“Persuasion is a 1995 period drama film directed by Roger Michell and baed on Jane Austen’s 1817 novel of the same name. In her theatrical film debut, the British actress Amanda Root stars as protagonist Anne Elliot, while Ciarán Hinds plays her romantic interest, Captain Frederick Wentworth. The film is set in 19th century England, nine years after Anne was persuaded by others to reject Wentworth’s proposal of marriage. Persuasion follows the two as they become reacquainted with each other, while supporting characters threaten to interfere.
“The film was adapted by the writer Nick Dear, who considered the story maturer than Austen’s other novels. He characterised it as one of realism and truthfulness, particularly in telling the story of two people separated and then reunited. As Austen’s narrative style conveys Anne’s thoughts internally, Dear and Root felt compelled to translate the character’s emotions using comparatively little dialogue. Persuasion was shot in chronological order, allowing the actress to portray Anne’s development from being downtrodden to happy and blossoming.” (Persuasion 1995 film)
To view part I of this analysis of “Persuasion” (1995), please look HERE.
Last time, we looked at the main characters of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. This time, we will explore how the minor characters were portrayed in the film.
Let us begin with Admiral Croft (John Woodvine). Like Wentworth, Benwick, and Harville, this naval man is often seen in natural settings. We even view the admiral onboard ship at the beginning of the film. He is one of the most affable characters in the story line. One imagines the admiral to be honest and forthcoming. Croft displays a wry sense of humor when he jokes with Anne about how quickly Wentworth recovers from the “broken engagement” with Louisa Musgrove. His easy going nature is indispensable in handling the undisciplined Musgrove boys. Unlike other married couples displayed in Austen’s novels, in the Crofts we find a pair who complement each other and display affection.
Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave), as portrayed in Austen’s book, is a more than a bit self-indulgent. In the 1995 film adaptation, the viewer meets a man immaculately dressed. His knee breeches and cutaway coat are made of the finest fabric. Even when seen at home, Sir Walter is the picture of the perfect “dandy.” He admires himself in mirrors and window reflections. Redgrave’s antics reveal Sir Walter as one of Austen’s finest comic characters. Sir Walter, like many of Austen’s patriarchs and matriarchs, cannot claim a bit of fatherly admiration.
Elizabeth Elliot is portrayed by Phoebe Nicholls in this adaptation. This is one situation in which the screenwriter erred. Nicholls plays Elizabeth as less than ladylike. She sprawls upon the furniture. Stuffs her face with delicacies. Laughs too loud. Elizabeth cruelly insults Anne by saying “No one will want you in Bath, I am sure you had better stay here.” A woman of Elizabeth Elliot’s station (especially one with Sir Walter as her father) would not be so crass in her actions and her speech. Nick Dear’s chooses to portray Elizabeth in a manner that no one will hold sympathy for her when she is left without prospects at the end of the film.
The Musgroves dote upon their children, especially the eldest son Charles. Even though they do not approve of Mary Musgroves “complaints of ill health,” they welcome their daughter in marriage to their home. They treat Louisa and Henrietta with great affection and do what they can to permit the girls to marry where their hearts are rather than to force a marriage of convenience upon them. This attitude is in sharp contrast to Sir Walter’s neglect of Anne (and of Mary to a certain extent). Sir Walter does not think Wentworth’s position in the Navy is worthy of the Elliot family. “I strongly object to the Navy. It brings people of obscure birth into undue distinction and it cuts up a man’s youth and vigor most horribly!”
Charles and Mary Musgroves’ children are seen as mischievous and not very likable. They are demanding of Anne’s attentions, to the point of jumping upon her back. Mary Musgrove (Sophie Thompson) ignores her children. Snobbish as is her father, she thins of the Musgroves as “farmers.” She only married Charles Musgrove because he will inherit the Musgrove fortune, and Charles will be the second most important person in the neighborhood (behind her father, Sir Walter). For her bit of the attention, Mary is a hypochondriac. Her manners are demanding and self-indulgent. Our first glimpse of Mary is of her looking out of the window for Anne’s arrival. As soon as Mary spots Anne, she lies down and pretends to be ill.
Mary Musgrove: Anne, why could you not have come sooner?
Anne Elliot: My dear Mary, I really have had so much to do.
Mary Musgrove: Do? What can you possibly have had to do?
Anne Elliot: A great many things I assure you.
Mary Musgrove: Well. Dear me.
The younger Musgroves reside in a “farmhouse” sporting messy rooms and sloppy care of the servants. This is to add to the portrayal of Mary Musgrove as the inferior daughter of the Elliot family. We can only predict that Mary will prove a poor mistress of the manor when she and Charles move into the great house upon the elder Musgrove’s passing. In the novel, the converted farmhouse was to have been thoroughly renovated into Uppercross cottage.
Charles Musgrove (Simon Russell Beale) is shown as a great outdoorsman. He is customarily dressed for hunting. One must wonder if he spends so much time from his home because he holds no idea how to deal with his wife’s constant need for attention. He has the personality of his parents. Charles Musgrove is unpretentious. In this depiction we see quite clearly what Louisa Musgrove means when she tells Wentworth that the family would have preferred for Charles to marry Anne.
In this adaptation Mrs. Musgrove (Judy Cornwell) and Mr. Musgrove (Roger Hammond) come across as happy and accommodating. Their home is NOT so properly arranged. Theirs is a country manor house, one appropriate for country squire. It appears “lived in.” The 1995 version of the novel does not address the musings of Mrs. Musgrove over her scapegrace son, Dick Musgrove. In the novel we learn of Anne’s observations that “Captain Wentworth should be allowed some credit for the self-command with which he attended to her [Mrs. Musgrove’s] large fat sighings over the destiny of a son whom alive nobody had cared for.” As two of Austen’s brothers spent time at sea, Jane Austen likely hear more than one tale of a wayward rascal who thought to earn his fortune at the hands of the French navy.
Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove hold an infatuation with Wentworth. Louisa is the outspoken one, while Henrietta is less sure of herself. Although Wentworth encouraged Louisa’s flirtations to spite Anne’s earlier refusal of his hand, he refers to Louisa’s jump from the Cobb as “Damned foolish!“
A sense of real life is created by showing these characters as dusty and even muddy as they walk through the countryside or ride a horse. They often appear disheveled. The Harvilles reside in cramped quarters in Lyme. There is barely room for them Uppercross party at the table.
Samuel West portrays William Elliot in this adaptation. In contrast to Wentworth’s seaworthy countenance, Mr. Elliot is “pretty.” His manners are too polished, and the audience knows immediately he lacks scruples. The character of William Elliot is seen as a “villain” in this adaptation. Not only has Mr. Elliot led Mrs. Smith’s husband into bankruptcy, but Elliot too lives beyond his means. The man wishes to marry Anne in order to secure the baronetcy. He also has an affair with Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay. This portrayal provides the audience an instant dislike for Mr. Elliot. The question is: Will Anne Elliot recognize Mr. Elliot’s manipulations before it is too late? Anne tells Lady Russell: My instinct tells me, he is charming and clever but I have seen no burst of feeling, warmth of fury. or delight. When Wentworth announces his betrothal to Anne at the card party, we see Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay exchanging a knowing glance that marks their speedy withdrawal to London.
Mr Elliot: Have you thought any more about my offer?
Anne: What offer was that?
Mr Elliot: My offer to flatter and adore you all the days of your life.
Anne: I haven’t had a moment, Mr Elliot, to turn my mind to it.
The card party at the end of the film sums up much of what we as viewers are yet to know. We learn that with Mr. Elliot’s attentions to Anne that Elizabeth thinks to lower her standards and accept Wentworth’s fortune. Elizabeth warns Anne not to monopolize Wentworth’s time. “When Captain Wentworth arrives you must not monopolise him. That’s a very bad habit of yours.” Lady Russell tells Anne to make a decision and hold fast. The indication is that Lady Russell thinks Anne should marry Mr. Elliot. Elliot asks Anne if she has thought more on his proposal.
When Wentworth and Harville enter, Wentworth wastes no time in informing Sir Walter that Anne accepted Wentworth’s proposal. He asks permission to set the date. As Anne is of age, Wentworth no longer requires Sir Walter’s permission to marry. The idea of setting the date is a mere formality. Sir Walter’s surprise is apparent, as is Elizabeth’s frustration.
Captain Wentworth: I come on business, Sir Walter.
Sir Walter Elliot: Business?
Captain Wentworth: Yes, my proposal of marriage to your daughter, Anne, has been accepted and I respectfully, sir, request permission to set a date.
Sir Walter Elliot: Anne? You want to marry Anne? Whatever for?