Sense and Sensibility (1995): Ang Lee’s Oscar-Nominated Version of Jane Austen Novel, Starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet

For a while, it looked as if Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” was not going to have any competition in the Best Picture Oscar category.  But that was before the release of Ang Lee’s graceful version and crowd-pleasing “Sense and Sensibility,” based on Jane Austen’s popular romantic novel, with an all-star British cast that includes Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Gemma Jones.


Like most of Austen’s books, this serio-comedy of mores and manners deals with the impact of social class, economy, values and conventions on the prospects of happiness of three sisters, all looking for socially suitable husbands.  Emma Thompson plays the intelligent and sensible Elinor Dashwood, Kate Winslet the loving and passionate Marianne, and Emilie Francois the youngest, tomboy-like Margaret. 


“Sense and Sensibility” is old-fashioned in a literary sort of way. Astutely and faithfully written by first-time scribe Emma Thompson, who’s sure to win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar, it’s an accomplished, handsomely shot costume drama. 


As a movie, this “Sense and Sensibility” is better and more enjoyable than MGM’s former version, starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.  Well-acted by a wonderful ensemble, the movie is made in the vein of the Merchant-Ivory costume dramas and comedies, A Room With a View and more recently Howards End and Remains of the Day, both starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.


The 19th century British comedy of manners marked a radical change of pace for Taiwanese-born, NYU-educated Lee, who until then was known for his Taiwanese trilogy, “Pushing Hands,” “The Wedding Banquet,” and “Eat Drink Man Woman,” all impressive movies made on a smaller scale.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Lindsay Doran

Actress: Emma Thompson

Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet

Screenplay (Adapted): Emma Thompson

Cinematography: Michael Coulter

Costume Design: Jenny Beavan and John Bright

Music (Original): Patrick Doyle

Oscar Awards: 1

Screenplay (Adapted)

Oscar Context

In 1995, “Sense and Sensibility” competed for the top award with “Apollo 13,” the comedy “Babe,” the historical epic “Braveheart,” which received the largest number of nominations (10) and won Best Picture, and the Italian romantic drama “Il Postino” (“The Postman”), which got 5 nods.

These top contenders for Best Picture represent different facets of Hollywood and different styles of filmmaking. Hollywood insiders have already touted the conflict between them as battle of the sexes. Heroic and adventurous, Apollo 13 is a classic “boys movie”; the only significant female role is played by Kathleen Quinlan, as Jim Lovell’s wife.

Director Ang Lee failed to be nominated as Best Director. He would receive an Oscar nomination in 2000 for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and would win the award in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain.”