My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” [1995]

Movie: “Persuasion”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Anne Elliot – Amanda Root

Captain Wentworth – Ciaran Hinds

Mr. Elliot – Samuel West

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

My mom always loved “Persuasion,” and as this was the most recent adaptation she had, we all watched it quite a bit as kids. But as an adult, the 2007 version came out, and for better or worse, that’s been my go-to over the years. I hadn’t actually re-watched this one for who knows how long. So it was interesting watching it again after all of this time, after having re-read the book so recently, and with having a very clear memory of the 2007 version in my head the entire time.

Overall, I think it’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. I think it particularly shines with its casting of our two main characters. But I think it also struggles the most with casting for almost every other character. Other than the Crofts (I particularly liked the actress who played Mrs. Croft), I felt like almost everyone was miscast in one way or another. The Musgrove girls both felt more bland, less lively, and not as engaging as they are described as being in the book. Sir Walter’s vanity seems to be mainly reflected in this penchant for wearing weirdly flowerly suits, but the actor himself wasn’t very good looking. Elizabeth was not only not as good looking as one would expect her to be, but her characterization seemed all wrong, with her having temper flare-ups all over the place that weren’t reflective of anything in the book. Captain Benwick seemed cast as a more bumbling, comical figure than the angsty, emo-ish man the book describes. It was all very odd and off-putting. But at least Anne and Captain Wentworth were good!

The movie is definitely dated feeling, but overall I liked the scenery and sets. There were a few strange camera angles and shots that I don’t think added much, but overall, I think it was pretty well-done. Having now watched it after all of these years, I think I can appreciate it more than I did as a kid (but that’s also just my general greater appreciation for the story “Persuasion” tells), but, in the end, I’m pretty sure I’ll still end up preferring the 2007 version.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

As I said, I like the two main characters’ casting the most of anyone in the movie. That said, however, I don’t find even them to be pitch perfect as we’ve seen other actors do for past adaptations. Amanda Root is fairly good, overall, but I do think she comes across a bit to mousy and reserved, especially in the first half of the movie. I’ve made a lot of comparisons between Anne Elliot and Fanny Price in these reviews, and I have another one here: Root’s Anne initially comes across as more like Fanny than Anne. I do like how the movie shows this change cove over here. Not only do they make adjustments to her costuming and and hairstyle to emphasize her “renewed bloom,” but we see her standing up for herself more with her father and even in the face of Wentworth’s rudeness at the concert. But, initially, I think they erred too far into the mousy, reserved-ness of it all. She also simply looks older than she should be. I mean, I get that 27 was considered past prime in those days, but still…it’s only 27!

Root is definitely at her best during the conversation regarding men, women, and who loves longest. I liked her delivery and the entire conversation and scene played out very well. She also does an excellent job with her reaction to the letter and the sudden meeting with Wentworth later. (Notably, these last scenes are also the weaker/weirder ones from the 2007 version.)

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

As a kid, part of my problem with this movie was that I just couldn’t get behind Ciaran Hinds as a romantic hero. My other comparisons at this point were Hugh Grant from “Sense and Sensibility” and, most importantly, Colin Firth from “Pride and Prejudice.” I still don’t particularly finds Hinds that good looking (plus I can’t stop seeing him as the “King Beyond the Wall” from “Game of Thrones” now). But I will say that this was one of my biggest surprises when re-watching it now. He really manages to lay on the charm in the first half of the movie, neatly capturing Wentworth’s charisma in a way that I hadn’t remembered. He also has the rough and tumble looks of an active Navy captain which I think fits the part particularly well.

I do think he overplayed the part a bit at the concert, however. I’m not sure if this was really Hinds fault though, as the lines were pretty harsh on their own. This is already Wentworth at his most petty (to have this kind of momentary tantrum over the barest hint of Anne being pursued by another man, after Wentworth has supposedly come to his senses about things). But in the movie they really play it up. Wentworth is almost aggressively rude to Anne, and one almost has to wonder at her ability to continue after him when he’s like this.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

They make some strange choices with Elizabeth here. Not only does the actress they cast not really fit the physical description of Elizabeth as a poised, beautiful woman, even in her *gasp* upper 20s, but they revamp her entire personality. She is initially portrayed as lazy and silly, eating candies while they discuss the future of the estate. And then when we meet her again at Bath, she as full-on anger flare ups at unexpected moments, yelling at Anne and generally making a scene. Not only does this not hold true to the book, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves. Anne’s being ignored, forgotten, and taken advantage of are all there in the book and here. There’s no reason to add her being the victim of her sister’s verbal abuse to the list. Plus it again undermines the respected role that she and her father are supposed to have in society. We, the readers/viewers, are getting behind the scenes information, but there’s never meant to be any reason to suspect that the Elliots don’t move smoothly through society. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who behaves as Elizabeth does here would get a pass with that.

