Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


As you know from your college English Lit course, Jane Austen (1775–1817) is revered for six novels that explore women’s traditional dependence on marriage to secure social standing and economic security during the 18th century. Because writing was not considered a proper profession for a lady, these novels were published anonymously.

Jane Austen’s first novel – “Sense and Sensibility,” published in 1811 – tells the story of the Dashwood sisters who are forced to leave the family estate and move to a modest home on the property of a distant relative. There they experience “love, romance, and heartbreak.”

Austen’s second book – “Pride and Prejudice,” published two years later – is what literary critics call “a realistic study of manners.” The story follows Elizabeth Bennet as she learns the “difference between superficial goodness and actual goodness” in her romance with Mr. Darcy.

As Jane Austen scholar Robert Polhemus tells us, “To appreciate the drama and achievement of Austen, we need to realize how deep was her passion for both reverence and ridicule … and her comic imagination reveals both the harmonies and the telling contradictions of her mind and vision as she tries to reconcile her satirical bias with her sense of the good.”

Despite leading a quiet, sedate life in Hampshire, England, those close to Austen noted her “sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbors or family members.” Her earlier writing displayed “exuberant high spirits and extravagances.”

Austen’s novels have resulted in numerous sequels, prequels and adaptations – even the farcical “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Serpents.”

The first film adaptation was MGM’s 1940 “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.

Two of the finest film versions are Columbia Pictures’ 1995 “Sense and Sensibility,” starring Dame Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet; and Universal Pictures’ 2005 “Pride & Prejudice,” starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen.

Both movies are still showing at Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee, “Sense and Sensibility” is a period drama about the Dashwood family. When the father (Tom Wilkinson) dies, his second wife and their three daughters – Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie François) – are left in “straitened circumstances.” Although taken in by a kindly cousin, their lack of money limits the marriageability of the Dashwood daughters.

The film is based on a screenplay by actress Emma Thompson. Working on the script between her other films, she spent five years drafting numerous versions. With Thompson being a first-time screenwriter, the studio was understandably nervous, but the execs hung in there when Thompson agreed to play the lead role.

Thompson’s screenplay varied slightly from the novel, exaggerating the Dashwood family’s wealth in order to contrast their later poverty. She also altered some of the traits of the male leads to make them more appealing to contemporary audiences.

In addition to Thompson and Winslet as the Dashwood sisters, Hugh Grant and Alan Richman portray their respective suitors.

As it turned out, the studio’s gamble with Emma Thompson paid off. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. And Thompson won Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person to have won Academy Awards for both acting and screenwriting.

Directed by Joe Wright as his feature debut, “Pride & Prejudice” gives us the story of five sisters – Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Mary (Talulah Riley), Kitty (Carey Mulligan), and Lydia Bennet (Jena Malone) – who are dealing with “marriage, morality and misconceptions.” Their lives are turned upside down when wealthy Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and his best friend, Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), arrive in their village.

Screenwriter Deborah Moggach tried to stay faithful to the novel, preserving much of the original dialogue. However, Wright encouraged her to change the dynamics within the Bennet family. Purists will barely notice.

“Pride & Prejudice” was nominated for four Academy Awards, including a nod to Knightley as Best Actress.

An Easter egg: At the beginning of the movie, Elizabeth is seen reading a novel titled “First Impressions.” This was Jane Austen’s original title for her novel before settling on “Pride and Prejudice.”

Both films were considered successful. “Sense and Sensibility” earned $135 million worldwide on a $16 million budget. “Pride & Prejudice” grossed $121.6 million worldwide on a budget of $28 million.

Which film is better? Both have a similar IMDb user rating (7.7 and 7.8). I lean toward the performances in “Sense and Sensibility,” but have always preferred the storyline in “Pride & Prejudice.”

The simple answer: See them both. Your English Lit professor would approve.

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