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Film / Sense and Sensibility

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In 1995, Ang Lee directed a film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility written by Emma Thompson, who also starred as Elinor. It also starred Kate Winslet as Elinor's sister Marianne, Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon.

The story begins with Mr. Dashwood, on his deathbed, entreating his son to "take care of" his second wife and three daughters. John most sincerely promises to do so, and then in the space of one carriage ride, is convinced by his wife Fanny that the degree of caretaking mustn't mean any kind of monetary settlement or annuity. Then they take over Norland estate, forcing Mrs. Dashwood and the three daughters — levelheaded Elinor, romantic Marianne, and thirteen-year-old Margaret — to be visitors in their own home, and unwelcome ones at that.

When Fanny invites her brother Edward Ferrars to visit, he and Elinor quickly become close, but marriage to a poor woman is not in his family's plans. An invitation from Mrs. Dashwood's cousin, Sir John Middleton, has them move to Barton Cottage and begin their life under reduced circumstances. Also in the neighborhood are Colonel Brandon, an honorable middle-aged man with a tragic past, and John Willoughby, a dashing young gentleman who makes himself interesting to Marianne by rescuing her in a rainstorm.

The film is largely faithful to Austen's novel, but expanded certain characters and drew attention to the differences in societal expectations and gender roles that have arisen between 1811 and modern times. It won Emma Thompson the 1995 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The movie adds scenes where Edward interacts with Elinor in ways not shown in the book, such as helping her to coax youngest sister Margaret out of hiding and discussing their respective future prospects. Not only are many of the scenes hilarious ("What is swabbing, anyway?"), they help give a reason for Elinor falling for Edward where the book never did.
    • The film also gives Margaret some personality traits, notably being a tomboy. She has almost no characterization in the book. In the commentary the creators express profound gratitude that Margaret existed in the book, as they could have her make the "impertinent" remarks that were necessary to move the plot along. (The 2008 miniseries did this as well.)
    • A scene of Colonel Brandon visiting with Marianne and reading her poetry while she recovers from her fever is added, to provide more of a bridge between her being jilted by Willoughby and their marriage.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Lucy's older sister Anne doesn't appear in this film, so Lucy herself miscalculates on the safety of revealing her secret engagement to Edward.
    • Lady Middleton and the four Middleton children are likewise not present.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The book does not describe Edward's appearance very glowingly, but he's played by pretty-boy Hugh Grant.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: See above; the book version of Lucy would never have trusted Fanny with the knowledge of her engagement, but without Anne around, making that mistake falls to her.
  • Age Lift:
    • Emma Thompson was 36 at the time the film was released, so her character's age was raised from 19 to 27.
    • Marianne herself became a few years older as portrayed by 19-year-old Kate Winslet (the character started at 16 in the book and was only 19 by the end).
    • Colonel Brandon's ward was raised from age fifteen to twenty. Willoughby, unlike other Austen villains, is supposed to have some slight redeeming value and it would be difficult to preserve that with the modern age of consent.
  • Ascended Extra: The youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret, who is barely present for most of the novel, is given a considerably larger role in the film as well as a more fleshed-out personality (she's a tomboy and something of a geography whiz). The commentary includes a great amount of thanks for Margaret's presence, as a child could move conversations forward with her lack of concern for politeness and protocol.
  • Audience Surrogate: Margaret Dashwood serves as this for this adaptation. Her questions on things like Norland's entailment allow the characters to explain Regency concepts that the modern viewers would be less familiar with.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Played with. Moving to Barton Cottage is almost treated as living in poverty; yes, it's nowhere nearly as grand as their former home, it still appears to be a charming, solid house. At the same time, they are shown to be economizing on their food budget to a painful degree.
  • Cannot Spit It Out:
    • To his credit, Edward tries to tell Elinor that he's already engaged before he leaves, but he can't quite get to the point before Fanny hauls him away.
    • Willoughby starts a sentence by saying that he should be allowed to dislike Colonel Brandon as much as he loves... Barton Cottage.
  • Composite Character: Lucy Steele is a combination of the novel's Lucy and her older sister Anne. Lucy picks up Anne's Idiot Ball task of confiding her secret engagement to Mrs. Dashwood.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr. Palmer is a stoic curmudgeon who often makes cutting and sarcastic remarks.
  • Death by Adaptation: Lady Middleton, Sir John's wife, is adapted out in this fashion as she's not an essential element to the plot. (By extension, their children also don't appear.) Sir John is presented as a widower, and Mrs. Jennings lives with him.
