Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scene Sunday: Sense & Sensibility

It's the start of a new, and hopefully longlasting, series here at Victim of the Time. This time, in keeping with my newly analytical mindset for this blog (I've never been too great at the celebrity news or the humour stuff, as you may have noticed), I'll be taking a look at a single scene from a movie each Sunday- a newly released movie (on DVD, natch), one I've just discovered from the archives or just a favourite that's been on my mind. Let me know whether the post is interesting or if you think the whole idea is total tosh- I just want to know if people are reading!

It's of that last variety that today's introductory scene comes from. The BBC recently screened a new, Andrew Davies-penned version of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, but, good as it was, I couldn't help remembering Ang Lee and Emma Thompson's 1995 feature film version of the same story. So I dug it out.

Now, you all know- or you should- how big a fan of Kate Winslet I am. While watching the new version of Sense and Sensibility, it came to the scene where Marianne's illusions concerning Willoughby are shattered- and immediately the same scene from the '95 version shot into my head. I may be alone here, but there is one line from the '95 version of the scene that sticks in my head. I know not whether it comes from the book or not, not having read it, but Davies wisely omits it from the new version. It is Winslet's delivery of the line- which I'll reveal as we go through the scene- that made it stick in my head, repeating itself like a broken record until I actually sat down to watch it. But enough chatter. Let's take a closer look.

Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) has just recieved a letter from the object of her wilful heart, John Willoughby (Greg Wise). Excited, she exits the dinner-table to read it in her room. But her sister Elinor (Emma Thompson) knows something is wrong, and, after a rather cutting aside to her own love rival, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), goes after her sister.

Cut to Marianne's white, frozen face staring blankly at the letter, clasped loosely in her hand. On Elinor's arrival in the room, she begins to read.

Winslet has Marianne read Willoughby's cold, dismissive words in an empty, hollow voice, never letting it break as if in heartbreak- Marianne does not even seem to be in shock, more a detached emotionless state, her blood not having reached her heart yet, instead in some kind of empty, listless chamber. Behind her, Thompson's Elinor looks, listens and her breath catches, tensing then shoulder slumping in realization.

Finished, Marianne smoothly stands and walks to her bed, and Elinor follows, along with cinematographer Michael Coulter in a short, fluid tracking shot. The scene, for all its focus on Marianne, clearly makes it stand with the more pragmatic Elinor.

The movement seems to have jolted Marianne's heart, for Winslet's face moves from cool passivitity to a slow, heaving glumness, eyes staring downwards in some kind of mixture of shock and shame. Even now, before her brain seems to know, her body realizes her own mistake, her head bowed. Elinor, scrambling for the silver lining, stands behind her sister and grasps the bed-post, closing in on her sister as best she can.
"Oh, Marianne. Dearest... it is best to know what his intentions are at once. Think of what you would have felt if your engagement had carried on for months and months before he chose to put an end to it."

Quick as a flash, Marianne replies with an almost scornful,
"We are not engaged."

"But you... you wrote to him, I thought then he must have left you with some kind of understanding..."

"No. He is not so unworthy as you think him."
Marianne may have been swept coldly aside by Willoughby but Winslet makes it clear with the low-key anger she uses to undercut Marianne's reply: she loves him, and he did no wrong.

"'Not so unworthy...'", Elinor echoes in disbelief... the camera once again moves with her as she swiftly skirts the corner of the bed and sits across from her sister, forcefully grabbing her arms.

"Did he tell you that he loved you?"
Thompson's eyes go wide, forcing Marianne to look at Elinor and tell her the truth.

"Yes..." Marianne replys quickly... then Winslet looks down, and there follows a quivering, shamed, "No. Never absolutely."

The realization shows on Thompson's face; and here comes the line, delivered by Winslet with such quavering shock and resigned realization that has made it stick in my head all these years:

"It was everyday implied but never declared."

"Sometimes I thought it had been, but it never was. He has broken no vow."

But Elinor will not let her sister take all the shame. Clutching ferociously at Willoughby's letter, Thompson waves it desperately, insisting that "He has! He has broken faith with all of us, he made us all believe he loved you."

And Marianne has had enough of defending Willoughby, and even trying to cope. "He did... he did!" she cries, her voice cracking open like a muscle shell, her reddening face unable to hold itself up any more... and Winslet has her face crumple, screwing it up with fierce tears, and her hand moving up in a vain attempt to hold herself together. "He loved me as I loved him!" Marianne wails as her final words, body falling onto the bed in a wrack of sobs.

Winslet spends the remainder of the scene lying on the bed, cries quiet but continually broken, as Mrs Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs) enters and offers her kind but gossiping words to Elinor. Winslet, indeed, spends her time flat against the bed, her lips formed into some kind of perverse clownish smile, though of course it is no smile at all.

Mrs Jennings leaves the scene with a final note of humour, perhaps telegraphing further how that this, finally, is Marianne's 'punishment' for being so wilful, open and impulsive. "Does she care for olives?" Mrs Jennings asks caringly, prompting an amusingly comic reaction of bemused bewilderment from Thompson; eventually Elinor replies "I cannot tell you", and we leave Marianne to her tears as the new scene has her problems airily criticized by her acidic sister-in-law and her brother.

1 comment:

Alisha said...

Hi -- Just surfing through while looking for inspiration to write a paper on the scene you're describing, only from the actual book.

Anyway, I thought, since you've never read the book, that I would leave you with the exact line Marianne says.

"But he told you that he loved you." ---

"Yes--no--never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it had been--but it never was."

Very close to the dialogue used. I just recently saw the BBC 2008 version and rather prefer it to Emma Thompson's, mostly because it follows the book more closely.