WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #04 – Jane Austen’s Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones

persuasion_2007_dvd_coverTitle     Persuasion (A BBC adaption of the Jane Austen novel of same name)

Starring     Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones

Director     Adrian Shergold

Screenplay     Simon Burke

Genre     Romantic Satire, Drama

Release Date     January 13, 2007

Filming Location     Bath, Somerset, England

Parental Guidance     PG – General viewing, but parental discretion advised

                                                                              IMDB Rating     7.6

Synopsis: Anne’s (Sally Hawkin) life has been led by others. She lives with a narcissistic father, Sir Walter Elliot (Anthony Head), and a self-absorbed elder sister who leave her to handle all household responsibilities but give her none of the credit for it. She has a younger sister married off but who always calls for her ministrations whenever fancying herself ill. And her only confidant is her deceased mother’s best friend, Lady Russell (Alice Krige), who has only her “best interest” at heart but may love her a little too dearly. At twenty-eight, Anne has resigned herself to spinsterhood and obscurity when the return of a former paramour sends her heart once again aflutter. Once almost engaged to Fredrick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones), Anne’s love affair had been halted by Lady Russell’s advice on the unsuitability of their stations and connections in life. But Wentworth returns to their lives as an exalted Royal Navy captain who made a sizeable fortune serving the nation and Anne must eat crow. As a series of circumstances keep pushing the former lovers into each other’s paths, each struggle in their own way to be not affected. Anne does not believe she has another chance with Wentworth because she rightly discerns that he still blames her for being so easily influenced away from his proposal in the past. And then there is also the sudden entry of a distant cousin who is to eventually inherit her father’s baronetcy and who seems to fancy Anne. Any chance of reconciliation and rekindling affection between Anne and Wentworth, therefore, seems hopeless.

Experience: I always feel that whenever a Jane Austen novel is adapted into a film, people start comparing it to the epic 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. So I consciously switched off my parity tool because let’s face it – there will never be another flawless masterpiece like Pride and Prejudice or such a dedicated collection of cast and crew to turn a literary work into a 06-hour cinematic indulgence of an author’s genius. So with a deep breath and a mind as unbiased as possible, I sat down to watch Persuasion. For a 1.5-hour TV movie, it was a pretty good attempt to emulate and entertain. And not only because it had Austen’s clever storytelling style to fall back on.

Definitely, the strongest facet of the movie was its mechanics. The direction, the cinematographic techniques, the queueing of the scenes and music all swelled and dissipated to match the ethos of the story as it progressed. From the first scene where the camera circled Anne and followed her about as she rushed from room to room auditing items in preparation for the time when the Elliot family will move out to lease their home to strangers to that when she rushes all through Bath in search of Wentworth so she could tell him she accepts his proposal to that in the privacy of her room as she records in her diary her romantic success and secretly smiles into the camera to allow the audience to bask in her happiness, Burke and Shergold perfectly captures the protagonist. As to the protagonist herself, Hawkins may not have been my first choice for the role of Anne, a girl in her late twenty’s that has lost some of her bloom but still remains adequately pretty, but Hawkins manages to flirt with the camera in a subtle way that gives Anne life. While in the book, Anne’s character is more subtle, the movie-Anne does not suffer for the little boldness inspired by Hawkins.

Moreover, Hawkins manages to portray the drama that revolves around Anne’s character. She allows herself to be shuffled between her family members and is often led by Lady Russell’s advice, but it does not make her unobservant or unfeeling. She watches and notes her surroundings acutely but accepts her lot in life for the most part. But there are moments when she does not allow herself to be bid, moments where her logic prevails. This aspect of Anne’s character is well-turned out by Hawkins in the movie in the manner with which she moves. In the novel, Austen did not give the docile Anne much dialogue but Hawkins very intelligently trounces that challenge with her body language. Comparatively, Penry-Jones did not pick up on the subtlety of Austen’s depiction of Wentworth. Rarely do I say someone has underacted but Penry-Jones playing Wentworth is one of those times. I can only assume he did not read the novel, which for an Austen fan like me is unforgivable. However, he is handsome and just enough handsome to be adequately cast as Wentworth.

Another notable portrayal is of Sir Walter Elliot by Head. Now, I must admit I am a bit biased towards Head from his Buffy the Vampire Slayer days but, again, I tried not to be while watching the movie. I found Head to portray Sir Walter with just the right level of ridiculousness necessary to make him unlikeable. I initially thought Head was disappointing me with overacting until I remembered Sir Walter and the rest of the Elliot clan were meant to be comic relief. They are the characters that are the butt of Austen’s satirical wit. So, yes, when Head does literally huff and puff at the possibility of having to rent his family seat to people of “inferior birth” and potential “coarse countenance”, it is the required precedent.

The one character I felt that could have gotten more screen time was Lady Russell’s. Lady Russell plays an indispensable antithetical role to Anne-and-Wentworth’s relationship in the novel. More so than the fact that she openly discourages Anne from pursuing a relationship with Wentworth (in the past and present), it is the nature of her influence, the subtlety that is wrought in her relationship with Anne, that makes Lady Russell a centrifugal force in Anne’s actions in abandoning her desires, and later in her polite decline to subjugate. While Anne’s tendency to be persuaded to do the biddings of her family members is the surface manifestation of her character, it is Lady Russell’s persuasiveness, albeit, in good faith that does the pertinent harm to Anne’s happiness. It is especially more disappointing Lady Russell’s character is not more explored in the movie because Krige has proven in past performance that she is able to deliver the necessary gravitas for such a role.

The other smaller parts are played relatively well and relevantly ensures the smooth flow of the plot depiction. In particular, the characters of Mary (Amanda Hale), Anne’s younger extracting and fretful sister, and Charles Musgrove (Sam Hazeldine), Mary’s husband and Anne’s once upon a time admirer, are performed suitably well. Interestingly enough, the role of William Elliot (Tobias Menzies), the distant cousin who aims to sweep Anne off her feet, is played better than one would expect. The novel mostly portrays Mr. Elliot’s character via the grapevine, yet Menzies brought out the character with mastery.

Recommendation: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do. If you are a Jane Austen fan, do it right now! After BBC’s 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility [too many ‘and’s but you’ll figure it out], I found this to be the next best Austen rendering.

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  1. #1 by gordon759 on January 26, 2017 - 4:22 pm

    Of the television/ film versions of Persuasion you might like to watch the 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds in the title roles. I consider it much better than the 2007 version in several respects, particularly as it sticks much closer to the original novel.

    • #2 by lupa08 on January 26, 2017 - 7:15 pm

      Thank you, Gordon, for the recommendation! I will definitely give that version a viewing.

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