Sense and Sensibility 1995 Review

26 May

I’m really on a roll here! I’m still pretty busy during the day but I’ve been having trouble sleeping at night lately so to fill up that time, I’ve been on a Sense and Sensibility kick. The latest one I watched and took screencaps of is the 1995 theatrical version.

From what I’ve gathered, this is one of the most popular out of all Jane Austen adaptations, right up there with P&P95. And yet, while I do think it’s a good movie, it’s not my favorite S&S, for reasons I will go into in this review. I have several problems with it, including much of the casting and some of the writing as well. Really my feelings towards this and P&P95 are quite similar, but at least this movie doesn’t have any of the “sexed up” content Andrew Davies put in P&P. Why do I have so many problems with both of these versions? Is it just because I think they’re overrated and I have a tendency to root for the underdog blindly? Well, no. But that is admittedly a small part of it. Rather, I already found flaws in each adaptation but these were magnified after constantly hearing people say how “perfect” they are. I’m really not trying to offend any fans of this movie. I AM a fan of this movie, own it on DVD, and have watched it multiple times. I just think it’s not as good as many fans seem to think it is. And any time I hear “definitive” about any adaptation (even my absolute favorites), it drives me up the wall!

The Casting

The casting is my biggest problem with this movie. Most of the actors are frankly, way too old for their roles. Okay, maybe if EVERY character were aged up it would make sense. But they’re not and that just adds to the problem. Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman are all MUCH older than their characters, yet Kate Winslet is nearly the same age as the book’s Marianne. Read on for more detailed opinions on the individual characters.

Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood

Ang Lee, the director, really wanted Thompson to play the role of Elinor. She herself felt she was too old (at 36, she was closer in age to the 40 year old Mrs. Dashwood than 19 year old Elinor) but she agreed and ended up aging the character up (John Dashwood refers to her as a spinster). At least they didn’t try to pretend she was 19, yet I feel she was more motherly to Marianne than anything. I didn’t feel the closeness between them. This version also makes it seem that her character’s “sense” is really only due to her age over Marianne’s youth. The scene where she confesses to Marianne that she knew of Edward’s engagement to Lucy was all wrong. Marianne, instead of comforting her sister, chides her of having no heart. Elinor, in return, snaps back at Marianne and makes her cry, then ends up comforting her, instead of vice-versa as in the book.What was Emma Thompson thinking when she wrote that?

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood

One of the high points in the cast. Was the right age for the character and played the character’s sensibilities without being too annoying. Her illness is played up even more so than the book, and I do admit I like the scene of her seeing Willoughby’s house in the rain, even though it’s not in the book (Combe Magna is 30 miles away from Cleveland!). One thing that bothered me about her was her eyebrows. I like how they gave all the Dashwood girls red hair, but her dark brows really were distracting and made it look fake.

Emilie Francois as Margaret Dashwood

Gasp, it’s Margaret! Whereas the previous two adaptations pretended Margaret didn’t exist, Emma Thompson does a total 180 and makes her a much more prominent character than in the book, where she really only serves to show how Elinor is outnumbered at home where everyone is full of sensibility. Other than that, she doesn’t do much. In the movie, she’s younger and more outspoken. She acts in place of the audience, questioning the social conventions of the time. I did like the added oomph to her character but I would have preferred to see scenes that were cut from the book instead (coughWilloughbyatClevelandcough).

Gemma Jones as Mrs. Dashwood

I liked that they showed hints of her sensibilities but she seemed so frail to me, which is not how I pictured her. It’s a minor quibble and I realize they had to age her up because there was no way she could have been this Elinor’s mother if she were 40 as in the book!

Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars

It’s Hugh Grant? What can I say? He bumbled and stuttered as Edward but Thompson did fluff up his character in scenes of his kindness to Margaret. His character was also aged up so as to match better with the older Elinor. But his back story remained the same, which makes me scratch my head. He became engaged to Lucy while at her uncle’s school, 4 years ago… Yet he’s clearly in his 30s! What was he doing at school at such an advanced age? Did no one think about this?

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon

Sigh. I love Alan Rickman, I really do. But he was 49 when he played Brandon and could not pass for 35. This would be fine, except that Marianne was NOT aged up. That makes their age difference over 30 years, as opposed to 18 as in the book. I had trouble seeing him as any more than a father figure to her. Emma Thompson changed his history with Eliza- his father wouldn’t let them marry because she was poor, rather than in the book where she was rich and forced to marry his older brother. Her daugher’s name was changed to Beth, likely to avoid confusion. And Brandon was given a first name, Christopher.

Greg Wise as John Willoughby

My favorite Willoughby. He was handsome and dashing and simply too good to be true. Unfortunately, the script made him too sympathetic. He apparently was really going to propose to Marianne in this one until Lady Allen (Mrs. Smith in the book) disinherited him. His visit to Cleveland when Marianne is ill is omitted and instead all we get is a scene of him on a horse, watching Marianne’s wedding from afar. It’s a shame because I would have love to see him in that scene!

Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings

RIP Elizabeth Spriggs. The 1971 Mrs. Jennings showed a balance of vulgarity and kindness. 1981 focused more on the kindness. This one was jolly fun as a vulgar, silly old lady, but I was disappointed she did not accompany the girls to Cleveland. I would have liked to see her show her loving heart when she decides to stay and help Elinor nurse Marianne.

Imogen Stubbs as Lucy Steele

I liked her overall but was disappointed that Anne was not included! Because of this, Lucy is the one who reveals she is engaged to Edward. The book Lucy would never have done that! Anyway, I rank her slightly lower than the 1981 Lucy, only because her hair looks weird (I later learned it was a wig) and I’m shallow.

