Friday, August 29, 2014

Movie Review: Persuasion ~ BBC 2007 with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones

So, having seen all three available film adaptations of Persuasion (multiple times) this is my favorite! (Also fitting among my top five favorite period dramas.)

First of all, I love their interpretation of Anne—wonderfully portraying as it does both her strength and gentleness. Persuasion is all about motion and change—a changing social order (as men of an active profession rise into prominence with long established land-owning families)—a change in moving between sets of people and from one place to another—and a moving forward from youth to maturity. Captain Wentworth brings change into Anne’s life, shaking up the settled course of her existence. And through all the swirling, unsettling alterations of life, Anne stands firm—able to take quiet and decisive action and lay down her life in love. She is able to act and serve while the stability of the house of Kellynch is rocking beneath her (pictured here in the filming itself near the beginning), and while love triangles are forming all round her—and her own heart and desires might be prompting her to act in a quite opposite direction.

As to her appearance—in the book Austen leaves a bit of leeway, describing her in various ways. She definitely mentions Anne as having changed from the bloom of youth. She is depicted as having both “delicate features and mild dark eyes” and also as being “faded and thin” (her father would say “haggard”). Later, however (after Wentworth reappears), Sir Walter compliments her on her improved looks, thinks her “less thin in her person, in her cheeks; her skin, her complexion, greatly improved—clearer, fresher.” She is also described as being “an elegant little woman of seven and twenty, with every beauty excepting bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle…” 

All these points taken together, I like how they chose to do her. If she were a stunning beauty it would be rather odd if no one (other than Charles Musgrove) had ever had an interest in her during those eight intervening years. And it also beautifully brings out how Wentworth can see her beauty (that others either can’t or won’t)—a beauty both inside and out.

Part of what sets Persuasion apart is—not just the romantic attraction—but the meeting of minds between Wentworth and Anne. He comes to respect and value her, and as he does so her words begin to carry weight. And she gradually becomes reanimated and more and more lovely as his presence brings out her sweetness and beauty.

(I love this part! How easily and naturally it happens—he can’t help pausing beside her.)

But more about the casting: Lady Russell, Sir Walter, the Musgroves, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, Mr. Shepherd, and Mrs. Clay are all quite good. Mrs. Smith is described as ill in this version, but not rheumatically crippled (hence her ability to find Anne near the end).

Mr. Elliot is very good and about exactly as described in the book appearance-wise.

Elizabeth is cold and perfectly elegant.

And Mary is fussy, but not irritatingly whiny.

Charles is absolutely perfect—straightforward, honest, and goodhearted.

Captain Harville is (to make a tremendous understatement) simply splendid. I love the relationship and conversations between him and Wentworth—perfectly capturing the loyalty and depth of their friendship.

And now for Captain Wentworth himself.

A common objection is that he isn’t weather beaten enough. However (along with Darcy), Wentworth is one of the heroes whom Austen most explicitly describes. Near the beginning of the book she says, “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit and brilliancy.” When he returns: “…the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth.” And when Anne and Lady Russell are in the carriage in Bath, “She could thoroughly comprehend the sort of fascination he must possess over Lady Russell’s mind, the difficulty it must be for her to withdraw her eyes, the astonishment she must be feeling that eight or nine years should have passed over him, and in foreign climes and in active service too, without robbing him of one personal grace!” At the concert Sir Walter pronounces him, “A well-looking man…a very well-looking man.” And Lady Dalrymple responds, “A very fine young man indeed!” Finally, “Sir Walter indeed, though he had no affection for Anne, and no vanity flattered, to make him really happy on the occasion, was very far from thinking it a bad match for her. On the contrary, when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank…” 

I think he does an excellent job capturing Wentworth’s vacillations and internal confusion without weakness. And now we come to another point. The last time I watched it, I realized the whole “looking-at-Anne-playing-the-piano-scene” is really almost a flashback. In fact, I’m now not sure that it might not actually be one…but at any rate, I think it’s pretty much left open either way.

I will say that my two caveats are the choppy opening and the running near the end, which, I agree, can be a bit distracting. I discussed the opening up above, so I’ll just talk about the ending here. It really seems to be a picture of all the thwarting and obstacles their love story was encountering from the beginning; showing at the same time, that knowing how to take hold of something when the time comes ripe is not inconsistent with patience. From a scriptwriter’s point of view, it certainly brings a tension and immediacy to the ending. 

Persuasion has some similarities to Gaskell’s North and South in that (in a different way) it is occupied with reticence—with the things that cannot be said. Things that cannot be said through social barriers…said in company…said without putting oneself at risk. 

As for the kiss…there is both a strength and vulnerability in falling in love, and I think the ending is quite perfectly expressive of all the hesitancy—the fears, the joys, and the mature longings underlying the entire story.

Book Review ~ Persuasion by Jane Austen

Quietly reflective in tone—yet ultimately joyful—Persuasion introduces Anne Elliot, Jane Austen’s maturest heroine.

In many regards, it’s a Cinderella story. Several figures can be seen as fulfilling the step-mother role—the insensitive and ungrateful Sir Walter, the well-meaning Lady Russell, and the anti-hero Mr. Elliot. There are even two sets of “step-sisters”—one pair undervaluing Anne, the other stepping between her and the prince. Anne joins her prince (a prince who has some flaws of his own to overcome) near the beginning. There’s a separation and—ultimately—he has to find her again.

