Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet
, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman
Jane Austen once compared her very particular genius for comedy to scrimshaw. Her novels, she wrote, are "the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush." But, as Clueless, Persuasion and now Sense and Sensibility happily demonstrate, you can blow up her stories as big as a movie screen, and they still enthrall.
Sense, published in 1811, is the tale of two yin-and-yangy sisters. Passionate Marianne Dashwood (Winslet) sings and plays the pianoforte with deep feeling. The ever-prudent Elinor (Thompson) doesn't care to sing at all. Both have reached marrying age, and though the Dashwoods possess neither dowry nor barouche, suitors keep dropping in. Grant, haltingly charming and splendidly rich, is drawn to Elinor, and Rickman, romantically wounded and comfortably well-off, to Winslet.
Coming so soon after Persuasion—a movie so delicately autumnal that an audience of trees would weep leaves in sympathy—Sense takes some getting used to. Written by Thompson and directed by Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet), much of it has a bland, picture-postcard cheeriness, and some of the supporting characters are discordantly boisterous, like tubas suddenly going wamp-wamp during a string quartet. But the main players are perfect, delightfully silly one moment, heartbreaking the next. It's hard to say whether it's more satisfying to watch Thompson slowly uncorseting her emotions or Winslet learning to rein them in. (PG)