Emma Thompson Wins 1996 Oscar for Herself AND Jane Austen

Today, FF2 is delighted to celebrate the 28th anniversary of actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson’s Academy Award win for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense & Sensibility. This 1996 accomplishment represented not only Emma’s second Oscar—her first secured three years before for her work on Howards End—but also the enormous achievement of becoming the only person in history to win Academy Awards for both acting and writing. To commemorate this monumental occasion, today we look back at one of our favorites: 1995’s Sense & Sensibility.

This past weekend, I decided to rewatch S & S after finishing a reread of the novel the week before. Not having picked the book up since high school, I was surprised to find my opinions on the situations, characters, and enormous wit of Austen’s writing changed so drastically. The wordplay and relationships which flew over my head at sixteen landed perfectly for me now, and I quickly found myself charmed by Jane Austen all over again.

However, this rediscovered love made me hesitant when approaching the film. I remembered the movie very fondly as a wonderful Austen adaptation, but, having just fallen back in love with its source material, I wondered if Emma would be able to do such a magnificently written story justice. Tackling such a project as a Jane Austen adaptation is no small task—and one which, unfortunately, can be done very poorly. Of course, for S & S, this was not the case.

Emma hand-picks the best of the best of Austen’s romantic declarations and zingers.

Sense & Sensibility is, in my opinion, the most faithful adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s works. For the dialogue, Emma hand-picks the best of the best of Jane Austen’s romantic declarations and zingers. This combines flawlessly with Ang Lee’s meticulous and, as FF2 editor-in-chief Jan Lisa Huttner wrote in her review of the film, “sensitive” direction. All of the cast members are superb—I must give credit to whoever decided on Hugh Grant for the role of Edward as his charming awkwardness could not be more perfect—and constitute some of the very best British actors of the time then and since. This includes Emma herself, the talented Gemma Jones, and an early performance by Kate Winslet (who received the first of her 7 Oscar nominations in the supporting role of Miss Marianne).

Click on image to enlarge.

It took Emma five years to perfect the script for Sense & Sensibility. A devoted fan of Jane Austen, Emma’s attention to detail in pursuit of doing her heroine’s work justice shines through magnificently in the final product. Through Emma’s decision to consolidate situations and locations, the entire film flies. This leaves the viewer holding their breath for its conclusion (rather than a bit annoyed at all the time spent in carriages to and from London).

The true heart of the film is not one of romance, but sisterhood.

The Dashwood sisters, even further than staying true to character, appear more fleshed out than ever in Emma’s script. The unerring strength of Elinor, never wavering in the novel, is allowed to momentarily crack in the sick chamber of her sister Marianne. This passionate outburst both showcases Emma’s acting abilities, and reinforces the true heart of the film: one not of romance, but sisterhood.

Sense & Sensibility’s script, further than an homage to Jane Austen, is an homage to women everywhere, throughout all times. Though the Dashwood sisters’ situation is often dire, they never find strength through a dependency on men, but on one another. 

In a 2020 feature on Emma, FF2 contributor Katusha Jin aptly praised her as a “dedicated creative powerhouse.” The entire feature goes into much more depth about Emma’s career and accomplishments at large, and I encourage everyone to read it. Her achievements are truly as impressive as they are numerous.

Emma Thompson has proved time and again her talent and dedication to her craft. We are all grateful that she chose to use this talent to tell such a powerful, woman-driven story as Sense & Sensibility. Her writing allowed the Dashwood sisters new, even stronger voices nearly two hundred years after their time. Thank you, Emma Thompson, for not just rewriting, but reinvigorating classic women’s stories.

© Reese Alexander (3/25/24) – Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Sense & Sensibility received SIX additional Oscar nominations in 1996, including Best Picture, Best Actress, & Best Supporting Actress! Furthermore, five of these seven nominations went to women… which may well be the highest ratio in Oscar history.

Watch Emma’s 1996 Oscars acceptance speech here. Jan calls this the best Oscar acceptance speech of her lifetime as an Oscar watcher! Read Jan’s review of Sense & Sensibility here.

Read Katusha’s feature on Emma Thompson here.

Visit Emma’s Wikipedia page here.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Actress Emma Thompson stars as “Elinor Dashwood” in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995). Photo Credit: © Columbia Pictures / Maximum Film / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2JDPNA8

Middle Photo: Emma with Hugh Grant in the grand finale of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995). Photo Credit: © Columbia Pictures / Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: BKBBM5

Bottom Photo: Emma—in a radiant yet tailored Armani outfit—wins the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 68th Annual Academy Awards, and uses her moment in the spotlight to personally thank Jane Austen and crow about “the grosses.” Photo Credit: Barry King (3/25/96). Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2D6BTA7

Tags: Academy-Award, Best Actress Oscar, Best Adapted Screenplay, Elinor Dashwood, Emma Thompson, Gemma Jones, Howard's End, Jane Austen, Kate Winslet, Marianne Dashwood, Oscar, Sense & Sensibility, Sense and Sensibility

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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