Through it all, Anne’s sweetness and maturity show forth the beauty of waiting done well. There is a richness and fullness that comes with actively living through providentially timed waiting. And while the prince is still coming to recognize his flaws—Cinderella is serving. Everyone depends on Anne. Gentle and quiet yet able to speak her mind—clear-sighted—with gratitude, honesty, humility, wisdom, and a touch of humor—Anne is absolutely beautiful.

In its entirety, Persuasion is less about persuasion per se as it is about maturity, wisdom, discernment, and judgment. Duty is a major theme. It’s definitely tremendously important to Anne, and interestingly enough, would be a major factor in the world of the navy, which itself plays such a particularly definitive role in the story.

In the end, when the prince does recognize his princess—and she has safely escaped the designs of the villain—both see their union as a gift. Anne was guarded from Mr. Elliot by her love for Wentworth while Wentworth himself says, “I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.” In His perfect timing, God always uses ways and means to bring a man and woman together in marriage, but at the same time that union—if accepted with humility and entered into faithfully—is always a gracious and undeserved gift.

So of all Austen’s books, Persuasion often ties for first in my list of favorites! And as a side-note, the conversation at the White Hart between Captain Harville and Anne (with Wentworth writing) is probably my single favorite scene out of all her work. With regard to both structure and content, it’s a tingly masterpiece!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tag Answers for the Jane Austen Week

Here are my tag answers for the lovely Jane Austen Week Rose is hosting at Best of Classics!

When and how did you first get acquainted with Jane Austen? ~ I must have been somewhere around eight, and my mother was checking out all the different Austen film adaptations our library had. I remember the first half of the ’95 P&P and, very vaguely, an excerpt from (I believe) some version of Mansfield Park. Later, I know we got a VHS tape of the Emma Thompson S&S (which my sister now has on DVD). I started reading the books when I was about twelve, while cuddling one of my baby sisters in the rocker. I can still remember the front of those Modern Library copies of S&S and P&P… The P&P had publicity shots from the ’95 adaptation on the front cover, which at the time I was quite disturbed about as I preferred the ‘80’s version—nonsensical girl! (But still, it wasn’t a very good picture of Lizzy.)

Favourite Jane Austen book? ~ Mmmmm… I feel honor bound to say P&P here, but Persuasion runs a very close second—and I love the themes in Emma and Mansfield Park!

Favourite heroine? ~ I do really suppose I have to say Lizzy—but I’d like to be most like Anne Elliot.

Favourite hero? ~ Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… Mr. Darcy? Mr. Knightley? Captain Wentworth??? I’m afraid it really depends on which one I’ve just seen or read. (I’m not being very decisive today, am I?)

What makes Jane Austen special to you? ~ Well, I quite utterly and completely love her stories for themselves—but as a writer, I’m always floored by her turns of phrase. By her honesty and clarity—how she tells so much by saying so little. And how she lets the point of her writing be driven home by the characters themselves and the unfolding story, without over explaining the lesson to be gained. All are concerned with right and virtuous Christian living, but Austen knew perfectly how to capture it all in character and action.

What is your favourite adaption of a Jane Austen work? ~ For all around accuracy and general pleasure—the ’95 P&P.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Western trip pictures #4: The Tetons (and back across WY)

 South into Teton National Park...

After ferrying across Jenny Lake, we hiked up to the falls

And then some of us continued on up to the overlook (you can see one of the ferryboats to the bottom left of the sign)

Chipmunks were everywhere!

It was raining again when we reached the other side and I was able to get these bluebells


Looking for a moose…

And after driving numerous places after dinnersearching for wildlifewe discovered five young antlered bucks just beside the gas station/convenience story parking lot by the campground

A few of us did some sunrise photography

And then heading home across more of WY...

A fancy Walmart

Devils Tower

Hiking around the back of Devils Towerthis gorgeous view suddenly spread out in front of us.

And part of the last bit of the adventure—a delicious breakfast at Egg Harbor CafĂ© in Wisconsin.

Western trip pictures #3: Into Yellowstone!

And then we were on into Yellowstone!!!

Clock in the lobby at Lake Yellowstone Lodge

Sightseers in The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

There were wildflowers everywhere

Tower Falls

Hiking the mountain ridge above the Yellowstone River

On the Upper Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs

The mouth of a different hot springs that flows down to meet the Boiling River. There must have been about 50 people wading and sitting in the water where the two came together. It’s sauna temperature water where the two meet, but if you go too close to where the hot water comes in, it's scalding hot. Hot enough to quite easily boil an egg.

The Boiling River

Out the MT entrance for some ice cream, which was very good (mine was caramel chunks in vanilla)

Back into the Park

A green Hayden Valley

The Natural Bridge

Lake Yellowstone with the Absaroka Mountain Range in the distance

Mystic Falls

Some of us hiked up to the lookout over the Old Faithful Geyser Basin

Watching Old Faithful erupt from across the Basin

And a smaller eruption just off the boardwalk

The Firehole River (which had a delightful swimming spot further upstream)

And hiking just beside the Yellowstone River

The Upper Falls of The Yellowstone

And the Lower Falls into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

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