One Problem with Sense and Sensibility

Sense and SensibilityYour name is Elinor. Your sister Marianne is sick because she was dumped by the love of her life and wandered in a storm. You are watching over her—fearful that she may die. There is a knock at the door. It is John Willoughby—your sister’s philandering ex. He must see her! But you won’t allow it. She is too sick. He will tell you his tale of woe and asks that you tell Marianne. You say you will, if you think it is right. You say this, because in your own way, you are a bitch.

It is quite a tale, the details of which are not important. Except for this: the story will make your sister feel much better. Willoughby really did and still does love her! What’s more: he is now stuck in a terrible marriage with a woman he can’t stand. He leaves, you tell Marianne, and she gets better.

This is very moving. You can imagine how great it would be in a movie. There is a storm outside. A loud knock echos through the mostly empty house. In steps a soaking wet Willoughby, half crazed. It’s great in a book, but in a movie it could be overpowering. But if you watched Emma Thompson’s 1995 film based on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, you were not overpowered. This is because Thompson chose to deal with this sequence in a very strange way. She got rid of Willoughby’s entire scene. Before Marianne is even sick, Colonel Brandon mentions that he has learned that Willoughby was planning to propose to Marianne, and thus he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Then Marianne gets sick. And finally, Marianne gets better for no particular reason.

I have no idea why the very smart and capable Emma Thompson made this change. It introduces a fundamental flaw into what would normally be quite a good film. What is supposed to be the climax of the story, from which the plot resolves itself, is instead this 5 minute sequence where Emma Thompson is shot from various angles looking very concerned. There is a technical tern for this: boring. But it is more than that: it’s wasteful and it deprives Willoughby of his very best scene.

Nonetheless, the film is quite good. Hugh Grant as Edward is wonderfully twitchy and nervous. Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon is perfect as the guy any woman should love but just doesn’t. Kate Winslet is perfectly annoying as Marianne—although I’m not sure that’s acting. And as I implied above, Emma Thompson is very good at standing around looking concerned. Of course, it is all leading up to this sweet and funny scene that is entirely typical of most of the film:

And yes: it makes me cry and laugh at the same time, which is (Repeat after me) charming and not pathetic!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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