  • Death Glare:
    • Marianne gives a pretty hilarious one to Margaret when Margaret happily gives the initials of Elinor's beau.
    • Mr. Palmer glares at his wife when she reaches out to squeeze his hand and instead crumples the newspaper he's reading.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: We see the doctor taking a bowl of blood from Marianne's bedside during her fever. Modern 19th-century medicine, everyone.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Said almost word-for-word by Elinor to Marianne. Subverted when Marianne bursts into tears after the speech and Elinor has to comfort her again.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Willoughby and Marianne pelt recklessly down the village lane in his open carriage, to the consternation and shock of everyone trying not to get run over. (Helped by the fact that Greg Wise wasn't experienced in driving a carriage and almost overset the camera.)
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Touched on in the Love Triangle between Marianne, Colonel Brandon, and Willoughby; for example, Marianne much prefers the bunch of wildflowers Willoughby brings her to the carefully-tended tropical flowers from Brandon's greenhouse.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The carriage ride at the start of the film establishes Fanny's character as unwilling to help her in-laws very succinctly. It also shows just how easily guided John is by his wife's opinions. In one sequence, she turns John from giving them a generous allowance to such a pittance that "they'll be much more able to give you something!"
    • When Edward's arrival is expected, his sister Fanny all but forces the Dashwoods to let him sleep in Margaret's room rather than the guest room, as it offered a better view. When he arrives, however, he insists on taking the guest room and letting Margaret keep her own room. What's more, he does this in a modest, polite fashion in which he passes off the obvious power-playing snub as a mistake that he's merely corrected, in an attempt to let his sister save some face. Right away we know that he has a lot more class than most of his rather awful family.
    • While Sir John Middleton responds succinctly to Margaret's question about what the East Indies are like, Brandon whispers in her ear that "The air is full of spices," foreshadowing his romantic sensibilities that mesh well with Marianne's.
  • Faint in Shock: Downplayed Marianne nearly faints when she sees that her disappeared beau, Willoughby, is with another woman at a ball. Her sister Elinor and Mrs. Jennings catch her and keep her walking.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Elinor is levelheaded, manages the family finances, and maintains a calm, composed attitude when confronted with setbacks or heartbreak. Marianne finds fault in the very idea of reserve, flaunts her romance with Willoughby, and neglects eating and sleeping after he leaves her.
  • Foreshadowing: Lucy and Robert meet and dance at the London ball, gossiping about the Dashwoods and evidently quite agreeable to each other. This makes it a little less surprising when she becomes Mrs. Robert Ferrars at the end.
  • Funny Background Event: When Margaret runs out the door of Barton Cottage, she passes Colonel Brandon and they exchange a salute.
  • The Ghost: Unlike in the novel, Mrs. Ferrars never actually appears, though she gets mentioned frequently by other characters and has the same effect on the story.
  • Gossipy Hens:
    • Mrs. Jennings and Sir John are good-natured ones who do so only in the spirit of friendship.
    • At the ball, Lucy Steele is heard gossiping with Robert Ferrars about Marianne's attempts to attract Willoughby's attention and they happily gawk at her emotional distress.
  • Hypocrite: Fanny assures Lucy that she will be welcomed by the family of any lover as soon as they meet her, regardless of her financial situation. Cue Lucy letting her in on her secret romance with Edward...
    Fanny: Viper in my bosom!
  • Ironic Echo:
    • When Marianne falls and twists her ankle, she's carried back to the house by Willoughby. Later, when she goes out walking despondently and collapses, she's rescued and carried back by Colonel Brandon. Bonus points for both scenes happening in the rain. The script even says 'It is like seeing Willoughby's ghost.'
    • While gazing at Willoughby's manor and mourning his marriage to an heiress, Marianne quotes a sonnet on the constancy of love through adversity that she and he had both marked as their favourites.
      "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove. Oh no! It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken..."
