The Daily Stream: Sense And Sensibility Updates Jane Austen While Remaining True To Her Beloved Book

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Sense and Sensibility" (1995)"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Period pieces can be dicey to produce in a modern world. Gender norms, politics, and so many other things can make them stand out against our current society. That's sometimes why they're interesting to watch. Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" from 1995 has just enough updating to make it the perfect blend between understanding the society of the early nineteenth century in England, and giving the women in the film a chance to shine even more than they could have in the Jane Austen book of the same name from 1811. 

In the story, the father of the Dashwood family, who are landed gentry in England, has died. Because of property laws, he had to leave his estate and holdings to his son from his previous marriage, leaving his second wife, and three daughters Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie Francois) with a tiny place to live and a very small amount of money, which left nothing for their dowries. Elinor meets a man named Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) and she thinks they have a connection, though he is already secretly engaged. Marianne meets another named John Willoughby who is really a scoundrel (you really don't get to use that word as much as you should), though an older man named Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) is in love with her. (Also, if Alan Rickman falls in love with you, you choose him. That is all.)

Why it's essential viewing

It all sounds silly when you write it out like that, but that is our modern sensibility (sorry) talking. Sure, if everyone would just say what they mean, and discuss things, it would be resolved quickly, but in a way, I think that's what makes it so lovely to watch. Seeing actors play what it's like to not be able to say the things they so desperately want to is what makes it interesting. I'm 100 percent not someone who wishes they could live in another time period for so very many reasons, not the least of which is flushing toilets, but it's fascinating to me to watch what it was like to navigate life with these restraints on you. We have different restraints now, and in a way, seeing people struggle against others is what makes ours easier to bear. 

All that aside, watching the sensible Elinor break down in her big scene is so jarring and cathartic. So is watching the passionate Marianne realize that sense often leads to a different sort of love that lasts. It's a meditation on human nature, and the slow beat of society at the time gives the whole thing room to breathe.

Emma Thompson's script (she won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for it, by the way) gives us enough of an update to make it more palatable for a modern audience, but keeps enough of Austen's beloved story to remind us of the way things were for this group of people in this time period. Add to that the stunning direction of Ang Lee, and you have something that deserves a dozen rewatches — something I have absolutely done. If that isn't enough to convince you, watch it for how uncomfortable Hugh Grant looks in the giant cravat he has to wear around his neck. It is something to behold.