“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?
The only Elizabeth I’ve seen adapted that gets it right is Valerie Gearson in the 1971 version. She’s spot on with her perfect posture and exacting speech. While I cringe watching this version–Ann Firbank is painfully wrong in the part of Anne Elliot–it is faithful to the book and has a lot of scenes that most adaptors jettison for time.
Susan, I make similar points in my discussion of the 1971 adaptation, which goes live next Friday, August 21. Please come back and add to the discussion. I know you do so love this story line.
Concerning Elizabeth’s line about monopolizing Wentworth: how does she know Anne does this? And why would Elizabeth care? I once floated the idea that Elizabeth had become interested in FW for herself now that he’s rich and acceptable. I was shouted down by everybody on the message board. Not that Wentworth would have reciprocated, but I still think there’s a case to be made for the notion.
I used something similar in one of my books, Susan. Is it in the book that the others make a “big deal” of Elizabeth delivering the invitation to the card party for Wentworth personally or is it in one of the film adaptations? They hint that Elizabeth has an interest in FW because Anne is expected to marry Mr. Elliot. Ah, I found it… Chapter 22 of the novel:
“Oh! no. The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player.”
“You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes.”
“I am not yet so much changed,” cried Anne, and stopped, fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction. After waiting a few moments he said, and as if it were the result of immediate feeling, “It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period!”
Whether he would have proceeded farther was left to Anne’s imagination to ponder over in a calmer hour; for while still hearing the sounds he had uttered, she was startled to other subjects by Henrietta, eager to make use of the present leisure for getting out, and calling on her companions to lose no time, lest somebody else should come in.
They were obliged to move. Anne talked of being perfectly ready, and tried to look it; but she felt that could Henrietta have known the regret and reluctance of her heart in quitting that chair, in preparing to quit the room, she would have found, in all her own sensations for her cousin, in the very security of his affection, wherewith to pity her.
Their preparations, however, were stopped short. Alarming sounds were heard; other visitors approached, and the door was thrown open for Sir Walter and Miss Elliot, whose entrance seemed to give a general chill. Anne felt an instant oppression, and wherever she looked saw symptoms of the same. The comfort, the freedom, the gaiety of the room was over, hushed into cold composure, determined silence, or insipid talk, to meet the heartless elegance of her father and sister. How mortifying to feel that it was so!
Her jealous eye was satisfied in one particular. Captain Wentworth was acknowledged again by each, by Elizabeth more graciously than before. She even addressed him once, and looked at him more than once. Elizabeth was, in fact, revolving a great measure. The sequel explained it. After the waste of a few minutes in saying the proper nothings, she began to give the invitation which was to comprise all the remaining dues of the Musgroves. “To-morrow evening, to meet a few friends: no formal party.” It was all said very gracefully, and the cards with which she had provided herself, the Miss Elliot at home,” were laid on the table, with a courteous, comprehensive smile to all, and one smile and one card more decidedly for Captain Wentworth. The truth was, that Elizabeth had been long enough in Bath to understand the importance of a man of such an air and appearance as his. The past was nothing. The present was that Captain Wentworth would move about well in her drawing-room. The card was pointedly given, and Sir Walter and Elizabeth arose and disappeared.
The interruption had been short though severe, and ease and animation returned to most of those they left as the door shut them out, but not to Anne. She could think only of the invitation she had with such astonishment witnessed, and of the manner in which it had been received: a manner of doubtful meaning, of surprise rather than gratification, of polite acknowledgment rather than acceptance. She knew him: she saw disdain in his eyes, and could not venture to believe that he had determined to accept such an offering as atonement for all the insolence of the past. Her spirits sank. He held the card in his hand after they were gone, as if deeply considering it.
“Only think of Elizabeth’s including everybody!” whispered Mary very audibly. “I do not wonder Captain Wentworth is delighted! You see he cannot put the card out of his hand.”
Anne caught his eye, saw his cheeks glow, and his mouth form itself into a momentary expression of contempt, and turned away, that she might neither see nor hear more to vex her.
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I never understood the connection between Elizabeth, Mrs Clay and Mr Elliot. I was actually wondering if Elizabeth was a lesbian. Why did she want Mrs Clay of all people around so much? Was she the only one who would stand Elizabeth’s behavior, while getting closer to Sir Walter in hopes to marry and birth an heir? Would Elizabeth want her friend to actually marry her father? Why did Elizabeth spend many hours at her dressing table when Mr Elliot was expected? Lady Russell laughed at the idea that Elizabeth was interested in Mr Elliot. I thought – Okay, Lady Russell is laughing because it’s clear to her that Elizabeth is gay and Anne is just too naive to see it. Too confusing. Thank you for posting the part of the book that shows Elizabeth’s interest in the newly rich Captain Wentworth. I did not pick up anything like that from the 1995 movie. Like I said, the dynamic of the three is still very confusing to me. And Mr Elliot had an affair with Mrs Clay also? Did they have a bet to see who would get control of Kellynch Hall first? If Mrs Clay had a child with Sir Walter was Mr Elliot going to stop by continually and “have it off” with Mrs Clay in some dark room? Wouldn’t someone have noticed that eventually?
First, it was common place for unmarried women to travel with a companion. In fact, it would not be unheard of for a newly married couple to experience the company of a member of the family on their “honeymoon.” Elizabeth would approve of Mrs. Clay because Mrs. Clay was not attractive and would not draw attention away from Elizabeth Elliot. Elizabeth is already 30 years old and very much on the shelf. She has few opportunities left to marry and is a bit desperate.
