SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries by Emma Thompson, Bloomsbury pounds 16.99. At last: the book of the diary of the film of the romance that put paid to Ken Branagh. Thompson's script was five years in the writing: it is clearly an elegant piece of work which retains a faint, astringent flavour of the original but which zips along with cinematic aplomb. It is a pity that the scene in which grasping Fanny Dashwood persuades her husband to cut off his sisters, in defiance of his father's dying wish, has been chopped into bite-size chunks and interpolated with other scenes, but it's efficiently done and, well, that's the movies. Cut down Austen's delightfully caustic commentary and what's left is high-class romance: vigorous walks that end in dramatic falls or deadly chills, brothers who are mistaken for one another, sly husband-catchers, wicked relatives, and, that Austen speciality, narrative near-misses when the protagonists fail to impart vital information to one another, constrained by social niceties. Hugh Grant is perfect for this, of course, and he is Edward Ferrars, the eventual catch of Elinor Dashwood, played by Thompson (above).

Running alongside this workmanlike script is the actress's breathless diary, and though she sometimes sounds like the Head Girl, Thompson is a good deal more self-deprecating than an Oscar-winner and all-round talented egg has any right to be. Rarely can a cinematic diary have been so illuminating on the link between porridge and film-making. Nor so frank on the effects on the creative process of flatulence (from the porridge oats), PMT, hangovers, insomnia, ovulation, spots and thrush ("Luckily Kate had some live goat's yoghurt which I've applied with middling results"). Over it all looms the pissed-off presence of Alan Rickman (Colonel Brandon).

But the best fun to be had with the diary is totting up the references to Greg Wise (above), Thompson's new love interest. May 3: "Greg on for his first day. It's like having a colt in the make-up caravan." (The recurring equine theme is startling.) Ten days later: "Greg very energetic this morning." May 16: "Willoughby's [ie Greg Wise's] entrance through the mist on a white horse. We all swooned." Thompson evidently has pangs over the scene where Willoughby carries Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) in his arms: "Greg, to his great credit, didn't scream. The image of the man carrying the woman is horribly effective. Male strength - the desire to be cradled again? ... I'd love someone to pick me up and carry me off. Frightening." June 7 and the passion rises: "Elinor bumping into Willoughby feels good and exciting," she notes. June 20: "Willoughby is really the only male who springs out in three dimensions," she muses, and we wonder whether by this time Greg Wise wasn't springing out in three dimensions also.

Fans of Miss Thompson will study this narrative for the light it sheds on her bedroom habits, which involve aromatherapy oils, scoffing, being sick, fretting and waking at dawn. There is a reference to biting "all my pillows, one after another", but if you're curious to know whether this has anything to do with Mr Wise, you'll have to buy the book.

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