I took this as an opportunity to finally watch Sense and Sensibility. It’s surprising to myself how long it took me to get to this film given my admiration for both Ang Lee and Kate Winslet. It’s probably my usual reservation about costume dramas. But I chose Winslet because her career has obviously taken off enormously since that Oscar nomination. It was her first but she went on to five more nominations, one win, some age-related record breaking, Hollywood superstardom and general awesomeness.
In the film, she plays Marianne Dashwood, the second daughter of the Dashwood family. Along with her mother and sisters Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Margaret, they’re forced to leave their home when Mr. Dashwood passes the house to his son (from another wife) before his death.
Winslet’s introduced in a beautifully lit frame as she plays the piano, but this serenity doesn’t last long. Her character is revealed to be the much livelier and more exuberant of the two sisters. The contrast between the two sisters actually becomes the film’s device in developing their characters.
When Edward Ferras (Hugh Grant) is introduced and the reserved Elinor falls for his awkward and self-effacing character, Marianne tests Edward’s passion by getting him to role play a passage from a book. Winslet captures the naïveté and childishness of Marianne’s romanticism with a mastery that justifies the nomination on its own. Later, confronting her sister about her frustration with Ferras’ inexpressivity, she says:
“What a pity it is that Edward has no passion to read!
... I think him everything that is amiable and worthy.”
This combination of idealist youthfulness with Winslet’s physical features makes the character all the more likeable. It isn’t a surprise that Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) falls for her instantly as he sees her. Not incidentally, Brandon sees her first just the way we saw her at the beginning: gracefully playing the piano under natural side-lighting.
One of her best scenes comes when she first meets John, the heartthrob who sweeps her off her feet when he helps her after falling from a horse. Winslet’s nervousness and her impatience at the thought of meeting John again is both hilarious and a showcase of her talents.
“He lifted me as if I weighed no more than a dried leaf!”
The arc of Winslet’s character is a wide one that takes shape as a result of several twists in her love life. All the while Winslet captures both the comic spirit of the film and the dramatic transition in her own character’s move from an inexperienced lover to the woman who is mesmerized by Colonel Brandon’s reading at the end. That she can convey this transition, her revelations and her feelings with so little as a look like this one is a testament to what a great actress she is. (The entire ballroom sequence is my favourite part of the performance.)
Between 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and Sense and Sensibility, Winslet really established herself as one of the greatest young talents in the 90s. Luckily (and in part, thanks to Titanic) her star never faded. We’re already heating rave words about her next performance in Polanski’s Carnage.