Robert Hardy as Sir John Middleton

He was aged up quite a bit from the book (where he is Mrs. Dashwood’s age). His wife is dead and he has no children. He constantly told silly jokes with Mrs. Jennings and was quite over the top. He was funny, that’s for sure, but I have a hard time believing Colonel Brandon would be able to tolerate him for extended periods of time, let alone be close friends with him.

Imelda Staunton as Charlotte Palmer

There sure are a lot of Harry Potter actors in this, aren’t there? I thought she was much too old for the part but willingly ignored it because it wasn’t as big a deal to me as with some of the other characters. And I thought she resembled Elizabeth Spriggs enough to actually be believable as her daughter.

Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer

I loved Hugh Laurie in the role but admittedly his role was much bigger than in the book. Still, he cracked me up and was certainly not unpleasing to look at.

Richard Lumsden as Robert Ferrars

He didn’t do much but he was great in the little bits he was in. Just look at his face! Does it not scream “stupid coxcomb” to you?

Harriet Walter and James Fleet as Fanny and John Dashwood

These two also both appeared in 2008’s Little Dorrit. Walter was Mrs. Gowan and I didn’t recognize him at first but then realized that James Fleet played Frederick Dorrit! He certainly aged a lot. Anyway, Fanny was deliciously evil and money-obsessed. She essentially played both her part and that of her mother, as Mrs. Ferrars is only mentioned by the characters and is never shown on screen. John was suitably snobbish and easily led by his wife. They have no child in this so it makes Fanny seem even more selfish in keeping money back from the other Dashwoods only for herself.

The Costumes

This movie had really nice costumes. I thought most of Elinor’s gowns were ugly and dowdy but that may have been intentional to emphasize the “spinster” look. But Marianne usually looked really good. I particularly liked these two ensembles:

The gold colors look really nice on her and I adore that bonnet!

Final Thoughts

Was I too harsh on this movie? Maybe…but I stand by what I said. I do enjoy watching it in spite of its flaws. Soon I’ll review my favorite version, the 2008 miniseries. Rest assured, I have some issues with that one as well. But there were some scenes that were just so “right” to me and its casting makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. I know not everyone agrees with me and that’s okay. How dull would it be if everyone felt the same, after all?

My Rating: 7/10

4 Responses to “Sense and Sensibility 1995 Review”

  1. Julie May 27, 2010 at 6:19 AM #

    You were absolutely not too harsh. Maybe that’s because I agree with you completely. As you saw in my own review, I think S&S95 is a wonderful movie, but I don’t think it’s a wonderful adaptation.

  2. ArtemisWord March 6, 2013 at 4:41 PM #

    I thought your review was a BIT harsh, though not overly so. It was a mistake for Emma to play Elinor; she really did look too old, especially with her stiff propriety. Even Ang Lee kept saying, “Dont’ look so old!”. He may have regretted casting her. But her script was brilliant! It wisely left out people who just cluttered up a complicated plot: Mrs Middleton & kids, Fanny’s son, Lucy’s sister and Mrs Ferrars. When reading the book, I found myself speeding past their endless dialogue scenes.

    The age of the actors vs. characters was, I agree, problematic, and not just with Emma T. I love Alan Rickman, but yes, he was too old for Marianne, though in reality, not for that period (remember Emma’s governess marrying someone much older?). Rickman’s overt kindness and patience made him much more attractive than Willoughby, who, ironically, fell for Emma Thompson, an off-screen romance and later, marriage! I was also glad they left out that LAME scene with him coming to Cleveland to say “uh, sorry!” What was the use? Emma T. did on film what Elinor did in the book: threw him out!

    I loved Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs as the good-natured but, to Marianne at least, supremely annoying, wisecracking duo! Thus, it was nice to get some comic relief from Hugh Laurie, who filled out a thin role very nicely, giving us a prelude of his role as Greg House, M.D., the misanthropic doc. Imelda Staunton was perfect as the endlessly gabbing wife, barely tolerated by her own husband!

    And though I think Harriet Walter is seen too much in these sorts of roles, I can only envision Fanny as her! She was SO nasty it was surreal. Same for Richard Lumsden as her elitist brother.

    I must disagree about Hugh Grant! Though ordinarily, he drives me nuts with his stammering and seeming inability to finish a sentence, it was perfect for Edward. This is how he was written and you can see why someone like Elinor would be drawn to him rather than the rakish, loud Willoughby.

    Gemma Jones was alright as Mrs Dashwood, but I agree, too fragile and in almost constant hysterics that got on my nerves.

    But the perfect, crowning role is Kate Winslet as Marianne. She was the same age, I believe, and yet so canny about the character, going from lively and in love with the world, to petulant and childish (as when Fanny asks about the silver), to swooning like any teenage girl would over a guy as cute as Greg Wise, to obsession and finally near-madness at rejection. She is really one of the most talented actors around; if you don’t think so, watch her in “The Reader”!

    Oh, as Lucy Steele, I suppose Imogen Stubbs was perfect as the lying, obnoxious cousin, but her face just bugged me, and her way of whispering loudly in poor Elinor’s ear about Edward, was torture to watch! I think that Austen simply put TOO many nasty, selfish, greedy, conniving characters into this otherwise brilliant story!

    • marspeach June 7, 2013 at 7:51 AM #

      I was pretty harsh, wasn’t I? But I stand by what I said. This film is so almost universally loved that I do feel a little bad criticizing it. It’s a good movie. But it had flaws.

  3. Blue November 29, 2018 at 9:57 PM #

    What’s really rich is Emma Thompson now loves to be quoted on how sexist and ageist it was for people to tell her she was too old to play Hugh Grant’s love interest im Sense and Sensibility, conveniently leaving out the important context of her being 15 years older than the character as written.

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