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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sense and Sensibility (1995).
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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

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2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.