Books to films

Book versus movie: Ang Lee’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ brings Jane Austen’s words to stunning life

Marriage and its tricky ability to transform fortunes for women are intelligently dealt with on the page and on the screen.

Released in 1995, the Ang Lee-directed adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was uniformly lauded by critics and fetched Emma Thompson, its main actress and screenplay writer, an Oscar for the latter role.

Like most Austen novels, Sense and Sensibility offers a slice of nineteenth-century English life via the private dramas of its protagonists. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are its heroines, sisters with vastly different temperaments. While Elinor is quiet and guarded, Marianne is romantic and breezy. They live with their mother and younger sister Margaret in Norland Park, a vast estate in Sussex.

Marriage and its tricky ability to transform fortunes for women is a common Austen theme. In Sense and Sensibility too, the prospects brought about by marriage drive the narrative. After the death of their father, the Dashwood sisters are left penniless since his fortunes now belong to his son from another marriage. They must leave and move into a house in Devonshire belonging to John Middleton, a cousin of Mrs Dashwood’s.

This sets in motion the coming and going of potential suitors for the two elder sisters. Edward Ferrars and Elinor fall in love, his kind and gentle nature diametrically opposite to that of his greedy sister, Fanny, wife to Elinor’s step-brother. But their love is not immediately realised as Edward is already engaged to Lucy Steele.

The situation for Marianne is scarcely different. She falls passionately for John Willoughby, who resides next door to the Middleton estate. All charm and suavity, Willoughby is the antithesis of the restrained Edward. A brief intense summer of love between him and Marianne does not last, and the novel ends with her marrying the staid but altogether more reliable Colonel Brandon.

Play
Sense and Sensibility (1995).

The film version takes some liberties right off the bat. In the novel, Edward is expressly depicted as not handsome but Lee cast the dreamy Hugh Grant for the role. It is to Grant’s credit that he nevertheless portrays the bumbling Edward well.

Appropriately enough, the dashing Greg Rise plays Willoughby. Thompson plays Elinor and a young Kate Winslet, a perfect mix of mischief and gravitas, is Marianne. Finally, Alan Rickman, in a neat foreshadowing of his role as the misjudged Severus Snape, plays Colonel Brandon.

It is a measure of Austen’s superior powers as a writer that her novel works so well even when she flips the writer’s credo of “Show; don’t tell”. Vast chunks of Sense and Sensibility pass by without dialogue, as the omniscient narrator informs and guides the reader through the lives of the characters. Naturally, the film is more action-packed, if by action we mean well-coiffed English parties where characters battle disquiet over one another’s motivations about the gentlest things.

Play
Sense and Sensibility (1995).

A lot of the introduced action in the film version revolves around Marianne, whose love for poetry is brought out by Thompson in two scenes that are strikingly different from the way they are presented in the novel. Early on in the novel, Marianne complains to her mother about how Edward might not be a suitable match for Elinor. Her reason: his“tame” and “spiritless” reading of a William Cowper poem.

The poem is not revealed by Austen in the book, but in the film, Thompson has Edward read The Castaway in a decidedly unpoetic register. Winslet’s Marianne is suitably frustrated, her expression of disgust bringing to life Marianne’s words in the novel: “He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own.”

The other scene occurs towards the end. By now Marianne has learnt of Willoughby’s treachery and, together with Elinor, has returned from London to Devonshire. Just as she alights from the carriage, she goes for a long walk, ending her journey, expectedly, within sight of Willoughby’s house. Rain beating down on her, she murmurs to herself words from a Shakespearean sonnet that she and Willoughby together read when they were courting: “Love is not love /Which alters when it alteration finds…”

It’s a heartbreaking scene and burns with feverish intensity in Winslet’s steady hands. But it is absent from the novel. Willoughby and Marianne never read the Shakespearean sonnet together in the book. Yet, by including them in the screenplay, Thompson both accentuates Marianne’s romantic nature and distinguishes her character from that of Elinor, whose abortive affair with Edward is conducted with splendid reserve, let alone declarations of poetry.

Play
Sense and Sensibility (1995).

The film also substantially builds on the novel’s central theme. In spite of their different natures, neither Elinor nor Marianne loses her dignity in the search for a husband. Marianne is heartbroken in love but she finds in Colonel Brandon, who has pined for her from the time they first met, a steady companion. Likewise, Elinor is resigned to a life of spinsterhood until Edward seeks her out.

In this regard, the film keeps to the covert feminism of Austen whose books brought out the challenges that women of that era faced in realising their destinies. Thompson even introduces a dialogue between Elinor and Edward in which the two discuss how they are both tied down by circumstance, he by being pushed to become a man of the world, and she by the mere fact of her gender. When Edward says, “Our circumstances are therefore precisely the same,” Elinor responds, “Except that you will inherit your fortune. We cannot even earn ours.”

Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility is thus not just a text revised for the screen but an old story dramatically refurbished in pleasingly modern attire. Lee, who went on to make wildly different dramas –from Brokeback Mountain to Life of Pi, shows early promise here with his grasp of narrative flow and a genteel presentation of English life of the time. With Thompson’s brilliant screenplay, the film brings to stunning life Austen’s glorious words.

Play
Sense and Sensibility (1995).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.