Last night, I watched Sense and Sensibility for the first time in years. (My old copy was actually on VHS, which meant I rarely watched it – I rented this one, because I’d been craving it.) You’ve all seen it fifteen times, haven’t you? I’d forgotten how good it is, and how satisfying. It’s been even longer since I read the book, even though it makes the top three of my favorite Austen novels, and I had to pull my copy off the shelf to see how faithful it was. Emma Thompson, who helped adapt the script, did a remarkable job. With very few flaws, she put the novel on the screen: the competing claims of reason and passion, as those claims are played out in the quiet interior rooms of women.
Of course, the long speeches had to be cut, the ones that explain Marianne’s theories and Elinor’s emotions. Edward is made more charming in the film (I always found him singularly difficult in the book), and Margaret is a better movie character, more modern and more vivid. There’s a wonderful scene in the book where Willoughby explains himself to Elinor; why did they cut that? It would have been deliciously dramatic. There’s also the temptation in the film to believe that the difference between the sisters lies in their ages, not in their temperaments. Elinor and Marianne should only be separated by a year or two, not ten or twelve.
Still, the film has advantages. It’s suddenly easy to see the difference wealth makes to life: the contrast between Norland and Barton Cottage couldn’t be plainer. Ang Lee, the director, composes the four women into groups reminiscent of paintings by Vermeer, who was also a keen observer of domestic interiors. Happiness, tenderness, discretion and desire: I can never get tired of Austen.
By the way: did you know that Emma Thompson married Willoughby (well, Greg Wise, but you catch my drift)? The whole idea just pleases me tremendously…