Sense and Sensibility is, if anything, a multilayered film, but not in the conventional meaning of the word. This is not about such mundane and obvious topics as feminism, forbidden love or strict classes in society, apart from the simple surface level. It is about virginity, self-referentialism and can be tied into numerous future works by both Lee, the actors and other authors.
Chronology is not a good place to anchor this piece, but it does offer some explanations in terms of virginity being an essential theme here. Virginity is a blank canvas, and depending on the subject, it can lead to different results. In capable, talented hands, it can be moulded into passionate, ambitious and uncompromising things. Kate Winslet had entered the industry a year earlier, in Peter Jackson’s sublime and equally multilayered Heavenly Creatures. Although it remains the platform for Winslet’s quintessential performance, the cerebral aussie drama wasn’t her major breakthrough. This one was. The competing subject matters (matricide vs. love) are interesting, but not the reason for commercial success or lack there of. This was Winslet’s first mainstream lead, and she made the most of it. Winslet’s Marianne is just as infuriatingly innocent and decisive as she ought to be. It is a pity that she evolved into the most wasted actress of our generation, too often drifting into parts that sounded demanding and ambitious, but were in fact merely esoteric, her only effort of true quality after this one being Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Lee has an interesting (though not particularly original) way of combining visual flare with understated emotional narrative. Wong Kar-wai has taken this to the extreme by conveying entire scenes with just visuals and suggestive music, whereas Lee has a more accessible way of tackling the theory. In Yin shi nan nu he based the narrative structure around food, drawing connections between the process of cuisine and the underlying emotions of his characters. It was a domestic success and a minor hit abroad as well, but went unnoticed by major western audiences. Fortunately for us, it did convince financers to give Lee a chance to direct his first film in English. Although Lee studied film in the States in the late 70’s and early 80’s and was by no means illiterate in English, he was still making a film in a foreign language. Cue Emma Thompson, a master of the English language and a devout Austen-fan. Thompson’s Oscar-winning debut screenplay is an exceptional adaptation of a novel in it’s ability to be both cinematically functional and faithful to the original, especially in managing to retain most of the wonderful dialogue, easily more pertinent to the atmosphere than any of the dresses or sets. In an almost Casablancaesque coincidence, Thompson’s script acquires all the space it deserves because of Lee’s desire and need (due to his less than perfect English) to base his work on visuals. So, in essence, we have three virgins coming together for a magical menage-a-trois, playing off of each other and supporting one another in perfect balance.
All of this would of course be pointless without a powerful source material to build on. Here it is the first of Austen’s semi-autobiographical novels. Her novels are still popular largely due to her ability to put aside her own bitterness and disappointment with the established society and it’s inept concept of marriage and love. What is striking here is the parallels to a very different author, Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis of course is one of the most controversial American writers of the nineties, with brutal and unapologetic tales of the death of moral amongst the wealthy and beautiful. His novels are packed with characters without any redeeming qualities whatsoever, yet he displays a warped sense of affection for them. A tangled web of cynicism and empathy, of hatred and forgiving, unconditional love. This is where he meets up with Jane, who has a lot of sympathy for her less than perfect ladies and to some extent, her gentlemen as well.
Another blatant connection is that of pairing Alan Rickman with Thompson as more mature and levelheaded observers in contrast to Marianne’s youthful exuberance and uncompromising attitude. Rickman and Thompson revisited this recently in an otherwise dreadful romcom, Love Actually. Rickman’s charisma and screen presence is hard to conceal, but he does it well here. He has the stuff to overpower other members of the cast on numerous occasions, but wisely brings a subdued colonel oozing a hidden demand for respect. Rickman has since become famous for laconic, sarcastic stereotypes but this is him at his peak. Thompson is more familiar with subdued acting and is no less convincing in her portrayal of Elinor with massive emotions on the inside and but a small smirk or a twitch of eye on the outside. Hugh Grant and Tom Wilkinson are adequate enough to not ruin the picture, but of no real interest. Hugh Laurie on the other hand must have been a riot at the time of release, due to him being known mainly as a fumbling fool in both Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster. The contrast of Laurie’s icy and sarcastic role here is less obvious to modern audiences, having been contaminated by the hit tv-show House. Laurie’s talent is most apparent in small roles such as this one and his short but thoroughly enjoyable visit on BBC’s Spooks.
This is a fine effort on all fronts which is why it is all the more shame that it has to surrender to the shortcomings of the source material. Lee and Thompson capture Austen’s brutal melancholy with professional precision but, like the author, fail to realize that it draws it’s power from desperation and tragedy and doesn’t merit a happy ending.
Elokuva arvioidaan poikkeuksellisesti englanniksi, koska kirjoittaja on poikkeuksellisessa mielentilassa ja muutenkin vähän outo tyyppi.
Kesto: 131 min
Ohjaaja: Ang Lee
Pääosissa: Kate Winslet,Emma Thompson,Alan Rickman,Hugh Laurie,Tom Wilkinson,Hugh Grant