For there is nothing lost
That may not be found
If it is but sought.
A gem of a movie, written by star Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Hulk), based on the classic 1795 novel by Jane Austen. The quote above is just one of the many wonderful little poem fragments scattered about the dialog. Sense and Sensibility, from 1995, is part of the set of similar films made in the surrounding years including Remains of the Day, Howards End, and Much Ado About Nothing–all of which starred Thompson. Can you understand why I was so smitten with her? Even after she made Junior with Ah-nuld. Much Ado, honestly, is one of my all time favorites.
In this film, Lee’s English language debut, Thompson is the eldest of three sisters of a rich Englishman’s second wife; the man dies as we open and his estate passes (by law) to his first wife’s son and the son’s shrewish wife makes sure that little goes to the women despite the father’s wishes. Still the girls are resilient and find a way to remain, in modest comfort, in the upper yet not noble class society of the day. The film truly brings across the mores and behaviors of the era, very stilted, demure, and circumscribed. A proper marriage, with or without love, is exceedingly important–yet our heroines find they can have both, in the end.
Roger Ebert, as usual, has the key insight into why Sense and Sensibility is so enjoyable: “This maddening, intriguing inability to simply blurt out the truth is indispensable to 19th century fiction, and I find it enormously satisfying. Better the character who leaves us to guess at unspeakable depths than one who bores us with confessional psychobabble.”
The cast is veritably stuffed with great names. Besides Thompson, there is Kate Winslett as the middle sister, beautiful and most desired, Hugh Grant as Thompson’s true love, Alan Rickman as one of Winslett’s suitors and Greg Wise as the other, wilder one. Hugh Laurie is particularly good in a small role as the husband of the girls’ cousin, so convincing in showing the consequence of a loveless marriage.