The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries
If you’d asked me a year ago if Emma Thompson could do anything else in her life to compel me to love her any more than I already do, I’d have spit out my tea and laughed at you. But she has.
An oldie-but-goodie film staple for Janeites everywhere, Sense and Sensibility (Columbia Pictures’ 1995) was masterfully directed by Ang Lee, with an Oscar-winning and Golden Globe-winning screenplay penned by Thompson herself. If you haven’t watched Thompson’s Golden Globes Best Screenplay acceptance speech, I strongly suggest you do so. Just forgive her the floppy hair.
What Thompson has done in her book The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film, is deliver her beautiful script to us, replete with screen captures from the movie. However, the real magic may lies in Thompson’s personal recollections on writing, casting, producing, and shooting this project. Her insights are utterly fascinating and include comments on several of her collaborators.
About her co-star Hugh Grant, Thompson writes, “...Kissing Hugh was very lovely. Glad I invented it. Can’t rely on Austen for a snog, that’s for sure.”
According to the diaries, Ang Lee’s first acting notes to Thompson were “Very dull,” and, “Don’t look so old.”
And there’s this bit about the late Alan Rickman, whose sense of humor she describes as acquired but hilarious; “Very nice lady served us drinks in hotel and was followed in by a cat. We all crooned at it. Alan to cat (very low and meaning it) ‘F**k off.’ The nice lady didn’t turn a hair. The cat looked slightly embarrassed but stayed.”
Amidst her honest and irreverent observations about her castmates and production crew, I was able to discern bits of Emma’s heart and mind as a creator and storyteller. She is committed to excellence, kind, funny, and unapologetic about the stress she felt both as a writer and an actor during this project.
While the script is an important reference piece for an Austen-lover’s arsenal, it was the diaries that spurred me to finish the piece in just two days. I found myself laughing out loud, shaking my head, responding to Thompson’s journals as if she were sitting across from me as we enjoyed our Sunday Sumatra.
The content in the screenplay itself is standard Austen fare, an exposé of the dangerous trends in 19th Century Europe regarding the scarcity of women landowners, and how being a female could literally strip you of an inheritance, devoid of any income unless you married well. Of course, Thompson handles the subject matter with grace and dignity. Austen ends the story of Sense and Sensibility on an upbeat note, juxtaposing her happy wishes for womankind against her own cruel reality. As in all Austen epics, the heroes and heroines overcome, striking a balance that satisfies both their desires and the strictures of society, and Thompson honors Austen’s wishes in this regard.
The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries is a clever and pleasant read. Since Thompson’s triumph, she has been credited for her work on the children’s movie Nanny McPhee and it’s sequel, and an under-the-radar historical drama called Effie Gray.
Perhaps Thompson should crack open another Austen novel and adapt something else. I will wait.