THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, January 24, 1996 TAG: 9601250585 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E3 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 83 lines
IT'S THE WINK that makes the difference.
There is a great deal of both sense and sensibility in Emma Thompson's screen adaptation of Jane Austen's first novel (published in 1811, although written in 1795). There is an abundance of tea and talk in this ``Sense and Sensibility,'' but there also is an effective dose of satire. The manners of the period are steadfastly maintained, yet the game is still the same as in 1996 - marriage and money.
Behind it all is humor, the saving grace that will make this the most popular, mainstream Austen adaptation since MGM's Greer Garson-Laurence Olivier ``Pride and Prejudice'' (which remains, even today, one of the funniest movies ever).
Screenwriter Thompson and director Ang Lee maintain a rare balance. The actors, as well as the writer and director, constantly let us know that they know better than these characters.
Satire and romance seldom mix. Satirists tend to be too brittle and cold to also convey romance. Here, the mixture is both warming and cajoling while never insulting our intelligence.
The story is no more than high-class soap opera (which, after all, is all it ever pretended to be). In an age when women cannot inherit, the Dashwood sisters stand to be left rather penniless. There is a real need to find a well-placed husband. Elinor, the older sister, is the sensible one, yet she falls in love rather easily. She falls for Edward Ferrars, whose family steers him in another direction.
The younger sister, Marianne, is more impulsive. She rejects the courtship of the faithful Col. Brandon in favor of a dashing scoundrel, John Willoughby.
In less facile hands, it might have been stuffy. Here, it's occasionally hilarious and occasionally heart-wrenching.
Thompson, who in addition to writing the script also plays Elinor, is too old for the part, if you consider the book. She, however, brings such levity and amiability to the part that we readily accept her. Hugh Grant is Edward, the subject of her romance.
Kate Winslet is a major bit of miscasting in a generally excellent cast. As Marianne, she is too modern in look and demeanor. Besides, she is not the ravishing beauty the part called for. Winslet was wonderful last year in ``Heavenly Creatures,'' a part that should have brought her all the honors she's getting for this film.
Alan Rickman (the villain in ``Robin Hood'' and ``Die Hard'') is fine as the dependable, reliable Col. Brandon. In his suit of Marianne, we're on his side immediately. Her infatuation, though, with Willoughby, played by Greg Wise, will be shared by most women in the audience. He's a dashing rounder.
The supporting cast is uniformly superb. Harriet Walter is a thing of pure avarice and evil as Fanny Dashwood. Elizabeth Spriggs is a joy as the flighty Mrs. Jennings, who adopts the girls and brings them to London society. Even little Emilie Francois, as the young Margaret Dashwood, manages not to seem like a child actress.
Ang Lee is a Taiwanese director who would seem an unlikely choice for this material, but his other films, including ``The Wedding Banquet'' and ``Eat Drink Man Woman,'' well displayed his knack for handling domestic problems, comedies and trauma with common sense. Here, he goes for the pathos, while Thompson's script goes for the comedy. It is a quite irresistible combination.
This is an entertainment, not a history lesson. Go to see it because you'll have a good time. ILLUSTRATION: Graphic
``Sense and Sensibility''
Cast: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Greg
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Emma Thompson, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Music: Patrick Doyle
MPAA rating: PG (mild language, the quite proper way to play the
sex game, corsets abound)
Mal's rating: Four stars
Locations: Greenbrier 13 in Chesapeake; Lynnhaven Mall and
Pembroke in Virginia Beach