Thursday, 28 November 2013

Persuasion (1995)

This particular adaptation of Persuasion is a made-for-TV movie that was produced by the BBC, although I think it was actually released in cinemas in the USA. This adaptation of Persuasion came out in the same year as the BBC's Pride and Prejudice and it seems to have been overshadowed by the latter's huge popularity. This is a massive shame in my opinion because I love this version and it's easily the best adaptation of the book that I've yet seen.

At this point in time I've seen almost 20 Jane Austen adaptations and, as far as I'm concerned, the perfect Jane Austen adaptation simply doesn't exist. Even the very best and most enjoyable adaptations of Austen's books have some faults however minor. So even though I really enjoy Persuasion 1995 I do believe that it has its flaws. Firstly, this adaptation is somewhat lacking in exposition. Viewers who aren't already familiar with the story might find those early scenes at Uppercross between Anne and Wentworth a bit confusing. It's not entirely clear as to what exactly happened between them. However, viewers should find this version easy enough to follow once they've got past these scenes.

This adaptation doesn't have 100% perfect characterisation either. Although the vast majority of the characters are both extremely well-written and acted I dislike how this version portrays Elizabeth Elliot and Mrs Smith. In the book Elizabeth might well be conceited, haughty and cold but she's still very elegant and dignified. But Phoebe Nicholl's Elizabeth is shouty, petulant, childish and far too over the top! She even slouches! Niccholls or the script went too far in trying to show the audience how horrible Elizabeth is. And although this might sound harsh I don't think Niccholls was beautiful enough for the role either. Helen Schlesinger's Mrs Smith also disappoints me. The Mrs Smith of this version is completely different to the character in the book. She's much more cheerful and she has no connection to Mr Elliot whatsoever. Instead she finds out the truth about him through Nurse Rook who knows all of the local gossip. This leads me to another issue that I have with this version; although Samuel West gives a great performance as Mr Elliot his character's backstory is changed. In the book the only real reason why Mr Elliot wants to marry Anne is so he can gain a landed title and a better position. He doesn't want to marry Anne for her money at all. He's already rich. But in this version Mr Elliot has squandered away almost all of his fortune and only wants to marry Anne for her money. Er, what money?! This version makes the extent of Sir Walter Elliot's debts clear! Also, Mr Elliot's relationship with Mrs Clay is only hinted at in this version and isn't explained fully. My final issue with this adaptation is that it leaves out one of my favourite scenes from the book. In the book there's a scene where one of Anne's young nephews is hanging onto her neck and Wentworth pulls him off. This is one of my absolute favourite moments in the book and I was sad not to see it.

Nevertheless, I still consider this film to be a beautiful adaptation of Austen's book despite its faults. One of the reasons why I love this adaptation so much is because of its brilliant casting. I love Amanda Root's performance as Anne. At the very beginning of this film Amanda Root's Anne is quite timid and quiet and this is reflected in her appearance. In the early scenes Anne looks worn-out, tired and even a little bit sickly. However as Anne's confidence grows she begins to regain her youthful bloom. This is very accurate to the book of course and I loved how subtly and gradually it was done.

Blimey! Just look at the contrast between these two pictures! There's no drastic makeover and you can still tell that it's the same woman but there's such a difference! In the second picture Anne has a healthy glow and a sparkle in her eyes. They did a superb make-up job on her and I also loved Amanda Root's acting in the role. Her Anne is clearly introverted and reserved but Root is able to evoke so much emotion simply from her eyes and subtle nuances. Root's Anne is also lovely, warm, kind, affectionate and wry-humoured. You can easily understand why Wentworth fell in love with Anne and I love Amanda Root in the role - she is Anne Elliot to me! Oh, and one moment that I especially love is the scene where Anne first meets Wentworth at Uppercross. Anne shows no obvious signs of nervousness apart from tightly gripping the back of a chair. It's such a nice and understated moment. I love that kind of acting subtlety!

I love Ciaran Hinds' Captain Wentworth as well. I have to admit that I don't find Ciaran Hinds handsome at all but he does have a craggy, rugged look about him and that's perfect for Wentworth's character. Unlike the Wentworth of the 2007 version I can definitely buy this version's Wentworth as a sailor who fought in the Napoleonic Wars! Hinds has great chemistry with Amanda Root too and his acting in the role is terrific. His Wentworth has clearly got a sense of humour and Hinds brings a real charm and charisma to the role - so you can see why Anne and the Musgrove sisters find him appealing. Hinds plays Wentworth's love for Anne brilliantly too. At first Wentworth tries to hide it by acting cold and indifferently towards her but even as early as Uppercross he notices that Anne is tired from a long walk and quietly asks the Crofts if they can give her a ride home. The scene where he gallantly lifts her into the carriage is very romantic and so is the scene where Wentworth and Anne finally get together.

I've got to mention the fabulous supporting cast in this version as well. Sophie Thompson plays Mary Musgrove in this film. Sophie Thompson is the younger sister of Emma Thompson - who wrote and acted in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility - and she would later go on to play Miss Bates in the 1996 film adaptation of Emma. Although Sophie Thompson is very good in that film I much prefer Tamsin Grieg's performance as the character in the 2009 version. But Sophie Thompson is fantastic in Persuasion. She just so brilliantly plays the neurotic and whiny hypochondriac of Austen's book. She's annoying but not so annoying that you just want to strangle her all the time. Corin Redgrave is excellent as Sir Walter Elliot. He's arrogant and vain and foppish and a complete idiot but also quite amusing at times. Samuel West is also excellent as Mr Elliot. He's charming and good-looking but he still manages to give off some shifty vibes. Susan Fleetwood gives a lovely performance as Lady Russell. You can clearly see that Fleetwood's Lady Russell is snobbish but she shows the character's compassionate, loving and caring side as well. There are some lovely scenes between her and Anne. Susan Fleetwood was actually suffering from cancer during Persuasion and died not long after it was filmed which is really sad. Simon Russell Beale, John Woodvine and Fiona Shaw are all great in this version. All of the actors who play the Musgroves are great. They seem like such a happy and loving family.

