What are three interpretive choices made in the Sense and Sensibility film adaptation? How did the director change or interpret the novel?

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There are many differences between Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and the 1995 film adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

Certain differences are minor. For instance, to streamline the narrative, the film omits several characters, including Lucy Steele’s sister, Anne. Moreover, to make the casting of the two...

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There are many differences between Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and the 1995 film adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

Certain differences are minor. For instance, to streamline the narrative, the film omits several characters, including Lucy Steele’s sister, Anne. Moreover, to make the casting of the two lead actresses more believable, Elinor and Marianne are older in the film than they are in the book. In the movie, they are 27 and 19 respectively, versus 19 and 16 in the book.

However, certain differences are more important. For instance, another difference is the way the two male leads are depicted. In some ways, Edward and Willoughby are a study in contrasts. As they are described in the book, one is handsome (Willoughby), while the other (Edward) is not. Moreover, Willoughby is quite affable compared to Edward’s somewhat awkward timidity. Yet, over the course of the story, the reader recognizes that Willoughby’s exterior belies a duplicitous interior. Conversely, the reader realizes that Edward, although not particularly good-looking or exciting, is a good person whose blunders stem from his open heart.

In the book, Edward is described:

Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing.

Conversely, Willoughby is described as handsome in the book:

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration.

The film eliminates the exterior differences between the two men. Both characters are portrayed by actors who are handsome, blurring the differences between their inner and outer selves. Specifically, in the movie, the role of Edward is played by Hugh Grant and the role of Willoughby is played by Greg Wise. This makes the contrast between their physical appearances and intrinsic goodness or deviousness less evident.

The movie also adds a couple of scenes to reveal the characters’ inner feelings. In one scene that appears in the movie but not the book, Marianne has learned the truth about Willoughby. She takes a long walk and passes his home. She recites a poem that she and Willoughby had read together, although no such scene is depicted in the book.

Similarly, Willoughby, riding on a hilltop from which he has a good view of Marianne’s home, stops his horse and looks wistfully at the house. This scene also does not appear in the book. Because it almost softens Willoughby’s selfish actions, it does not seem particularly additive.

The scene in which Edward tells the Dashwood women that he is not married to Lucy Steele is also portrayed differently in the movie compared to the book. In the book, Elinor is generally calm and reserved. She is the “sense” to her sister’s romantic “sensibility.” Even when Elinor first learns that Edward is engaged and must be feeling dismayed and heartbroken, she manages to remain calm on the exterior. Austen writes:

Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing herself to speak, and to speak cautiously, she said, with calmness of manner, which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude—"May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"

Although Emma Thompson plays Elinor as mostly calm in the film, the scene in which Elinor learns that Edward is free differs in the movie compared to the book. In the movie, Elinor becomes emotional, and Edward comes over to sooth her. She says, “Then you are not married?” and then she breaks down, sobbing tears of relief and joy, while her family looks on and then tactfully leaves the two alone. Elinor’s sobbing continues throughout the scene as Edward declares his love for her.

This scene is quite different in the book. Elinor’s emotions are off-stage so to speak. In other words, Elinor retains her tranquil exterior, but leaves the room and sobs in the next room away from her family and Edward.

His words were echoed with unspeakable astonishment by all but Elinor, who sat with her head leaning over her work, in a state of such agitation as made her hardly know where she was ...

Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease. Edward, who had till then looked any where, rather than at her, saw her hurry away, and perhaps saw—or even heard, her emotion.

Having Elinor break down so that the reader can understand how deep her feelings are mitigates the sensible nature of the character somewhat.

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