Viewer Guide: Sense and Sensibility and The Maiden Heist

February 7, 2020 | Richard Peña


Sense and Sensibility (1995)

This week’s classic is Sense and Sensibility from 1995, a delightful adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved first novel scripted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee.

Emma Thompson co-stars with Kate Winslet as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, devoted yet very different sisters who find themselves abruptly impoverished by the death of their father. With their country manor home now in the hands of their easily manipulated half-brother and his conniving wife, Elinor and Marianne along with their mother and younger sister Margaret are suddenly without a father or husband to provide for them, one of the most perilous of predicaments for a genteel Englishwoman of 1792.

Fortunately, a few sympathetic men soon arrive on the scene to change their fortunes, although not necessarily in ways first expected. Hugh Grant appears as Edward Ferrars, the brother of their selfish sister in law, and takes a special interest in Elinor. Alan Rickman plays Colonel Brandon, an older bachelor who is quickly smitten with the much younger Marrianne. Unfortunately for Colonel Brandon, Marianne only has eyes for the dashing John Willoughby, played by Greg Wise, who sets her heart ablaze after coming to her rescue in a sudden rain storm.

Sense and Sensibility was an early career milestone for Ang Lee, who some initially considered a doubtful choice to direct. Yet Lee proved to have the perfect mindset to interpret the subtleties of this very English comedy of manners, his Taiwanese upbringing, he would claim, being highly reminiscent of Austen’s world of intricate social customs.

Something about the mid-1990s triggered a remarkable Austen renaissance with a rapid succession of new film adaptations of her novels. In addition to Sense and Sensibility, also arriving on movie and TV screens were new interpretations of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma and Mansfield Park. And with audience demand so great and the literary output so small, Hollywood eventually got creative with new Austen-themed movies such as The Jane Austen Book Club and the fictionalized biography Becoming Jane.


The Maiden Heist (2009)

This week’s indie is The Maiden Heist, a comic crime caper from 2009 directed by Peter Hewitt.

If you’ve ever wondered how museum guards occupy themselves throughout their long shifts day after day, The Maiden Heist offers a fanciful answer. Christopher Walken stars as Roger Barlow, a longtime guard in an unnamed Boston museum rapidly approaching retirement. With ample opportunity to study the art works on the walls, Roger has become especially fascinated with “The Lonely Maiden,” a prime example of “an offshoot of the Northern French naturalist movement,” for those who are wondering. Gazing devotedly into the lonely maiden’s expression, described as being of “desperate longing and overwhelming passion,” Roger is much more than just an expert on the painting; he’s literally fallen in love with it. And when he hears the news of the sale of the painting to a Danish museum, Roger is devastated. But his anguish is soon softened by the realization he’s not alone in his heartbreak; two other guards have also developed “special attachments” to certain works. Morgan Freeman co-stars as Charles Peterson, a kindly artist in his off-hours who has similarly unrequited feelings for the “Young Girl with Cats.” And the military-minded George McLendon, played by William H. Macy, has an obsession with “Bronze Warrior,” a muscular, nude male sculpture that inspires George to secretly display his admiration in reciprocally clothing-free fashion. Banding together, these three extra-passionate art connoisseurs hatch a plan to keep their objects of affection close to home, with the trio becoming the most unlikely of bungling burglars. And watching it all from the sidelines in a steadily increasing state of confusion is Roger’s wife Rose, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who’s just trying to take a Florida vacation.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about this fine comedy it’s because just as it was about to be released The Maiden Heist, ran into a sea of troubles. Despite being able to boast a cast of three Oscar winners with Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden, as well as an Oscar nominee in William H. Macy, The Maiden Heist, fell prey to the 2008 economic downturn and never received its originally intended theatrical release. Financed by producer Bob Yari—one of the producers behind the Best Picture Oscar-winner Crash in 2004—Yari’s distribution company went bankrupt soon after its successful world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the American economy entered the treacherous ups and downs of the 2008 recession. The hedge funds that the film’s producers had been counting on to generate the backing for the $20 million marketing campaign quickly evaporated. And with the film’s DVD and Pay-TV rights already pre-sold, there was little hope of another theatrical distributor picking up the movie. Languishing without a clear path forward for several months, the film was finally released on DVD in May 2009.

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