Director: Roger Michell; Screenplay: Nick Dear
Although I have seen the other version of Austen’s “Persuasion,” this one is my favorite. It certainly is not the pretty heritage film common to the genre. The scenes are grittier and more life like. Nick Dear uses candles for lighting, which provides the viewer a sense of being within the scene with the actors. In this version, we are well aware that Anne Elliot “has lost her bloom.” Amanda Root goes through a change of appearance in the film, from dowdy to attractive.
Nick Dear’s notes on the screenplay indicate that the character of Anne Elliot will be less well dressed than the rest of her family, especially Elizabeth and Sir Walter, who preen throughout the action. Through the first third of the film, the viewer sees Anne as do the Musgroves, the Elliots and Captain Wentworth: She became an “old maid.” Her plain clothing choices, strict undo, meek behavior among her immediate family, and the solemn expression upon her countenance name Anne as hopeless. Anne wears loosely fit clothing and over large capes, indicating she wishes to fade into the wallpaper. At Kellynch, Anne is little more than a housekeeper. We see this because it is Anne who is in charge of the keys and the organization of the house while her father and Elizabeth retrench in Bath. At Uppercross, Anne is relegated to pianist while the others enjoy the evening with dance, and it is Anne who tends Mary’s children.
Anne’s life is very small. She looks out the window upon the others participating in life. She remains alone in her rooms at Uppercross while the rest of the family shares in Wentworth’s arrival. The scene is quite poignant. Anne stares at her reflection in the mirror. The camera is behind her, and the viewer sees her introspective expression in the mirror. Anne realizes she has nothing to tempt Wentworth’s return to her side.
The journey to Lyme brings a change to Anne’s countenance and her confidence. She encounters William Elliot for the first time, and Captain Benwick’s attentions go a long way in bolstering Anne’s self worth. They also go a long way in igniting Wentworth’s jealousy. The captain disapproves of Benwick reciting poetry to Anne, and Wentworth takes note of William Elliot’s notice of Anne on the steps from the beach. We observe the suppressed emotions on Ciarán Hinds’ countenance in the role of Captain Wentworth.
By the time Anne travels to Bath, she is transformed. There is more sophistication, and her stature no longer is one of meekness. Her clothes are more closely fitted, and there is a bit of color to her cheeks. At the concert in Bath, Anne hopes to express her resolve to have Wentworth if he would simply accept her overtures. We see her break with propriety by chasing Wentworth from the concert hall when he means to leave in a jealous huff. Her desire to prevent his leaving indicates Anne’s desire to reunite with Wentworth. His brusque reply to Anne’s entreaty displays his lack of control when observing William Elliot court Anne. Michell’s use of a circulating camera adds to the chaos of Anne’s desperation and emphasizes Wentworth’s desire to plant Mr. Elliot a facer. Wentworth’s pride and uncertainty causes him to lash out at Anne. He knows he still loves her, and he cannot tolerate another rejection. Moreover, Wentworth wonders if Anne is still under the influence of her godmother, Lady Russell.
One of the differences in this film adaptation is there is no voice over narrator, as with the makings of Mansfield Park or Emma. The director, Roger Michell, used the camera to convey the strong emotions bombarding Wentworth and Anne. Please note how seamlessly this occurs. At the first meeting between Anne and Wentworth, she utters but two words, “Captain Wentworth.” She grips the back of the chair to steady her composure. Michell directs the camera to take a close up of Anne’s face to clock her discomfiture and then to pan to her white knuckled fingers on the chair. Without words or elaborate staging, the viewer recognizes Anne’s anguish at seeing her dreams vanish before her eyes.
When the Uppercross party walks to Winthrop, we again see Anne’s extreme discomfort when Wentworth warns Louisa Musgrove to stick to her decisions. The one man Anne always adored expresses her most unforgivable sin: permitting others to define her happiness. When Wentworth is the only one to note how Anne struggles on the long walk, it does Anne well to know he does not wish her harm. There is a close up on Wentworth’s hand on her waist as he assists her in the gig with his sister and Admiral Croft. Yet, even with the kindness, Wentworth turns away from her gaze when Anne looks back to him. He is saying, “I will not see you suffer, but I mean to have none of you.”
There is a slight break from the novel. In “Persuasion,” Wentworth tells his sister that “anyone between fifteen and thirty may have him for the asking,” but in the film Sophia Croft says these words to Anne. It is a reminder to Anne that Wentworth is likely to choose one of the Musgrove sisters. In the novel, Wentworth’s words indicate that he knows his duty as a gentleman, but deciding on another is not so easy. Anne Elliot is the woman by whom he judges all other. Despite his best efforts to overcome Anne’s supposed betrayal, Wentworth knows the Musgroves cannot hold a candle to Anne.
Michell chose to present Hinds in naval garb rather than Regency civilian clothing worn by Bryan Marshall in the 1971 film. Hinds is also not the “pretty boy” we find other adaptations of Austen’s works. He has the rugged look of a man who spent his time at sea. We view Wentworth’s command as he leads his little party through Lyme and upon the Cobb. Yet, we also see him as “a fish out of water” in his interactions with Anne. He acts out of pettiness when he treats Anne coldly and when he accepts the adulation of the Musgrove sisters to prove Anne “missed out on a good thing.”
