Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sense & Sensibility : The Film (1995)

I read the novel way back in school simply for the sake of the story and then in JUDE, during my B.A., more perceptively, savouring the irony and gentle humour, the variety and quirks of character, the complex consequences of emotional and social pressures. And now, as I watch the film, I'm glad that I've been able to grasp a yet better understanding of the sense and sensibility that run like a leit motif throughout the film and endow the source with enough life to enjoy the essential timelessness of an Austen novel without subtracting anything from its substance and subtlety. For a change, the film lives upto the standards set by the novel it sought to realise, and yet, succeeds in establishing its own niche in the cinematic repertory.

After marriage, which helped to catalyse maturity in my own humble self, it is easier to empathise with the finer nuances of a well rounded temperament that Austen sought to unify in the dichotomies embodied by Elinor and Marianne. The conflicting but necessary qualities of restraint and spontaneity, reserve and romanticism, prudence and passion, are reconciled by their being nurtured in equal amounts in one's self so that one knows how/when to choose to exercise the most appropriate emotion. It may seem or sound artificial, as if one should react to life rather than fashioning one's own fate for oneself. But on much reflection, I consider that circumstances in life, particularly the character and intentions of other people being far beyond the abilies of our mostly well meaning selves to manoeuvre, it does make sense to be at least in control of what we ourselves can or may make of them. Willoughby's expectations from life or Edward's past are areas that lie beyond the veil of the narrative environs, but Marianne's poignant attempts to translate Shakespearean idealism into reality or Elinor's efforts at altruism are plausibly controllable, despite narcissistic extremisms mirrored in the respectively mean, mercenary or mundane orientations of Fanny Dashwood, Lucy Steele or Charlotte Palmer. Life can still be started anew, fortified by a Blakean experience embodied in Colonel Brandon or comforted by the commitment evidenced in Edward's actions or nurtured by the cheering knowledge of possessing meaningful friends and neighbours like Mrs Jennings or Mr Palmer. Elinor and Marianne recognise what they respectively lack just in time to retrieve their respective selves from anguish and disillusionment and revise their lessons of life with greater wisdom and worth. Theirs is a realistic reassessment of life, reinforcing not the negative quality of resignation but rather the positive one of reconciliation.

As for histrionic skills, the film boasts a quality cast, of which the finest and most heartwarming would easily be Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood. Understated and subtle, she delivers an outstanding performance. If her unforgettable "Don't leave me alone..." at Marianne's impending death stirs the very soul with the intangible fear and horror of imminent self confrontation, her emotional outbursts before Marianne after Edward's past becomes public property, and finally towards the end, when Edward shocks the Dashwoods with the assertion of his self-imposed bachelorhood, are too subtle to arrest in words. They must be watched and felt for oneself to gauge the totality of their impact. Winslet is brilliant as the vivacious and effervescent Marianne, impulsive and irrational, coy and coquettish, rash and remorseful, beautifully in sync with the demands of the changing storyline. Hugh Grant brings the somewhat colourless Edward to remarkable life with his own brand of beatification, the very personification of shyness and simplicity, confusion and charm, chivalry and courtesy. Alan Rickman, essaying the role of Colonel Brandon, stirs and shakes with his portrayal of the reserved and refined man who stands as stolidly as a lighthouse by the women he loves, come snow or shine. Hugh Laurie renders a memorable cameo as the astringent yet sensitive Mr Palmer while Harriet Walter arouses just the right amount of revulsion in the audience with her manipulative moves and calculated courtesies. Greg Wise manages to do justice to the pivotal role of Willoughby, the sincere lover with an insencere temperament. Imogen Stubbs does a wonderful job of realising the mercenary minded Lucy Steele while Elizabeth Spriggs gives the right finishing touches to the benign matriarch Mrs Jennings. Emilie Francois is a mini sensation, adding truth and tangibility to the fragile Victorian microcosm with her abrupt allusions to geographic entities and the destructive dimensions of gossip mongering that loom large beyond the sheltering horizons of home and family. Her abrupt reference to the characteristics of the weather renders just enough comic distraction to relieve the evidently strained atmosphere within Barton Cottage precipitated by Edward's unexpected arrival and herald a season of hope and harmony.

Be it Shakespeare's sonnets or Marianne's mellifluous piano recitals, the characteristically fickle British rainfall or the sudden shift of scene midway to London, each play their respective parts to perfection in helping the story to progress and drawing out the attributes of the highly individualised characters. The film is an iridescent collage of sorts that cleverly complements and highlights one of the best samples of Austen's craftmanship.

1 comment:

Sujoy Bhattacharjee said...

I never enjoyed Jane Austen.
But then I haven't got married yet :)

Nice heartfelt write-up....they might think of using it as course-material back at JU


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