(This is the twelfth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)
Persuasion is Jane Austen's last completed novel, published with Northanger Abbey after her death in 1817. In an interesting contrast to Northanger Abbey's youthful and naive heroine Catherine, Anne Elliot is a mature woman nearing the end of prime marrying age for that time, and has known the sadness of being estranged from the man she loves, Frederick Wentworth. 8 years have passed since she was persuaded to break off their engagement, when they meet again.
When I first read Persuasion I didn't appreciate it as well as I do now. Possibly because I was unfortunately blinded by both adaptations that I have seen. Neither the 2007 or the 1995 really captures the story in my opinion. In a lot of ways I'm inclined to say that this version has an overall feel more like the story (until the end), while the 1995 adaptation did a better job following the book. But I digress, this is not a comparison review. I strongly recommend that you read the book first in this case!
Anne's mother died when she was fairly young, leaving her and her two sisters to the care of her vain, arrogant, foolish father, Sir Walter Elliot, and the guidance of Lady Russell. Lady Russel is a kind lady, but still unwise enough to agree with Sir Walter that Anne should not marry Captain Wentworth. Eight years later, Anne sadly repents following Lady Russell's counsel and submitting to her father's greedy wishes that she marry someone more influential and wealthy. She is not happy, but she still has a sweet, gentle spirit not marred by bitterness, though quiet and regretful.
I don't like Sally Hawkins's portrayal of Anne very much. She's too mousy, and that gasping, squeaky little breath that she does gets on my nerves every time. I think her looks are very appropriate for the character, although the hair and make-up artists should have done her hair a little nicer, but I struggle to enjoy most of her performance. She's too dull and gloomy, and doesn't show enough of the gentle sweetness that Anne has through her disappointed sadness.
Rupert Penry-Jones's portrayal of Captain Wentworth, on the other hand, is fabulous! He's got the perfect appearance for Captain Wentworth, and portrays all the wounded feelings, pride and hurt, but is still sensitive and kind in a perfect balance. For the sake of his performance, I tolerate Sally Hawkins. He is the best part of this movie.
|Mary, Charles, Sir William and Elizabeth|
Sir William Elliot is played by Anthony Head, and he is hilarious with his vain primping and egotistical snobbery. Elizabeth (Julia Davis) is perfectly shallow and pompous, and Mary is exactly as annoying and whiny, self-absorbed and demanding as she should be. With such family members, one should wonder how Anne turned out so well.
Mr. Elliot (Tobias Menzies), the slimy cousin who will inherit their father's title and estate, fit the part very well. Mrs. Clay was much too pretty. Lady Russell (Alice Krige) was a little too shallow and not developed well enough for us to understand why Anne esteems her.
I don't think any of the Musgroves were developed enough, but they were pretty well-cast. Mrs. Musgrove was a little too calm I thought, since she was supposed to be very boisterous and jolly. Admiral and Mrs. Croft should have been more developed, too, the hour and a half allotted wasn't nearly enough to adequately express the novel.
A lot of the scripting is very awkward. In the beginning, there's a silly scene between Anne and Lady Russell setting up all the history for us. It's quite insipid. There's a few other scenes and some silly lines, like Louisa telling Captain Wentworth about her brother Charles wanting to marry Anne. Upon his asking her when this occurred, she replies, "I don't know, but before he married Mary." (No way! I'm so stunned that he didn't try to marry Anne after he was already married to her younger sister!)
There are a few journal scenes which let us into Anne's thoughts, an idea that I like, although I don't think the scenes turned out as well as they could. They had potential, but are just a little too sappy and sentimental for my taste. They do incorporate many lines from the book and at least provide information true to the book. Anne's manner is too emotional, from the book I felt she tried to restrain her feelings, but she seemed more to indulge and nurture them in this adaptation.
|"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."|
Unfortunately, one important ending scene was altered to be earlier in the movie, and even though the lines are fairly accurate, it forced major changes to the end, with devastating effect. Instead of Captain Wentworth overhearing those sentiments, summed up in that line (probably the most famous from Persuasion), no one overhears, and it gets lost. He writes nearly the same letter, but the manner of delivery makes no sense. Instead of a sweet walk, we watched Anne run (yes, run!) around the streets of Bath, without her bonnet, trying to find Captain Wentworth. It culminates in her finding him exactly where she had started her run, and ends with the most painfully slow, awkward kiss ever. It's a disaster.
|Then there's this strange after-thought scene in which Captain Wentworth gifts Anne with Kellynch Hall, apparently bought from her father.|
There are some beautiful scenes, nice music, good lines from the book, and Captain Wentworth is great, but overall, I don't feel like this movie does the book justice. I think the ending had the power to "make or break" this movie, and it definitely broke. From the moment that Captain Wentworth marches out of the concert before the first note is played, the movie goes into a downward spiral, from which it sadly doesn't recover.
Persuasion is a wonderful novel; don't judge the book by its adaptations like I unwisely did. Perhaps someday a worthy movie translation will be made. Until then, I'll just keep alternating between this movie and the other, trying to decide which one is less painful in its errors, and ultimately returning to Jane Austen's unsurpassed, beautiful book.