Aside from the beautiful acting there is just so much to love about this adaptation of Persuasion. It has some very impressive cinematography for one thing. This film isn't as beautiful as some of the more recent Jane Austen adaptations like Pride and Prejudice (2005) but it's still a lovely-looking film. It has beautiful costumes and it was actually filmed on location in Lyme Regis and Bath. There's some very beautiful music in this film too. Much of the dialogue from the book is preserved and this version is mostly very faithful to the book, far more so than the 2007 version! This adaptation does a terrific job at capturing the humour of Austen's book as well. Although Persuasion is Jane Austen's most serious and mature work it still has its fair share of funny and amusing moments. This adaptation reflects that, with this exchange between Mr Elliot and Anne being a great example:

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 (with a shrug in her voice): "I haven't had a moment to turn my mind to it."

I really love Nick Dear's script for the most part and he clearly has a far greater understanding of the book than the writer of the 2007 version. I'm very pleased that this version of Persuasion wasn't written by Andrew Davies either! I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Andrew Davies and you just know that if Andrew Davies ever adapted Persuasion that he'd throw in a sexy "wet shirt" shot of Captain Wentworth, and that he'd actually show Mr Elliot seducing Mrs Clay on screen. And finally I have to praise this version's excellent pacing. This film is only 10 minutes longer than the 2007 version but those extra 10 minutes make such a huge difference! It doesn't feel rushed at all.

Rating: 4.5/5
Film Certificate Rating: U


Sarah said...

Good review Hannah! I'd like to see of review of the 07 version too, but then again I think I've got a pretty good idea of what you thought of it. ;)

I agree with you about this one -- it's definitely a much better adaptation of the novel, though I haven't seen it in a while so it's not fresh in my mind. I loved how Anne changed so gradually but significantly. That's probably my favorite aspect of this one. And if I remember correctly, they keep the letter scene at the end, which is great. I don't really care for this Wentworth, just because I don't think he's handsome, so when everyone's saying he is it bothers me, but that not that important. I can' think now, but I remember there being some other things I didn't like that were more important... maybe they were some of the things you mentioned! I can't remember. I guess that means it's time to watch it again huh?

Hannah said...

Thanks Sarah. Your feedback is as always much appreciated : ) My 2007 review is here if you want to have a read:

I pull no punches but as far as I'm concerned that adaptation deserves a beating! :D

Hamlette said...

I watched this back in February, and I think we agree very well! Especially about how they needed more explaining of what happened between Anne and Wentworth in the past. Grr. But other than that, I really liked it a lot, and it's one of the few Austen adaptations I own.

Hannah said...

Yes this movie wouldn't be the easiest for an Austen newcomer to follow. The first time I saw it I had absolutely no trouble following it but then I'd already read the book. Then I read one or two reviews of it where people were saying that they didn't get Anne and Wentworth's relationship and I was like "Huh?! What are you talking about?!" But when I re-watched this movie recently I finally understood where they were coming from. But I still feel that this is one of the best Austen adaptations.

Ruby Danderfluff said...

Watched this last week, after finally finishing the book. What a pleasant surprise! Austen adaptations really seemed to hit a sweet spot during 1995 and 1996, with Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, didn't they? Only two novels missing from the group. =)

Totally agree on the possibility of confusion during the beginning Uppercross scenes. My mom and I were fresh off the book when we watched, but my sister's head was spinning a little bit at that point. :P

Ugh. Elizabeth Elliot. This characterization would work marvelously for a Dickens character, or even one of the other AUsten ladies, but she's definitely not Miss Eliot. Much too obnoxious (indeed! Slouching!) And isn't it true that Elizabeth was supposed to be much prettier than even Anne? Especially since Sir Walter values Elizabeth so much more, that seems to make more sense all around.

I was really hesitant at first about Amanda Root's Anne Elliot, but warmed up to her very quickly. Even though I tend to see Anne as a little less timid, maybe just a little less recluse (less Fanny Price, I guess,) Root's subtle changes in expression really are just delightful to watch (especially during the scene with the family at Uppercross spilling all their emotional baggage on her. Priceless.) Miss Root is a great actress. And that transformation! So gradually, delicately done, but so effective. Wow.

I guess it was probably tricky for the powers-that-be to squeeze in all the nuance to Mr. Eliot's story and character with the alotted time. But their explanation really doesn't hold any water at all, and just leaves a big, messy puddle all over the plot. Bother.

I've never seen the word "craggy" used as a compliment, but Ciaran Hinds was, and it is.

(only found out yesterday that Ciaran was also Firmin in The Phantom of the Opera. Blew my mind; amazing what a mustache can do.)

We had no clue Sophie Thompson was of any relation to Emma Thompson. Still coming to terms with that tidbit.

Such a very detailed review, thanks for the read! Always neat to read other people's perspectives towards films (especially Austen adaptations!)