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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Austenmania is well-served here, but aren't these productions missing something?, 23 Dec 2007
This review is from: Sense And Sensibility (Collector's Edition) [1996] [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee with a screenplay written by Emma Thompson, made up one part of the holy trinity of Austen productions which aired in 1995. That crowning year for Austenmania began with the BBC production of Persuasion in April 1995 (starring Amanda Root and Ciáran Hinds), followed by the impeccable BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) in September and October, and was capped off in mid-December by this film version of Sense and Sensibility. Emma Thompson's much-praised screenplay (for which she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe) straddles the difficult divide between pleasing the community of Jane Austen purists and making the 1811 novel appealing to a wider audience of cinema-goers with a bent for romantic drama. The dialogue and mannerisms are modernised a little, but not to the absurd degree displayed in Joe Wright's weak adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2005 (which has a miscast Keira Knightley in the lead role).

In the novel, Austen counsels us once again towards rational love and shows the dangers of Marianne's self-blinding, guileless abandonment to passion (played by a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet in tight, corkscrew ringlets). Many Brigid Jones fans will undoubtedly be able to identify with her uncontainable romanticism and headstrong devotion to following her feelings irrespective of what someone like Elinor (Emma Thompson) - steady, reserved and so mature, she's almost dull - might think. And so it is that the one sister is able to learn something crucial from the other: Marianne is forced by circumstance to realise the near-fatal risks of passionate devotion to someone of whom she has only an impression, rather than true knowledge; and Elinor, sobbing like a human Niagra Falls at the close, that an excess of emotional repression can be devastatingly misunderstood as the absence, rather than secrecy, of love.

In terms of doing what it says on the tin, the film cannot really be faulted (although you have to like Hugh Grant's routinal foppish inarticulacy to buy him in the role of Edward Ferrars). But I can't escape the feeling that something is lacking in some of these safe, 'suburban' period dramas. What marks Jane Austen out as a genial writer is the sparky high irony with which she tells her social dramas. And the key problem that adaptations of her novel face is: how to convey her idiosyncratic voice? Don't these rather academic productions bypass that problem by reproducing Austen's narrative as closely as possible whilst only half-heartedly addressing the difficult question of voice? Can very efficient and safe filmmaking like this genuinely reproduce Austen's deft irony?

The market for films emanating a nostalgia for the high morals, manners and decorum of England's Regency period has mushroomed. The question now, twelve years after these versions were first released, is whether filmmakers are prepared to consider new ways of interpreting these novels and, in doing so, to challenge and push viewers beyond nostalgia and their comfort zone to a new, and perhaps deeper, understanding of Austen's timeless classics.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Jun 2008 14:30:29 BDT
Morena says:
I absolutely agree with your last two paragraphs!
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Location: Berlin, Germany

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