This shrewd, highly humorous adaptation reps the first screenplay written by actress Emma Thompson, while this is the first entirely non-Chinese picture directed by Taiwanese helmer Ang Lee, who scored in the West with his second and third films, The Wed ding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman. Both potentially long-shot bets have paid off in spades, a tribute to the talent acumen of producer Lindsay Doran and exec producer Sydney Pollack.
Deftly setting the stage in late 18th-century rural England, pic briskly delineates the suddenly reduced circumstances of widow Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her three lovely daughters after the death of her husband.
Eldest daughter Elinor (Thompson) is the sensible one, a bright, if emotionally stunted, woman widely regarded as an incipient spinster. Middle daughter Marianne (Kate Winslet), in her late teens, is quite the opposite, a reckless romantic who can’t abide her sister’s restrained propriety. Little sister Margaret (Emile Francois) is an 11-year-old tomboy.
The women are reliant for their social lives on the boisterous, conspiratorial Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (the irrepressible Elizabeth Spriggs). The wealthy, brooding, middle-aged Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) comes to call, but Marianne finds her romantic dreams come to life in the person of the dashing John Willoughby (Greg Wise).
Thompson’s script manages the neat trick of preserving the necessary niceties and decorum of civilized behavior of the time while still cutting to the dramatic quick. But she and Lee have always kept an eye out for the comedic possibilities in any situation, assisted by a highly skilled cast of actors.
Crucially for such an elaborately dressed production, the characters all come thoroughly alive with their ready wits and pulsing emotions, overcoming the two-century gap with seeming effortlessness. Behind-the-scenes hands have crafted an exceedingly handsome production that is not overly plush.
1995: Best Screenplay Adaptation.
Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Emma Thompson), Best Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet), Cinematography, Original Dramatic Score, Costume Design