This is one of my favourite Austen film adaptations as well. I still remember seeing it at the theater! Be still, my foolish heart. Captain Wentworth, since that time, has become my favourite Austen hero. I still remember the letter scene at the end. Swoon. Let everyone else have Darcy.
I am a Darcy girl, but Wentworth is only a half step behind. When I was still teaching, my AP class was third block, which meant I had the class for an hour, they went to lunch, and came back to me for another half hour. I would always time the reading of Wentworth’s letter so it would come right as the bell rang for lunch. The girls would be leaving with that goofy smile all teenage girls sport when they think of “love,” and the boys would leave scratching their heads trying to figure what just happened to the girls. I would just stand and smile at the transformations. It was quite telling.
Thanks for a great review Regina. I enjoyed it. I agree this adaptation does capture the emotions of Persuasion much better than the newer version with RPJ. I feel that in seeing Captain Wentworth again in her older years, Anne really does acknowledge to herself that she has possibly missed an opportunity for a contented life with the man she cares deeply for. But what I admire most is she also remains dignified. Of course Ciaran is no pretty boy. But his passion, emotions and devotion are so well portrayed that he becomes quite handsome. I look forward to the next installment.
Hinds has the rugged look of a man long at sea, and I agree: He does become handsomer as the film progresses. I had seen him as Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, and I did not take well to him, but after this film, I rewatched the Jane Eyre performance and found it more satisfying.
This was the first version of Persuasion I ever saw and is still my favorite. I like the scene at Uppercross where Mary, Charles and the Musgroves are all complaining to Anne and she just sits there patiently listening (makes me think she would be a good friend to have). Amanda Root does an excellent job in showing Anne’s feelings with just a look. I’m looking forward to reading part II.
The scene you describe is adorably staged. Nick Dear took a long passage and made it a comical scene that still conveyed the message.
I agree, Regina. This is a wonderful adaptation, and very true to the book. I enjoy the later version because Rupert Penry-Jones is such a handsome Wentworth, but I realize his modern hairdo does not represent the Austen character very well. I think Amanda Root and Cieran Hinds set the standards for Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
RPJ is great eye candy, Robin. I do like the scene in the newer version where Harville suggests that Wentworth go stay with his brother – out of sight, out of mind for Louisa Musgrove and all that. However, the Crofts and Mary Musgrove and the elder Musgroves in the 1995 version set the scene for the “nonsense” which is Wentworth’s courtship of Louisa. Ciáran Hinds and Amanda Root are perfect together.
This one is my favorite version. I never did such a thorough examination of the differences etc but basically I agree with most of you just mentioned.
I enjoyed the 1971 version for it does stay close to the book in dialogue, but not necessarily in costuming, setting, etc.
I first saw this film when I was 15. I remember falling in love with it and watching it over and over again. I loved Cieran Hinds as Captain Wentworth. My favorite part is when he’s writing the letter at the end. It’s moving and touching and romantic. I just love this movie. So well done. It will always be one of my favorite Austen film adaptations. ❤
Very well said, Kirsten.
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What a great discussion, Regina. You pointed out all sorts of things that explain to my why I like this version of Persuasion so much. I do have one question which I will have to examine by going back to the movie and the novel. I had always thought that Captain Wentworth was appreciative and impressed with Anne helping Benwick with his grief. I had not been aware that Wentworth was jealous of Captain Benwick’s attentions to Anne.
Thank you for your great writing on this film adaptation. The 1995 film is also my favorite, as well.
I certainly appreciate your joining me on this one, Linda.
This film version of an Austen book is one of the better ones made. I also like the casting very much. We are discussing the novel at our local Jane Austen meetings ( Atlanta) . We had a lively discussion about Anne’s refusing to marry him when she was 19. Some thought the meeting again went by with little emotion but when a member challenged that assertion, we read the paragraph– indirect discourse, broken sentences– strong emotion. In the film this is shown( as you mentioned) by Anne’s fingers turning white as she gripped the back of the chair. As for Wentworth=– I do like Hinds in the role and I do like a man in uniform. As far as simmering emotion, Wentworth beats Darcy by a long shot. Though to do Darcy credit, Austen usually makes the heroes be the silent type who don’t go around expressing emotion. They are not flatters nor ones who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Flatterers are usually scoundrels.
I have mentioned this previously, but when I still taught school, the girls in my AP class often took the silly teenage boys over the coals after reading Wentworth’s letter. They will sigh in unison, and when the boys said they “did not get it,” they would follow them to lunch and explain it to them in detail. I wish I could have felt sorry for the males, but I admit I secretly cheered the girls on.
Regina, I just re-read “Persuasion” and also just watched the 1995 movie again. I agree w/your comments. It’s my favorite of the two I’ve seen. I think the screenplay does a terrific job of capturing the best of the novel while using film to its best. I get the feeling Dear made a list of the best lines from the novel and made sure he worked them in somewhere. The line that Sophia says instead of Wentworth was probably one of economy, to avoid another scene w/Hinds just for that one great comment. I also liked how Dear sneaked in the bit from the canceled chapter in which Wentworth is dispatched by Admiral Croft to find out whether Anne will want to live at Kellynch; i.e., whether she will marry Mr. Elliot. It comes across as contrived in the novel, which is why JA threw it out. But here, in a different setting, it gives Wentworth five seconds to tell Lady R what he thinks of her, which chance he (sadly) does not get in the novel.
I love your motive for the Lady Russell scene with Wentworth. I had not considered the scene in those terms.