• Sense And Sensibility



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: November 20, 2015
    Director: Ang Lee
    Cast: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Alan Rickman, James Fleet, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Hardy, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, Harriet Walter
    Year: 1966
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    On his deathbed, the elder Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) tasks his son, John (James Fleet), with taking care of Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and their daughters, Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emile Francois). Once Dashwood dies, however, James is pressured by his domineering wife, Fanny (Harriet Walter), into abandoning his mother and sisters. Thanks to a wealthy cousin (Robert Hardy), the four women are allowed to take possession of a country cottage, where they set about making a life for themselves. Elinor falls for stuttering but romantic Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), while Marianne seeks solace in the arms of the dashing John Willoughby (Greg Wise). On the other hand, rich but mature Colonel Brandon has his sights set squarely on Marianne. Things take an unfortunate turn, however, when it is revealed that Ferrars is engaged and Willoughby is little more than a womanizer.

    Jane Austen’s famous premiere novel, which was first published in 1811, is equal parts literary rom-com and comedy of manners; at its heart are two sisters, Elinor (sense) and Marianne (sensibility), around which the rest of the story revolves. The book had been adapted to the big and small screen many times before Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson (Howard’s End) tried her hand at it. The result of Thompson's hard work was a script surprisingly faithful to its source material, if not in letter than at least in heart. Ang Lee, who had only three Taiwanese film credits to his name (including the acclaimed comedy The Wedding Banquet), was chosen to direct. Cast in major roles were Thompson and Kate Winslet as sisters Elinor and Marianne, and Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman as two of their three suitors. It was a recipe for success. Made on a paltry $16 million, the film was released in the United States in December of 1995 and the following February in Great Britain. It proved a resounding triumph on both an aesthetic and a commercial level, raking in almost $135 million worldwide and receiving numerous award nominations, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Thompson. A slew of Jane Austen adaptations followed in its wake, some successful, some not, but none exhibiting the kind of raw talent and sly humor shown in Sense and Sensibility.

    The film deserves its accolades. Sitting just below Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution among Lee’s best films, Sense and Sensibility is a warm embrace of Hollywood yesteryear (despite being a British film), a period comedy that is both funny and dramatic, with that rarity of rarities in the modern cinematic age: a happy ending. While Thompson is, as usual, superb, it’s Winslet who really shines as the younger, impetuous Marianne, an emotional rube destined to fail at love until she realizes what true love is. Not that hers is the only terrific performance in the film; Sense and Sensibility is awash in great performances, from the major players to the lowliest of supporting characters (which include Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie).

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Sense and Sensibility arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition, presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Talk about impressive! The film is full of bright colors, particularly in brightly lit external shots where flowers, trees, and grasses reflect a beautiful depth of field and detail is exquisite. Lines and delineations are crystal clear so that nothing blends into the background and everything can be visually traced. Even in darker scenes, detail remains impressive, so much so that there’s virtually no crush to be had. Obviously, Sony has given Sense and Sensibility a new 4k transfer (which has been ‘dumbed down’ to 1080p), and what a transfer it is. There is absolutely no reason to complain about this release given the film’s spotless shine.

    Twilight Time offers the film’s original track in two ways: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Given that the film relies on dialogue over sound effects and score to tell its story, the differences between the tracks aren’t huge, but those with a surround system will want to opt for it, if mostly to access what are subtle but effective differences that help bring the track to life. Patrick Doyle’s score may be delicate and restrained, but it’s still worth a listen, and to that end, Twilight Time has given it an isolated track; thankfully, this track does not include sound effects, allowing one to pop the disc in and use it as beautiful background ‘noise’ while doing other things (such as writing film reviews). That said, there are large swaths of the film that don’t include music, so expect long moments of silence. For those who are deaf or hearing impaired, subtitles are included.

    There are also two audio commentaries. The first includes screenwriter and actress Thompson as well as producer Lindsay Doran, while the second includes director Lee and co-producer James Schamus. Both are interesting, though this reviewer preferred Thompson and Doran’s commentary. Thompson has a pleasant, mellifluous voice, and the two women are clearly having a ball as they recount humorous anecdotes about their filming experiences. Lee and Schamus are more reserved, and they understandably focus on how the film was shot rather than on the script and the characters. Regardless, there's some overlap between the commentaries, though not enough to keep serious students from listening to and learning from both.

    Twilight Time has included a number of interesting extras, including several featurettes about the making of the film.

    “Adapting Austen” (11:08) features interviews with producer Doran, actors Thompson, Grant, Winslet, Staunton, Laurie, and Rickman, director Lee, and executive producer Sydney Pollack. Doran explains that she had read the book years before and approached Thompson about adapting the tale, while Thompson reveals that she approached Merchant Ivory screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for insight.

    “Elegance & Simplicity: The Wardrobe of Sense and Sensibility” (3:57) is an interview with costume designers Jenny Beavan and John Bright about the film’s period clothing. Thompson and Grant also chime in.

    “Locating the World of Sense and Sensibility” (5:42) features interviews with production designer Luciana Arrighi, actors Thompson, Grant, and Gemma Jones, and producer Doran about the film’s set design and locations.

    “A Sense of Character” (8:14) contains interviews with Thompson, Lee, Winslet, Doran, Grant, Rickman, Schamus, and Greg Wise about the characters that populate the film. One of the more interesting aspects of the short are the snippets of footage from Wise’s audition.

    “A Very Quiet Man” (12:03) focuses on director Lee and features interviews with Doran, Pollack, Schamus, Thompson, Winslet, and, of course, Lee himself. It may be the most interesting of the featurettes, revealing something about the cult director of The Wedding Banquet (1993), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Hulk (2003), and Lust, Caution (2007).

    There are two deleted scenes totaling 2:44; neither are particularly interesting, so it’s easy to see why they were dropped from the final film. Regardless, it’s good that they were included here for posterity.

    Also included is Emma Thompson’s Golden Globe acceptance speech (4:14), which reveals her humble, sweet, and funny nature.

    Rounding out the extras are two theatrical trailers: the original domestic trailer (2:08) and the original international trailer (1:55). Both bear similar narration but have different narrators, and each focuses on the uplifting nature of story.

    Twilight Time has also included an eight-page booklet with informative liner notes from film historian Julie Kirgo as well as a catalog of TT Blu-ray releases.

    The Final Word:

    Sense and Sensibility is Grade A cinema, full of wit and passion. In some ways, it reminds one of the classic days of MGM; in other ways, it remains a product of the Merchant Ivory school of filmmaking. In every way, it proves itself a classy production worthy of any serious film scholar’s time. As if to make it even more watchable, Twilight Time has provided it to viewers on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer and innumerable extras. The release is limited to 3,000 units, so buyers should get while the getting’s good.

    Christopher D. Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!