Monday, March 8, 2010

Sense and Sensibility: More Amazing Females

How awesome was the outcome of yesterday's Academy Awards!?  Not only did a woman finally win Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," she also got to stick it to her ex-husband and main competition James Cameron by winning that, Best Picture, and 4 other Oscars!  ("Avatar" took home only 3.)  So, to honor more amazing, Oscar-winning women, I chose "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) to talk about today.

"Sense and Sensibility," adapted from the novel by Jane Austen, tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet), in 19th century England after the death of their father (a small role wonderfully played by then lesser-known Tom Wilkinson).  Due to silly laws at the time, all of his fortune goes to his son and not his daughters, so they are forced to move to a tiny cottage and pray they don't become spinsters.  However, each finds love, loses it, and finds it again through the course of this charming story about the world of women in England at that time.

This movie is one of the main films that reminds me why I love the movies so much.  When I first saw this movie, I was still in high school, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to be Kate Winslet...or at least British.  (I still wouldn't mind trading lives with her today though.)  This movie was the first to really bring Kate to the eyes of US audiences.  She had made her big screen debut the year before in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures," but it was not a widely-seen film.  With "Sense and Sensibility" though, she kick-started her own Oscar race.  At only 20 years old, she received her first Oscar nomination for the role of Marianne Dashwood.  (She would receive 5 more nominations before finally winning last year for "The Reader.")  While preparing for her first Academy Awards ceremony, she asked Emma Thompson what to expect.  Emma said, "Listen, it's honestly just like going to see a fantastic show."  However, Kate still fumbled around while there with her parents, saying she felt kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Emma Thompson had an amazing night at those Oscars though.  She had spent over four years adapting Austen's novel to a script.  The first draft she finished consisted of 350 hand-written pages.  She would work on 13 more drafts before finally getting the final script that won her the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.  She had started the writing project when producer Lindsay Duran, discovering their mutual love for Jane Austen while working together on "Dead Again," asked her to adapt the novel.  While writing the script, she had real-life sisters Natasha and Joely Richardson in mind for the roles of Elinor and Marianne.  However, director Ang Lee insisted on Emma herself playing Elinor.  She protested, saying she was too old to play a 19-year-old girl, so Lee told her to change the age to 27.  She received an acting nomination for her portrayal of Elinor that year too.  Emma Thompson actually is the only person to have won both an Oscar for writing and for acting (for "Howards End" in 1992).

Hugh Grant plays Emma Thompson's love interest Edward Ferrars.  This was during the height of his lovable-goof acting phase.  Co-producer James Schamus actually got complaints from the Jane Austen Society over casting Grant though.  They said he was too good-looking to play Edward.  Most people thought Ang Lee was another an odd choice, to direct a film about English women, being he's neither English or a woman, but he did an amazing job capturing the feel of Austen's novel and Thompson's script.  He hadn't even read Austen's novel before he was sent the script to read.  However, he managed to turn it into a Best Picture nomination (though sadly not one for Best Director). 

So, go out and celebrate the power of women at the Oscars with "Sense and Sensibility."  (And get your Brit fix too.)  Have a wonderful week and I'll be back Friday!

(Post-tidbit: While working on the script for "Sense and Sensibility," Emma Thompson's computer went funky, and she lost her file.  After a computer tech couldn't fix it, she took the computer over to Stephen Fry's house, where he and flatmate Hugh Laurie worked for seven hours and finally fixed the problem and found the file.)

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