Andrew here with your weekly monologue.
Of the half dozen, or so actresses, who ruled the awards’ races in the nineties Emma Thompson’s reign of the decade is my favourite, especially for how it subverts the notions of what kind of performances awards bodies like to honor. Usually, dissenters of award competitions cry out that they're intrinsically terrible always mistaking the Biggest for the Best but the love affair with Emma in the 90s is proof as good as any that quiet excellence can be appreciated, too. Emma’s exceptionally worthy Oscar win for Margaret Schlegel in Howards End (1992) is one of the most low-key turns to have earned the statue. Yet more muted is her Elinor Dashwood three years later in Sense and Sensibility (1995), the deliverer of this week's monologue.
Sense and Sensibility is the best title Jane Austen came up with and Emma and Kate Winslet match the titular adjectives both in character work and affectation. Kate's performance is more pronounced and easily appreciated while Emma's is quieter, and sometimes all too easy to ignore. Because as good as Sense can be it’s not inherently riveting to watch, which makes Emma’s work such a treasure; she manages to command the screen even as Elinor plays everything close to the chest. Even in Elinor's monologue, which is significantly her most explosive moment (grading on a curve), her every move is still rooted in good sense and breeding.
A visit from the gossiping Mrs Jennings reveals that the infamous Mr F(errars) who has Elinor’s heart has been betrothed all along is not news for us or Elinor, but a shock for her sister Marianne (Winslet). How could Elinor have kept this information to herself for so long? But always sensible Elinor is resigned to her fate.
"Edward made his promise a long time ago, long before he met me. Though he may... harbour some regret, I believe he will be happy--in the knowledge that he did his duty and kept his word. After all--after all that is bewitching in the idea of one's happiness depending entirely on one person, it is not always possible. We must accept...."
This part of the monologue is so more like a traditional soliloquy because there's the sense that Elinor isn't saying this to convince Marianne but to convince herself. As the eldest she's always been forced to be the pragmatic one, especially now with their father dead and their mother bereaved. This self-effacing pragmatism is not so much innate, but an active decision she makes for the best of everyone around her. The pause after "we must accept", however brief, is significant. She can't even finish the statement.
"Edward will marry Lucy--and you and I will go home."
“Always resignation and acceptance. Where is your heart, Elinor?” Marianne interrupts, almost petulantly. This time her youthful romanticism is too much for the audience, and Elinor too.
"What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks, Marianne, I have had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced upon me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hopes."
There’s a moment where her voice cracks on that word hopes, it's the rare moments where Elinor allows her emotions to betray her and one can only imagine how exhausting it must be being Marianne's older sister. The younger sister is a charismatic gem, but she sucks the life and attention out of a room whenever she wishes to. Casting an older actor as Elinor adds to the drama - if only young Marianne could learn to be more quietly mature, or if only Elinor could be as youthful spontaneous.
I have had to endure her exultation again and again while knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have produced proof enough of a broken heart even for you.
This entire final outburst, a rare example of Elinor lashing out, is still done with a hushed voice. Elinor will always defer to propriety and avoid the scandal of anyone overhearing her. The truth of the words cut Marianne in their harshness but there's no sense that Elinor regrets them. And, yet, she is Sense so she must act sensibly. The film does not allow her to wallow in self-pity after her outburst. Marianne seems more torn about being scolded than Elinor is allowed to be at a broken heart. And so the kindness of sense prevails.
Elinor rises to console Marianne as if her heart has been broken and Emma Thompson does the slightest of grimaces.
It's an unusual monologue, never loud or commanding the usual ways. And, yet, Emma commands our attention. It's one of her truly remarkable gifts as an actor. She doesn't need to raise a voice to demand attention. No wonder she was one of the Queens of the 90s.