Why can’t people just date like they used to?
When Elinor Dashwood’s (Emma Thompson) father dies, her family’s finances are absolutely crippled, leaving her and her family to think fast of where they’re going to end up next, or better yet, who they’re going to marry. After the Dashwoods move to a cottage in Devonshire, Elinor’s sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) is torn between the handsome John Willoughby (Greg Wise) and the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). She seems to not care who she ends up with, because all she really wants is to have some fun, be happy, be loved, and most of all, be taken care of for the rest of her days. On the other side of things, Elinor doesn’t have the best options, even though she’s definitely in love with one Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), who also happens to be previously engaged to another woman to marry. Through this all, however, Elinor and Marianne come together and realize that there’s way to be happy and pleased with life, with, or without husbands.
Sense and Sensibility is probably the best period-piece ever made. Sure, there’s a lot of stuffy people out there in the world who probably sneer at certain flicks of this nature, because they don’t feature any action, violence, or explosions – or at least, not in the physical, literal sense – and prefer to focus on more things like characters, plot, emotion, and most importantly, language. If it’s not your bag, then fine, but to say that it’s a terribly boring genre in and of itself is wrong; when done right and to near-perfection, they can be quite the most exciting, most emotional things to watch.
Take Sense and Sensibility, for obvious reasons: While it may seem boring and overstuffed, in just a little over two hours, it does so much. It’s funny, heartfelt, romantic, sweet, sad, passionate, beautiful, exquisite to look at, perfectly acted, and most of all, directed with such a smart, detailed look, that it honestly feels like Ang Lee hardly even showed up to the set.
Which is, yes, a good thing.
What it shows is that the material was already there and all that Lee himself had to do was just stand there, keep the camera in-place and of course, focus on the action; while that sounds incredibly simple and easy, which it is, there’s also something to be said for a director who gets literally every shot correct. There’s not a dull moment, or misplaced shot to be found – Lee knows how to make beautiful scenery look even more impeccable and it’s the main reason why Sense and Sensibility may remain his best movie. It’s not flashy, or overstuffed with the sort of visual flair that he’s known for using – it’s just plain and simple, but still compelling in each and every way known to man.
And it also all comes down to the fact that the ensemble cast is so perfectly assembled, that it’s hard to find the single best, even if it does come sort of close. While Emma Thompson may not have wanted to be cast here in the first place (she’s also co-writer), she’s still amazing as Elinor. Thompson’s one of the best around, but what she does so well here is that she finds small, subtle ways to get her character’s feelings of sadness and regret across, but never actually has to say it; throughout the whole movie, she’s constantly on the verge of tears and one step closer to losing her marbles, and watching as Thompson constantly battles with that, is incredibly moving.
She was great in Howard’s End, but honestly, she could have won the Oscar for this, too.
Anyway, there’s also a very young, very spirited Kate Winslet as Marianne, being as lovely and as charming as we’ve ever seen her before, working as the perfect counterpart for Elinor’s more reserved-self. The fellas aren’t so bad, either, with Hugh Grant playing the perfect Edward, and never letting us know just whether he’s a slime or not, and the late, great Alan Rickman, playing Colonel Christopher Brandon, who may have a far more obvious route of going with his character, but to watch as he constantly battles himself over his love for Marianne, is quite the watch.
But really, it all comes down to the actual meaning of Sense and Sensibility, which isn’t just that, “Rich, white people will always fall in love,” as much as it’s actually about, “Don’t stop giving up on love and finding whatever path your life will take you.” Sure, it sounds all incredibly corny and sappy, as if you’re almost reading a self-help guide, but it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound; there’s a true bleeding heart here, that shows us many people can be sad, even if they are rich. It’s not a matter of how much money, or mansions you have, as much as it’s about what sort of love you’ve got in your life and what it does for you, day in and day out.
Okay, yeah, it’s a little sappy, but man, it works.
Consensus: Smart, heartfelt, sweet, well-acted, and most of all, never boring, Sense and Sensibility is the ultimate peak of period-dramas, showing Ang Lee’s great balance of humor, mixed with pathos and romantic-drama, and never missing a mark.
10 / 10