There was a time that Elizabeth thought to marry Mr Elliot. As the oldest, it was her “domain” to marry the heir presumptive. Endogamous marriages were commonplace to keep a bloodline pure. As she is conceited and aging, I imagine the need to be at her dressing table for long hours would be expected. Before Anne comes to Bath, Elizabeth is the object of Mr. Elliot’s attentions.
Elliot learns from the gossips that there is a possibility that Sir Walter might look to Mrs. Clay as a mate. If Sir Walter married and produced a son by his second wife, Mr. Elliot would lose his inheritance as the next baronet. He comes to Bath to stop Sir Walter from accepting Mrs. Clay. He uses his “bad boy” charms to seduce the woman, not because he wants Mrs. Clay, but to make certain Sir Walter does not look kindly on her.
Mrs. Smith tells Anne, “Mr. Elliot came back accordingly; and on application was forgiven, as you know, and re-admitted into the family; and there it was his constant object, and his only object (till your arrival added another motive) to watch Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay. He omitted no opportunity of being with them, threw himself in their way, called at all hours – but I need not be particular on the subject. You can imagine what an artful man would do; and with this guide, perhaps may recollect what you have seen him do.”
When Anne arrives in Bath, she suspects Mrs. Clay’s throwing herself at Sir Walter. “There was one point which Anne, on returning to her family, would have been more thankful to ascertain, even than Mr. Elliot’s being in love with Elizabeth, which was, her father’s not being in love with Mrs. Clay….”
Anne thinks that if her father choses Mrs. Clay, things would be bearable if Elizabeth married Mr. Elliot. If Sir Walter marries, his new wife would replace Elizabeth as his hostess, a situation Elizabeth would not take well.
Anne suspects Mr. Elliot’s intentions. “Still, however, she had the sensation of there being something more than immediately appeared, in Mr. Elliot’s wishing, after an interval of so many years, to be well received by them. In a worldly view, he had nothing to gain by being on terms with Sir Walter, nothing to risk by a state of variance. In all probability, he was already the richer of the two, and the Kellynch estate would as surely be his hereafter as the title.”
Mr. Elliot hints to Anne that he wishes to bring Sir Walter to better company than Mrs. Clay. Elliot wishes to place himself in a position to prevent Sir Walter from remarrying and producing an heir. The best way for him to do so is to become closer to the family (such as was his apology for earlier disparagements). He thinks to marry Elizabeth to be close to Sir Walter, but when Anne arrives, he thinks “if I must marry one of the Elliot sisters, Anne is the better choice.” He tells Anne of bringing Sir Walter better company, “We must feel that every addition to your father’s society, among his equals and superiors, may be of use in diverting his thoughts from those beneath him.” He looked as he spoke to the seat which Mrs. Clay had lately occupied, a sufficient explanation of what he particularly meant, and…she was pleased with him for not liking Mrs. Clay.
So, no homosexuality and no extramarital affairs. Just a man trying to intercede where he didn’t belong.
Thank you for explaining, Regina. So much deception and plotting with other peoples lives. When Mrs Smith and nurse Rooke said Mr Elliott only wanted her for the title and land, Anne said “How despicable” then went on with her duties. I would have used the card party to let everyone know what a creep Mr Elliott was. Can you imagine the looks on their faces? Instead, she just sailed off into the sunset with her man. Imagine going off to war a pleasant escape from your home life?
Although Austen NEVER suggests as such, Lucy, I like to think leaving her father and Elizabeth with the knowledge that Mr. Elliot will inherit (no matter their manipulations) is a bit of unconscious revenge for the years Anne suffered. When Sir Walter passes, Mr. Elliot and whomever he chooses to wife will live at Kellynch Hall. Elizabeth will be displaced. She is already 30, well on the shelf during the Regency period, when men married to produce an heir. She will need to accept the role of “spinster aunt” to her sisters’ children, beg either Anne or Mary to take her in, or perhaps marry an older widower and assume the role of mother to his children. With Mr. Elliot’s removal and Anne claiming Wentworth, her choices are limited.
I don’t think it every occurred to Elizabeth that William Elliot could possibly be interested in Mrs. Clay or even Anne. I felt that she assumed Mr. Elliot was attempting to reinstate himself in Sir Walter’s and her good graces, and had every intention of punishing him. (Early in the book, the narrator mentions that Elizabeth could only accept a title and that she had decided that the heir to Kellynch would give her the best one, which was Lady Elliot.) As her father’s favorite (the pretty one-what a basis for a father’s affection), she seems to have embraced all of Sir Walter’s myopic views. Certainly travel to London did not broaden her horizons. In many ways, the simple facts of Mr. Elliot’s elopement with Mrs. Clay and Anne’s success with Captain Wentworth were the ultimate revenge as she had cut herself off from any other possibilities.
I neglected to finish a thought: every intention of punishing him, then graciously accepting him when he begged for her hand. (Sorry about that)
I have her forced to marry a rich Cit in my retelling of Persuasion. It is quite telling that Elizabeth extends an invitation to the card party to Captain Wentworth. Now that the captain is rich, his prospects have improved.
Regina, I agree w/your view of the film’s portrayal of the secondary characters. I agree that the portrayal of Elizabeth was uncouth, but she did in fact make a similar cutting remark about Anne in the book–not to her directly, but while she was in the room. When Mary says she can’t do w/o Anne, Elizabeth responds: “Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath” (Chapter 5).
I hadn’t picked up on the card scene as one in which Elizabeth was fishing for Wentworth–very intriguing insight. When the author says “Captain Wentworth would move about well in her drawing-room,” I thought the sense was simply in her having a fashionable war hero about. But I see that Anne’s “astonishment” could mean her sister was personally interested in CW too. Wow–never saw that! But perhaps so … Glad to see that the good Captain was happy to curl his lip at either meaning!
I used the Elizabeth/Wentworth scene as part of my Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion.