faux pas and embarrassments don’t excite the viewer as much as elopements and deceit. Anyone who doesn’t love period dramas and understands the ‘marriage market’ narrative may find this a bit of a snooze fest.

It needs to be acknowledged that the likes of Bridgerton and Poldark have left us a little desensitised to softer period dramas like this

It is also hard to believe that Elinor and Marianne are really head over heels for any of the suitors or really deserve their affections; Winslet plays her character as too girly and selfish, and not nearly passionate enough. Thompson’s stiff and restrained acting doesn’t let up, even though the audience needs to catch a glimpse of her pain and suppressed feelings. 

25 years ago, this film won Emma Thompson an Oscar for best Adapted Screenplay. And, without a doubt, it has its merits with a star-studded cast that remain faithful to Austen’s original work (which, I would argue, is great). But it needs to be acknowledged that the likes of Bridgerton and Poldark have left us a little desensitised to softer period dramas like this.

Did you know? Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee was not familiar with Jane Austen prior to being hired for the film, but out of fifteen potential directors, producer Lindsay Doran felt Lee had the best understanding of Austen’s humour. Lee said: “In some ways I probably know that nineteenth century world better than English people today, because I grew up with one foot still in that feudal society.”

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