    • In addition, when Marianne and Brandon get married at the end, Willoughby is seen forlornly watching their wedding from a distant hill — much as Marianne stood on a hill gazing at his manor — before he rides away.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Colonel Brandon, much as in the book, expresses his wish that Marianne will be happy and that Willoughby will "endeavor to deserve her" when Elinor says that they are probably engaged.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Willoughby watches, from a distance, the happy wedding of Marianne and Colonel Brandon. Willoughby does love Marianne, just not as much as he loves the money and carefree lifestyle provided by his Meal Ticket wife, and his expression shows that he has a moment of regret for what could've been before silently turning and riding away.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Palmer is not shy with a snarky comment for every situation, which makes his sincere offer to stay by Elinor's side and offer any and all help he can when her sister may be dying all the more heartwarming. He also gives Marianne a very sympathetic look in the party scene when she runs out, horrified that the man she loves is involved with another woman.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted by Willougby, who rescues Marianne in their Meet Cute like one of her romantic stories, causing her to fall instantly in love with him, but he proves to be quite less than honorable.
  • The Lady's Favour: Gender-flipped with Edward and Elinor; he gives her his handkerchief when she cries while listening to Marianne play their late father's favorite song, and tells her to keep it. Later, after she knows about his engagement to Lucy, she's seen holding and staring at the token; Lucy herself has one, which she passive-aggressively shows off to Elinor while "weeping" over her separation from Edward.
  • Last-Name Basis: Colonel Brandon's first name is never used in dialogue, though the letter that accompanies the piano he buys for Marianne reveals that it's Christopher. In the original novel, it was not given at all.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: When Elinor (usually The Stoic) finds out that Edward is not actually married, she bursts into tears, and her mother and sisters nearly race out of the room in order to do this.
  • Love at First Note: Colonel Brandon first sees Marianne while she's playing Sir John's pianoforte and singing. He visibly falls in love with her in an instant.
  • Meet Cute: Marianne meets Willoughby when she slips and falls in the rain and hurts her ankle. He rescues her, brings her back to her home on his horse and carries her inside, like something right out of one of Marianne's favorite stories.
  • No Sympathy: Fanny complains to Edward about how ill-mannered Margaret and Marianne have been upon her taking over their house. When Edward points out that they've just suffered a loss that will change their lives forever, she brushes it off as "no excuse."
  • Not So Stoic: Two instances with Elinor.
    • Left alone with her delirious, fevered sister, she breaks down in sobbing and pleading.
    • Her reaction when Edward reveals it was his brother that Lucy married is just as dramatic, as she releases all the emotion about him that she's been keeping back for the entire film.
  • Pet the Dog: Margaret is involved in both Edward and Brandon's Establishing Character Moments to show that they are decent men. Edward sympathizes with her loss and brings her out of hiding, while Brandon treats her questions and curiosity seriously when others treat it as a joke.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: After the doctor tells Elinor she must prepare for the worst, Elinor breaks down and begs Marianne not to die.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • The defining traits of Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is reserved while Marianne is emotional.
    • The Palmers. She is always in a state of excitement, while he is a stone-faced stoic prone to rolling his eyes at everything.
  • Rescue Romance: Willoughby and Marianne, as mentioned above. Colonel Brandon later rescues her from a rainstorm while she angsts over Willoughby, which sets the stage for their romance as well.
  • Scenery Porn: This isn't a "women talking in the drawing rooms" adaptation. The landscape of England is displayed magnificently and is often used to highlight the mood. The interior shots don't disappoint either, since facial closeups are rarely used. In some cases, Lee would wait for just the right weather conditions before filming.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Even though Marianne's reputation in society is now diminished thanks to Willoughby, Colonel Brandon defies convention and marries her anyway, being wealthy and prominent enough that he can pretty much do what he likes.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: When Edward laments that he's been made Idle Rich by his family, Elinor points out that as a man, he still could conceivably find a useful employment for himself; she would also like to be useful, but she has basically no options.
  • Tomboy: Margaret. She likes to swordfight, play in treehouses, and poke around in the mud. One scene has her flying a kite with Sir John.
  • True Love's Kiss: Elinor and Edward get theirs in a deleted scene, which was written entirely because Emma Thompson wanted to snog Hugh Grant - and who can blame her? It's Hugh Grant!
  • Unwanted Assistance: Sir John and Mrs. Jennings are eager to pair up Marianne and Brandon, but manage to completely torpedo the burgeoning friendship by hamhanded attempts to push them together.
  • Wedding Finale: This film ends with a double wedding for the Dashwood sisters.
    • In the commentary Emma Thompson clarifies that Elinor and Edward were already married, but admits that everyone thinks it was a double wedding, so she goes Sure, Let's Go with That.
  • Widow's Weeds: Mrs. Dashwood wears them for most of the film. The progress of her clothing from the initial all-black to the next colors down the line is a useful marker for how much time has passed.