In describing Persuasion in his script’s introduction, Nick Dear said, “The story essentially describes an old order fading away into decadence, and a new tribe, a meritocracy, coming to the fore.” Persuasion has seen four renderings. The first was presented on four consecutive weeks from December 30, 1960, to January 20, 1961. Daphne Slater, who incidentally portrayed Elizabeth Bennet in 1952’s Pride and Prejudice, played Anne Elliot, while Paul Daneman took on the role of Frederick Wentworth. ITV presented the second adaptation in five parts from April 18 to May 16, 1971. This adaptation starred Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall in the main roles. In April 1995, BBC-2 presented the third rendering. This one was later released to theatres. It brought us Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. In 2007, Rupert Penry Jones and Sally Hawkins took on the parts of Anne and Wentworth. As cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels go, the 1995 version of Persuasion has kept its critics at bay. For me, it is by far the superior film. In 2009, when I wrote Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, it was Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds that I saw in my mind’s eye as the book’s characters.
So, these are a hodge podge of my ramblings on this particular film adaptation. I would love to hear your own thoughts on this one, as well as any comments on the other versions of Persuasion. This is, after all, a movie discussion.
*In the 1971 version, Ann Firbank is always perfectly dressed, but Nick Dear wanted Root’s portrayal to show Anne’s movement from “dowdy” to “blossoming.” It amazes me that some wanted a more more glamorous actress to play Anne. At the time (and even now), I thought Amanda Root the perfect choice.
*Anne is portrayed as a “servant,” creating sympathy for her character. At Uppercross, she picks up toys and tends to the injured Little Charles. At Kellynch Hall, it is Anne who holds the keys to the house, very much as a housekeeper might. She catalogues the house’s belongings.
*Roger Michell uses several close ups of Anne, but they often off center. This makes the viewer see her as out of sync with her family.
*We never see Sir Walter in a natural setting, whereas Wentworth and Croft are.
*There is a sharp contrast between the sterile Kellynch Hall and the welcoming “home” of the Musgroves.
*Nick Dear creates a “caustic” Elizabeth Elliot, as she sprawls on her chair, laughs too loudly, and talks with her mouth full. This is one area that is often criticized in the film. This Elizabeth Elliot is less “ladylike” than the one presented by Austen.
*When Anne travels to Uppercross, she is deglamorized by riding with a pig and a goose in the open cart.
*Like we noted previously with Colin Firth’s character, Root is often shown staring out windows, essentially distancing herself from the others. She is preoccupied and uncomfortable.
*The scene where creditors crowd around Mr. Shepherd creates a sense of chaos. This is achieved through hand held tracking shots and a swish pan. Usually movement indicates strength and vitality, but not in this case.
*Besides establishing the historical context of the film, the “invented” opening sequence with Admiral Croft and the sailors rowing in unison is a powerful contrast to the indolence shown by Sir Walter at Kellynch Hall.
*The characters remain seated at Kellynch. There is no movement. It is a “dying” culture.
We see the same “staleness” in the Elliots’ Bath residence. Hand held tracking shots show them lounging on chaises longues.
*Nick Dear describes the scene where Anne, dressed in white and sitting among the sheet-covered furniture at Kellynch, as a “shroud for a dead house.”
*In the Kellynch dining room, the vast, over-decorated table dwarfs the Elliots.
The ship’s ward room is small, dark, and smoky, and it is filled with action-filled officers. A single, tight circling shot relays the cohesiveness of the group. This is in contrast to the previous dining room scene. The ward room’s table is covered with various hats all tossed together, indicating the group’s solidarity. Sir Walter’s table holds the iced-swan sculpture.
*A lack of real substance is shown in Lady Dalrymple’s caked on makeup and the use of backlighting.
*Only a “letter folded up into a paper boat” and concealed inside a copy of “the Navy List, 1806” elicits any emotional response from Anne while she is at Kellynch.
*The sun lights Anne’s face for the first time when she arrives at Uppercross.
*The swiftly moving paper boats are bringing Anne to her future. These boats are made for the children by Admiral Croft, a direct connection to Wenworth.
*The high angle swish pan shot of Wentworth’s desperate attempt to catch Louisa indicates his being out of step on land.
*Wentworth is separated from Anne by a table and three seated figures when she looks out the window for Mr. Elliot. There is a “gulf” between them.
*Nick Dear’s Anne is more assertive than the one in Austen’s novels. This plays to the more modern female viewer. She chases Wentworth from the concert room, sharply answers her father’s criticsm of Mrs. Smith, blocks Wentworth’s path in the Octagon Room, snipes at both Lady Russell and Wentworth when they question her marrying Mr. Elliot, and accepts Wentworth’s kiss on the the crowded street.
*We have a shot of Anne looking backwards at Kellynch. This leads to a lengthy pan shot bringing Uppercross into view. Austen does not give us the feeling of Kellynch being the past. This scene does.
*The camera shot of Anne’s face at Uppercross Cottage shows her pensiveness. We see her only in the cloudy mirror. This indicates her isolation.
*To show her leanness and her desperation, Anne is seen early on in loose-fitting dresses and large cloaks. In Bath, Anne wears form-fitting pelisses and spencers.
*In the 1971 version, Bryan Marshall wears Regency civilian wear, but Ciarán Hinds portrays the rugged, self-made man in his naval attire.
*William Elliot’s character is more villainous than the Austen version.
*This adaptation uses pieces of both of Austen’s endings for the novel.
*The kissing scene is sometimes criticized, but it summarizes a chapter of reflection from Austen’s novel. It shows the “lovers” making their own way in life. Their hands are clasped. (BTW, in the 1971 version, Anne and Wentworth kiss twice, but it is indoors.)
*The final scene was filmed at Portsmouth on the HMS Victory.
*The last shot of a ship silhouetted against a sunset is actually taken from the 1984 film, The Bounty.