on 3 March 2005
"Persuasion," the film, is a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen's final completed novel, and to my mind her finest book.
Roger Michell directed, with subtlety and brilliance, and brought Ms. Austen's masterpiece to life on the big screen. The pure magic of the romance alone captivates, along with the Regency English period history, brilliant characterizations, color, music and costumes.
The movie deals with the same social issues as the book, especially the British class system. Rigid social barriers existed - and everyone wanted to marry "up" to a higher station - and into wealth. This is also a very poignant and passionate tale of love, disappointment, loss and redemption. The point is clearly that one shouldn't ever be persuaded to abandon core values and beliefs, especially for ignoble goals. There are consequences, always.
Sir Walter Elliot, Lord of Kellynch Hall, (portrayed by a wonderfully dispicable Corin Redgrave), is an extravagant, self-aggrandizing snob, and a bit of a dandy to boot. He has been a widower for many years and spends money beyond his means to increase his social stature. His eldest daughter, (Phoebe Nicholls), upon whom he dotes, is as conceited and spoiled as he is. The youngest daughter, Anne (Amanda Root), is an intelligent, sensitive, and unassuming woman in her late twenties when the film begins. She had been quite pretty at one time, but life's disappointments have taken their toll and her looks are fading. She and her sister are both single. Anne had once been very much in love with a young, and as yet untried, navel officer. A woman who had been a close friend to Anne's mother, persuaded Anne to call off the engagement, convincing her that she could make a better match. After much consideration, Anne did not follow her heart, or her better judgement, and she and her young officer, Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), separated. She has never again found the mutual love or companionship that she had with him.
The Elliot family is forced to financially retrench because of their extravagance. They lease Kellynch Hall to...of all people...Wentworth's sister and her husband. Elliot, his oldest daughter and her companion, move to a smaller lodging in Bath for the season, leaving Anne to pack up their belongings before joining them. She gets the Cinderella treatment throughout the film. Anne chooses this time to visit with her middle sister, an abominably spoiled, whiny hypochondriac, Mrs. Musgrove. She has made a good, but not brilliant match to a local squire. Charles Muskgrove, her husband, his parents, and their two younger, eligible daughters, Louisa and Henrietta, are delightful. There are wonderfully warm scenes of family and friends dining, dancing, hiking over the gorgeous countryside, and at the seashore, that bring the audience smack into early 19th century English life.
It is at the Muskgrove estate that Anne meets Frederick Wentworth again, after his absence of seven years. Wentworth is now a Captain in the Royal Navy and quite wealthy. When their eyes meet for the first time, you can absolutely feel Anne's longing and remorse. Intense. I cannot imagine a better actress to play Anne than Amanda Root. She slowly transforms herself from a sallow, aging spinster to a luminescent woman in love - and this is not just the makeup. Wentworth is aloof with Anne, although civil. The man was hurtfully rejected once before and it appears that he still feels the sting of her snub. Now Wentworth is on the marriage market and Louisa sets her cap for him. Accidents and various adventures ensue, from the resorts of Lyme and Bath to the Muskgrove estate, bringing Anne and Wentworth closer together. If Ms. Root is the perfect Anne, then Mr. Hinds is the best possible Wentworth. He is as large and virile as she is petite and feminine. He oozes sensuality...however, he portrays his character with great subtlety. The entire production is brilliantly cast and the acting is superb
I think this is Ms. Austen's most passionate piece. Some scholars say that she modeled Anne Elliot after herself.
This remarkable film, like the novel, and the issues it tackles, is just as germane today as it was when written. Each time I view it, it just gets better. And the romance...well, no one does romance better than Jane Austen.