Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Sense and Sensibility of Jane Austen - A Movie by Ang Lee..


The world of Jane Austen is one of Morals, manners and an impeccable sense of propriety. She was born in North Hampshire, England, a few months after General Washington issued orders to begin the American war of independence and died in Winchester in the first quarter of the eighteenth century (1775- 1817). A brief, incandescent life during which she chronicled the social ethos of England in a succession of brilliant novels, which unfortunately did not bring her any fame or money during her life time, but is now recognized in English literature as masterpieces of classical writing and characterization. “Pride and prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Emma” – all of them are stories based on Women, marriage and the clash of social status in resolving the matters of Human heart. Her prose has a majestic cadence to it, a soothing classical style of writing that took the reader along a journey that is often long, twisted but eventually satisfying. Every character clearly etched, every sentence chiseled to perfection; Austen could evoke an image of a person, place or a circumstance with a few nonchalant brush strokes of her pen, which in lesser mortals would require a more studied labor. Even after two hundred odd years, her books still resonate with the same intensity, emotional veracity, psychological truism, unmatched mastery of the language and an unparalleled social criticism of the times that she lived and wrote her books…

There have been lots of attempts to capture on screen or televise the multi layered emotional stories of Austen, but most of them have failed because of three principal reasons. Firstly, Austen’s heroines say little, but mean and feel a lot, and only actors of the highest caliber can attempt to bring out such an essence of their tender emotional state. Secondly, the director should be able to understand the depth, authenticity and universality of emotions such as love, jealousy, disgust and the rest of it in the moral society that the novels were set in, and should be capable of carving out its essential richness from the capacious descriptions of Austen to showcase them in a two hour motion picture. And lastly, the screen play should be succinct and contemporary without losing the texture of Austen’s silky language and depth of her intentions. Only if all these three ingredients come together can life be infused into Austen’s book on screen, otherwise not.

I just finished watching Ang lee’s masterly and brilliant adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” directed in 1995, featuring the highly talented Kate winslet and the prodigiously intelligent and mercurial Emma Thompson. Taking nearly five years in the making, with Emma herself writing the screenplay, the movie, in my opinion, consummates the vision of Jane Austen in all it hues and patterns. It is now a part of the Ang Lee legend that when he was offered this film, he did not know who Jane Austen was and obviously not read her works as well. This was his first full length Hollywood English film. When Lindsay Duran, the producer approached Lee to do this movie, her only intention was to have a director who will not work mechanically on “adapting” one more Victorian novel to an English audience, but be able to carry the universal theme of Austen’s book to a wider audience. She had watched Lee’s earlier award winning regional movies such as “The pushing hands” , “the wedding banquet” and others where Lee’s masterly control over the visual canvas and deep sensitivity to human relationships were greatly evident. Lee’s instinct for drawing out new interpretations, fresh perspectives on minutiae of human interaction, and of course his unblemished eye for color and cinematography would greatly help place Austen’s emotional drama in its true context. He agreed to do the film, as he famously said in one his interviews: “…because the underlying theme of Jane Austen is the essence of social repression against free will – and I grew up with that. The Eastern feudal society, where I was raised was not dissimilar to the Victorian England when it came down to one man’s relationship with another...” It is this vision, this oozing confidence that resulted in the making of this masterpiece on screen. For a master movie maker, it is the story that is important and not its linguistics...

The Movie was entirely hoisted on the able shoulders of Emma Thomson, who plays the reticent, responsible and caring elder sister in the Dashwood family, whose swelling emotions are tethered to ideas honor and manners. Emma is arguably one of the finest actors of this generation. Her work in movies like “The remains of the day”, “Howards end”, to name just a couple, have long established her as an actress whose brings a focused intelligence to the roles that she plays. There is a studied melodrama about Emma’s personality, as well, that she uses to great advantage in this particular movie. One could sense the pent up emotions rising within her with each frame, until the climax, when her emotional walls crack into splinters, liberating spasms of pain and pleasure in one antithetical outburst of tears - an epochal piece of histrionics from this great English actress. She was distinguished with two Academy awards in 1996 - for the best Screenplay , and actor in a leading role;- an honor that no one else has ever been accorded.

Patrick Doyle’s subdued music, Kate winslet’s effervescent performance, the docility of Hugh grant and the spectacular cinematography of Michael Coulter elevate this period drama to a pedestal of immortality. Finally, it the singular triumph of Ang lee for having bought to screen an author, whose works are best enjoyed in the written form. The burning intelligence of Jane Austen that flickers in each of her protagonists needed the acute cinematic perception of an Ang lee to translate them on screen. And, we are indebted to him for that remarkable task..

Read Austen's novel and then watch this movie on a wide screen with your entire family. There are few books and films that can refine your artistic appreciation as much as "Sense and Sensibility" can...

God bless...






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