Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sense and Sensibility

Lowdown: More English women's adventures from Jane Austen.
In our home Sense and Sensibility was better known as Zenz unt Zenzibility, because my partner had a German VHS copy that had German dubbing (naturally). Yet with our ongoing Jane Austen fest we decided to put our hands on a “proper” English speaking DVD, so I can watch this 1995 release for the second time after more than ten years.
Watching Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility reminded me a lot of watching Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Is it, perhaps, because so many of the plot’s main ideas are shared together with the added idea from Emma that it’s cool for a teen aged female to marry an old bloke?
Set in Austen times (18th century?), the story follows a family of women whose husband/father died. Contemporary English law has everything going to the deceased’s son of a former marriage, which means our women now have to leave the estate they lived in and grew up in, servants and all, and move to a lowly cottage as they see their old possessions taken by a rather nasty sister in law. The question then becomes, how are the now poor girls going to get a good marriage now that they’re poor and have nothing but their intellect and spirit to offer would be suitors? Potential suitors still fly by, but they all have their issues: old promises made to other women, losing their allowances through marrying lowly ranked wives, or just being too reliable and predictable for some tastes. Rest assured, though: all will end well.
Of the Austen films and TV series we’ve had the pleasure of watching recently, there can be no doubt that this Ang Lee directed film is the best made. This does not, however, mean it is the best: Production values are vastly inferior to the recent Keira Knightley take on Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s the script being the second cousin of Pride and Prejudice: come on, Austen, couldn’t you be more original? I guess I would have enjoyed Sense and Sensibility much more had I watched it ahead of its superior sibling.
Still, talent comes to Sense and Sensibility’s rescue again: not only does the film have a very talented director at the helm, it also oozes with acting talent. There’s Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant to name the more prominent names; of these, each of the first two provides [yet another] excellent performance.
Best scene: The son who is about to inherit the women’s possessions gives his oath to the dying father, promising to support the women. A process of attrition takes place, and by the time he meets the women his wife convinces him it’s in the women’s best interest not to receive any support.
Technical assessment: This single layer DVD is pretty bad, with a picture lacking in details and often shaky (!) and sound totally lacking inspiration. I believe a newer DVD edition was released in Australia: the one we've rented was obviously one of the very first DVDs to be released.
Overall: Good, but suffering from Austen fatigue. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

I actually just recently watched a different version...from 2008, I think it was on TV. In some elements of the story I think it surpassed Lee's version, in other ways, not.

I really enjoy the story, but for some reason have never been able to get into the book, despite numerous tries. I don't get bored with Austen's lack of originality, because I think that the characters she writes about are always very fresh and interesting.

I'm just waiting for someone to come out with a decent version of Persuasion...

Moshe Reuveni said...

I have to admit I never read an Austen page. Jo reads her books again and again, but me - I have other priorities and probably not enough time to ever get down the list to Austen's level. I might have my priorities wrong, but that's the subject of another debate.
As for Persuasion: We have the 1995version on DVD (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114117/) but I never watched it. Jo's telling me it's depressing. Eventually I will probably give it a go, but we're quite busy vacating space on our PVR...

Wicked Little Critta said...

Yeah, that version is ok, but not nearly as good as the book. Part of the problem, I think, is the heroine is very quiet and introspective, which doesn't easily translate to film. Same with Mansfield Park.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Over the course of this past weekend we got to watch the 3 hour long BBC mini TV series from 2008. As I generally don't review such material, I thought I'd put a few words here.
While I didn't feel like the series' extra time added much depth to the story (on top of the film), I didn't feel like it was time wasted. Sure, the direction was not as good as Lee's (hand held camera work and focus games don't go well with a period drama), but at its core the Austen's story is clever enough to carry a lot of weight on its shoulders. The equation featuring a passionate sister and a reserved one on one side, and men that are either playboys or keepers of their word on the other, is just brilliant.
One area where the 2008 version fell apart is the acting. Not that it was too bad, it's just that its actors could not compete with the likes of Thompson, Winslet and Rickman.