Last week I was reminded of the satisfaction of seeing a truly great film. It was "Sense and Sensibility" on the big screen at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, part of an Alan Rickman retrospective. The Ang Lee film, made in 1995, has stood the test of time. The first time I saw it I thought it was one of the most beautiful films I had ever seen. This time I was equally swept away by its beauty. When I heard that Alan Rickman had passed away, it was the first film that came to mind. How smart of the people at the Aero theater to put together this timely retrospective!
Alan Rickman plays Colonel Brandon, the kind and eligible bachelor who falls in love with Kate Winslet's Marianne Dashwood. Despite her sister Elinor's advice to behave in a more moderate way, Marianne does not try to hide her feelings. She ignores the wonderful Brandon and has eyes only for Willoughby, the handsome and dashing young man who leads her to believe they will marry. Like all Austen's heroines, Marianne eventually comes to her senses and falls in love with the good guy. Her journey to that realization, with all its missteps and life lessons, is a very satisfying story. I adore this Jane Austen book. Alan Rickman plays the role of Brandon with an understated strength and attractiveness. When he and Marianne finally get together in the end, everyone in the audience is weeping. But if truth be told, I was emotional throughout the entire film.
Here are a few reasons this film moved me:
1) First and foremost: Alan Rickman. The screening was a tribute to the late Alan Rickman and everyone in the theater felt his loss. When his name appeared in the credits, the audience cheered. I think we were all cheering with tears in our eyes.
2) The book "Sense and Sensibility." It is classic Austen and one of my favorites. As always, her themes are love and money. Two sisters fall hopelessly in love -- one with a scoundrel and the other with a man who is secretly engaged to another woman. Marianne and Elinor Dashwood are polar opposites in temperament and before they can find happiness, they both need to change. Growing up in one of England's great country houses, they are set adrift when their father dies and leaves them and their mother penniless. The house passes by law to the eldest male heir, a son from Mr. Dashwood's former marriage. John Dashwood promises his dying father to take care of the soon to be impoverished Dashwood women. But by the end of a simple carriage ride with his wife Fanny, she has talked him out of giving them a penny.
A generous cousin Mr. Jennings offers them a cottage on his estate which they rent and begin a new and more modest life. Young women looking for love and finding their way in the world -- this was a topic Jane Austen did so well. It occurs in every one of her books. The film is an exquisite adaptation of this marvelous book. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for which she won an Oscar. Ang Lee directed it with incredible sensitivity and skill. Anyone who loves Austen will love this film.
3) The cast is incredible -- Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet are both excellent. As was the rest of this amazing cast: Hugh Grant, Jemma Jones, Robert Hardy, Hugh Laurie, Harriet Walter and Alan Rickman. But Kate Winslet's portrayal of Marianne was simply breathtaking. She was only twenty years old at the time and this was her second film. She was a natural; she captured all the passion, stubbornness, and vulnerability of Marianne. Both her inner and outer life were there for us to see. She wore her heart on her sleeve, just as the character does in the book. And has any actress shed more believable tears?
4) The love story. When Marianne runs out into the storm (for the second time!) and the Colonel comes to her rescue, it is a poignant moment. He is so in love with her and wants nothing more than to protect her. Now that she has been abandoned by Willoughby, chastened by the ways of the world and in need of help, Brandon is happy to be of service. Slowly she begins to appreciate him and return his love. Unlike the breathless infatuation she had with Willoughby, this will be a more measured romance and one that will undoubtedly bring her much more happiness.
5) The realization that "Sense and Sensibility" is a landmark Austen film. It was one of the first, along with the BBC adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," in the avalanche of Austen- inspired movies and television productions in the last twenty years. It started a trend that continues to this day.
6) The other memorable characters: Edward Ferrars, Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret Dashwood, Lucy Steele, the wonderful Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Jennings, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. They all warm my heart and are classic Austen characters.
7) The breathtaking scenery, haunting music, and exquisite cinematography. Not only does every outdoor and interior scene look like a painting, but each character's face is shot in the most gorgeous way.
8) Being reminded that the best books stay with us as do the best films. When the two come together, it is a very happy marriage.
You never know what pleasures you will discover when you revisit a favorite movie!
Are you a fan of Jane Austen's books?
Do you have a favorite Austen film adaptation?