The movie also makes a change with Mr. Elliot. Here, when Mrs. Smith relays her inside information on his motives, Mr. Elliot is in fact broke and that’s why he’s so concerned with retaining his role as heir to the family estate. It’s a fairly understandable change, as his obsession with the role of titles is a bit harder to fully convey to modern audiences. Going broke is easy to get on board with. The actor they cast here also doesn’t really sit right with me. There’s nothing overtly wrong with this casting, but he’s also simply not very memorable. The moments in Lyme where he admires Anne barely strike any sort of note, and if you weren’t familiar with the story, I’m not sure would even come across as anything. It isn’t helped that Wentworth’s reaction to the first meeting is barely recognizable as a reaction at all.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

I thought the romance was pretty good in this adaption. I especially liked some of the small moments in the first half, like the way the handled Wentworth quickly giving up his seat at the piano when he saw Anne approaching, and his move to make sure Anne had a ride home with the Crofts after the long walk. They also add some stilted lines in the carriage ride back home after Louisa’s fall that hint at Wentworth’s slow realization of Anne’s true character and his own silliness.

The movie does make an odd choice with regards to the conversation between the two regarding Benwick’s quick engagement to Louisa. In the book, it’s Wentworth’s statements during this conversation at this first meeting in Bath that first give Anne hope. It also gives her the courage and motivation to approach him so directly at the concert that evening. Here, her sudden confidence and willingness to pursue him don’t really feel based in any actual change. It’s like she just suddenly decided to go after him, without ever having had any hints of a change of heart on his behalf. And then he gets so rude when leaving, it’s very strange.

The movie also adds a scene where Wentworth approaches Anne later with a message from the Crofts about giving up their rental of Kellynch Hall if/when she becomes engaged to Mr. Elliot. It’s an interesting addition (so interesting, in fact, that the 2007 version of the story also included a scene like this), but it also doesn’t seem to really go anywhere. Anne stumbles through the exchange, not being as clear with her position with Mr. Elliot as she could/should be. And then it leads into a strange, brief exchange where Wentworth and Lady Russell exchange harsh words.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There are a few good comedic moments in this movie. For one thing, I like that they included a funny set of cut-scenes at the Musgroves’ showing a revolving group of characters all confiding their complaints about others to Anne. It’s a small moment in the book, but I’m glad they were able to fit it in here.

For her part, Mary is is hitting all the right notes in her role. She plays up the sickness angle well in the beginning, and then we get a really funny little moment during the walk. Anne and Mary stay behind to wait for Charles and Henrietta to visit the Hayters. They are each sitting on a log, but Mary complains that her side is wet. She gets up to wander around a bit, and then returns and causally informs Anne that it’d probably be best if she moved over into the wet spot so that she, Mary, could have Anne’s seat. And Anne just silently does it.

This adaptation also includes the final scene at the Elliot’s party, after Anne and Wentworth have reconciled and gotten engaged. It’s a rather strange little scene, and I think a bit unrealistic in that Captain Wentworth just strides in and, in front of everyone, announces that he and Anne are to be married and they’d like Sir Walter’s blessing. But it does lead to the funny line of Sir Walter looking completely bewildered and blurting out “Anne? But whatever for?”

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

This movie was originally made for TV and aired on the BBC. because of that, it had a low budget and used natural lighting throughout and even re-used the final shot of Captain Wentworth’s ship from the movie “The Bounty.” The movie was later released theatrically.

The actress who played Lady Russell passed away 5 months after the movie was released on TV and only a few days after its theatrical release. On a weird side note, I thought the actresses who played Lady Russell and Mrs. Croft looked too alike. They were both styled the same and had similar hair colors, cuts, and general face shapes. I was actually confused in the first scene with the Crofts viewing Anne’s home because I couldn’t figure out why Lady Russell was walking around with the Colonel.

Victoria Hamilton, who plays Henrietta here, goes on to play Maria in the 1999 version of “Mansfield Park.” I think she was much better cast in that role than this, though this one is also very minor and she has hardly any lines.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

I guess he can be fairly attractive…

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2007 version of “Persuasion.”

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