The Film Adaptation of “Persuasion” [1971]

MV5BMjU0NDQ1OTMzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjczODUyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_This adaptation of Persuasion was an ITV/Granada mini-series, directed and produced by Howard Baker, with a screenplay by Julian Mitchell. The cast included…
Anne Firbank……………..Anne Elliot
Bryan Marshall……………Captain Frederick Wentworth
Basil Dignam …………….Sir Walter Elliot
Valerie Gearon …………….Elizabeth Elliot
Marian Spencer……………Lady Russell
Georgine Anderson………Mrs. Croft
Richard Vernon …………..Admiral Croft
Morag Hood………………..Mary Elliot Musgrove
David Savile ……………….Mr. William Elliot
Mel Martin………………….Henrietta Musgrove
Zhivila Roche………………Louisa Musgrove

Unknown-3This version stayed very close to the original story line. “Dramatic license” is minimal. Ms. Firbank, who plays Anne Elliot, has had a long acting career, especially in television. Ann Firbank was born on January 9, 1933, in Secunderabad, Andhra, India. She is an actress, known for Anna and the King (1999), A Passage to India (1984) and The Servant (1963). (imdb) She was seen most recently in the 2014 version of The Crucible as Rebecca Nurse (along with the very handsome Richard Armitage). In this version of Austen’s novel, the viewer sees very little change in the “looks” of Miss Anne. Firbank is seen as the well dressed daughter of a baronet. Her dresses/gowns are more colorful while she is in Bath, but there is no view of Anne Elliot being in her decline. Nothing is done to show Anne Elliot with a loss of her “bloom.” We hear the Lady Russell character say “You were very attractive then,” in reference to when Anne turned down the proposal of Charles Musgrove. The thing with Firbank’s portrayal is there is little sympathy for Anne’s situation. The viewer does not experience the despair that Anne suffers for her poor choice. She is just “ho-hum” in the portrayal. 

imagesBryan Marshall is Captain Wentworth in this TV version. Marshall, too, has had a storied television career. Bryan studied drama at RADA and soon made an impression on TV in the footballing drama “United” and on film working for Hammer studios in “Quatermass And The Pit” and “The Witches.” Perhaps his most major film role is the duplicitous Councillor Harris in “The Long Good Friday.” (imdb)

The Costume Designer (Esther Dean) for this series dresses Marshall in Regency wear for a gentleman, but not in the garb of a captain in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. In fact, this adaptation dresses all the men very much the same. It makes no effort to delineate between the social classes of the Elliots, the Musgroves, the Harvilles, or Captain Benwick. Although Austen never tells the reader of Wentworth’s back story, we assume in the story that Wentworth had a “gentleman’s” education for his brother Edward is a curate, having studied to take his orders. But can we say the same of Harville and Benwick (who is a great reader)? Needless to say, Mr. Charles Musgrove (both elder and junior) are country squires [in the vein of Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice]. They are not of the same social class as Sir Walter Elliot [a baronet]. Moreover, Sir Walter would die of shame if he discovered Wentworth [a man he refused earlier for being unworthy] was equally as well dressed as he. One of the “joys” of Austen’s Persuasion is that we see more of the so-called lower gentry and the working class than we did in many of her previous tales.

-Persuasion-1971-persuasion-21454503-1024-768Another striking difference to the 1995 film is the treatment of the Musgroves. The elder couple [William Kendall and Noel Dyson] are shown to be jovial and kind. Their house is very orderly and spanky clean, as opposed to the one we see in the 1995 version. Even the Uppercross Cottage is well furnished, with elegant pieces displayed about the room. When Anne visits the Musgroves, Charles and a maid must carry off Charles and Mary’s two boys, which provides Mrs. Musgrove the opportunity to speak to Anne about Mary’s poor parenting skills. Earlier, Mary makes the same complaint to Anne about Charles spoiling his sons and how Mrs. Musgrove feeds the boys too many sweets [Sugar High, anyone?].  In the 1971 version, we do have a scene from the book but omitted from the 1995 film: That is the one where Captain Wentworth speaks to Mrs. Musgrove about the service of her rascal son, Richard “Dick” Musgrove. 

Morag Hood portrays Mary Musgrove quite differently from Sophie Thompson’s portrayal in 1995. Hood emphasizes the state of her health concerns, her complaints about her husband Charles’ inattention, and the elder Musgroves’ slights to her status as the Uppercross’s future mistress. All the while, Hood is well-dressed and slender and attractive, as opposed to Thompson’s rather dowdy look. 

Henrietta Musgrove (Mel Martin) is seen more in the vein of the novel in this adaptation: The girl cannot make her mind whether she prefers Charles Hayter or Captain Wentworth. The viewer sees Henrietta absent-mindedly leaving Hayter in mid sentence to rush to the window to view Wentworth’s approaching the manor house. Louisa Musgrove (Zhivilar Roche), on the other hand, is willful and impetuous, just as the book describes her, but she comes off as grating. Many find her so irritating that they wonder why Wentworth would even look twice at her as a possible mate.  David Savile portrays Mr. Elliot in striking contrast to Captain Wentworth. Elliot possesses a fine countenance and excellent manners. 

The 1971 version is similar in the way Wentworth overhears Anne speaking of whether men or women love longest. Afterwards, Wentworth encounters Anne on the street and she takes his arm. As they walk along they speak of the frustration of coming together again, their many misconstructions, jealousy, etc. He admits, “I never loved anyone but you, Anne.” The scene ends with their walking slowly across a lawn. 

