When I was 13, I picked up my first Jane Austen novel–Pride & Prejudice. After that, I was hooked. I bought the Penguin collection of all of her books (the set with orange paperbacks in a box) and didn’t stop until I read them all. These days I’m a fan of the film versions that have been made of Austen’s books, too.
Emma Thompson won an Oscar in 1995 for her screenplay of Sense & Sensibility, and with good reason–it brought the story alive for us in a way no other version had. When the movie opens, we meet the Dashwood sisters–Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (a young, pre-Titanic Kate Winslet)–who have grown up at Norland Park, where they have known nothing but wealth, security, and privilege.
Saltram House, the largest country house in Devon (U.K.), was used as the location of Norland Park. It was built in 1743 but expanded on over the generations. It has belonged to the National Trust since 1957 and is open to tourists. (Photo and information found here.)
We don’t see much of the exterior in the movie–we just get glimpses of it like the one above.
In The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film, Thompson wrote that after filming a sequence that involved a flock of sheep, Ang Lee swore that he would never again use the animals on a movie set. Ten years later, he went on to direct Brokeback Mountain (2005), in which the main characters were sheep herders (IMDb).
Marianne (Winslet) is an accomplished pianist who plays dramatically, with feeling, as suits her personality:
An awkward dinner with their stepbrother and his horrible wife Fanny, who is truly insufferable (Jane Austen could write insufferable characters better than anyone!):
Fanny shows her brother Edward (Hugh Grant) around the library and explains her plans to change just about everything about the grand old house when she is mistress of it:
The movie changed Emma Thompson’s life in more ways than one. She met Greg Wise on the set (he played Willoughby, the man who broke Marianne’s heart) and married him in 2003. They have a daughter named Gaia together.
This treehouse on the grounds of Norland Park is one of my favorite “houses” in the movie. I love it! Elinor’s little sister Margaret likes to hide out here:
Elinor and Edward (Hugh Grant) stroll the grounds around Norland Park (and we get another glimpse of the exterior of Saltram House):
When Elinor and Marianne’s father dies, British law dictates that everything go to his male heir. Their older half-brother takes over Norland Park and the Dashwoods–including their mother and younger sister–are evicted. They are given shelter by a generous cousin in Devonshire, and they move into a humble cottage on his property.
Barton Cottage in Devonshire:
Moving to the cottage is not easy. The Dashwood women must suddenly adapt to life without a house full of servants doing everything for them. It’s not all bad, though. As Fanny (Harriet Walter) says in the movie:
“Ooh, a cottage! How charming. A little cottage is always very snug.”
Efford House is the name of the actual cottage used for film. You can rent it for your next holiday! For information and photos of how it looks today, visit the Flete Estate website.
Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) is so struck by Marianne (Winslet) that he sends her a pianoforte to practice on.
If you haven’t seen the BBC “Sense & Sensibility” miniseries that came out in 2008, I highly recommend it. They can fit so much more of the story into a miniseries than a two-hour movie can. The casting is great, and the cottage used for the miniseries is pretty wonderful, too.
Emma Thompson spent years writing the screenplay for the movie, and it went through countless revisions. The first draft came to 350 hand-written pages.
For the movie, she reportedly wanted sisters Natasha and Joely Richardson to play Elinor and Marianne, but director Ang Lee insisted that Thompson play Elinor instead. Since she was too old to play a 19-year-old girl, the character’s age was changed to 27. At the time, Thompson was 36, so it was still a stretch (as many movie critics pointed out).
Colonel Brandon reads poetry to Marianne on the front lawn as she recuperates from an illness that nearly killed her:
(Speaking of which–did you hear that they’re making a third Bridget Jones movie? Let’s hope it’s better than the second. The third movie will be based on Helen Fielding’s newspaper column, since there is no third novel in the series.)
Do you have a favorite Jane Austen movie? I watch the 1995 version of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds when I’m up for a good cry. I pull out Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam when I want a good laugh.
But Pride & Prejudice has to be my favorite. The 1996 miniseries with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy is a classic and the favorite of most Austen fans, but I have to admit that the 2006 movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden is the one I watch over and over again. How about you?