A series of summary scenes end the adaptation. Anne tells Lady Russell that she loves Frederick. Elizabeth Elliot looks for Mrs. Clay only to learn from Colonel Wallis that Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay escaped in a waiting coach for London. The scene where Wentworth tells Anne that he will make an effort to forgive Lady Russell’s previous interference in their lives, and he assumes the blame for now returning to Anne sooner. Anne admits that if he had returned earlier, she would have left with him. They kiss slowly twice, but in contrast to the 1995 film, they are not on a public street when this happens. Wentworth’s last speech is… “I shave have to put up with being far happier than I deserve,” which is close to the actual speech in the novel. 001ctk85 says of this television version, “Filmed in 1971, Persuasion was the first of the “old” BBC Austen films (though by no means the BBC’s first Austen adaptation, it is the first available on film.) The script, written by Julian Mitchell (Elizabeth R, Inspector Morse) is at times almost painfully true to the book, while at others, as in the case of “The Letter,” it deviates most jarringly. Directed by Howard Baker (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1986) it contains many scenes cut from the later version (Mrs. Smith’s account of Mr. Elliot’s perfidy, Mr. Elliot’s elopement, “Poor Dick”) and a few invented ones. With a run time of nearly four hours, this film certainly has the time to develop the story and characters that most modern adaptations lack.

“Persuasion1 (or P1 as it is known to fans) may be one of the most controversial films in Austen history. Those who love it do so unabashed- those who don’t are perhaps even more vocal. There are many reasons this film is disparaged. Many complain about the obviously ‘60’s inspired hairstyles(“…what is it about Anne’s hair?! It gives new meaning to the term “Big Hair!”*)Ann Firbank and costume color choices- a few of the orange and green combinations are quite distracting. (Has a period film ever been so dated?) Some find the characters personally irritating (“…don’t you wonder how ANYONE could even consider this Louisa Musgrove as a possible wife? She is by far the most annoying character I’ve come across in any Austen adaptation.*) One author even complained about the use of scenes where “Anne is forced to confide her secrets in Lady Russell . . . in order to make her feelings clear to the audience.” Most criticism, however, stems from how they handled the last few scenes. Interestingly Sony’s 1995 version repeated the same mistakes.”


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in acting, British history, film adaptations, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Regency era and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Film Adaptation of “Persuasion” [1971]

  1. When I think of Persuasion adaptations, the 1971 version is the one I think of first since my father played Admiral Croft!

  2. carolcork says:

    I remember watching this adaptation and I was only 24 years old at the time!

  3. suzanlauder says:

    Anne wears a plaid gown near the end, and I had a pair of brown plaid baggies at about the same time!

  4. Susan Kaye says:

    I have this adaptation and don’t watch it. Louisa Musgrove is so annoying that I wanted a scene in which everyone gathered at the top of the Cobb and each pushed her off, a la “Who Shot J. R.” of Dallas fame. Though, the Gravel Walk scene with Bryan Marshall is good.

  5. Robin Helm says:

    I agree, Sue. I bought this version in a collection of Austen film adaptations, but I’ve watched it only once or twice. Anne is too old for me.

  6. Sophia Rose says:

    This is not my favorite adaption of Persuasion, but it is the one I think if as far as closest to the book. Nice rundown, Regina!

  7. Hilda says:

    I love th 71 version because it does stick more aptly to the original story line. After all, why would you watch it in the first place? I do agree that Louisa is portrayed in an annoying manner but I think many fail to take in to accout that she was a “teenager” as we would call her now and everyone knows how silly a teen can be. I certainly know I was pretty silly in those years. Now I will confess that I have not read the complete book. However I have ordered the complete works of Jane Austen. I wish it was mandatory reading in schools today. It is quite obvious we have forgotten the more pious way of life when such things as chastity was a virtue.

    • As a student of media literacy, I love to study films and why directors make certain choices. My preference remains the 1995 version of “Persuasion,” but I find the 1971 version very satisfying.

  8. Pingback: Persuasion, di Jane Austen ovvero le varianti di Wentworth | La lettrice pigra

  9. I have this on DVD as part of a collection of Austen film adaptations I bought a few years ago. I enjoy this version even though I think the actress who played Ann seems a little older than I thought Ann would be. Still, it’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. Thanks for all the details in this post; you make me want to watch it again!

  10. JanisB says:

    I own this version and have watched it once. Wasn’t particularly impressed with it — too much of a 70s look about it. I recently watched the version with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, and except for Rupert Whatever his name is who makes a much handsomer Wentworth in the later version I think that is the best version. Might just watch this again to catch all the nuances you’ve brought out.

    • The Amanda Root/Ciarán Hinds version remains my favorite. Although Rupert Penry-Jones is very easy on the eyes, he does not have the look of a man who spent time at sea. (Geez! I sound like Sir Walter Elliot!) As much as I adore Sally Hawkins, that whole running up and down the Royal Crescent scene in Bath was ridiculous. Women running and kissing in public!!! LOL! My students always laughed at the slow motion kiss scene. They would describe it as the baby bird with its mouth open waiting for the fishing worm from the papa bird. I do like the short scene as Wentworth and Harville are walking along the swale in Lyme, with the waves splashing around them. The information the men share is a turning point in Austen’s story overlooked by the 1995 script.

  11. nmayer2015 says:

    Thanks for telling me about this version. I didn’t know it existed. I don’t watch many movies but do have some of the others on DVD. Making Louisa annoying or giving Anne big hair ( have you seen pictures of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire? Talk about big hair!!) is a minor fault if the film sticks closer to the book.
    Almost all of the films have a look of the time the movie was made and not of the time depicted though the Victorian Pride and Prejudice is most famous for being out of either the period of the book or that of the making of the film.

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