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.


13 comments:

  1. This is by far my favorite version of Persuasion ever! :-)

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    1. Sarah -- Oh, most excellent!! I'm so glad to hear you like it, too! :-)

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    2. Yes, yes I do! I think though that my sister, Emily likes it even more! She said it was one of her favorite Jane Austen's. :-)

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    3. Oh, wonderful! And isn't it positively delightful having sisters to share the excitement with?? ;-)

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  2. Oh my goodness....this review is perfect. You got it spot on when you said the opening was symbolic of Anne's being stable when her world was unstable. I always kind of scratched my head at the opening, but, then, I love this adaptation so much that I overlooked it. Persuasion ties with P&P for my favorite Austen book and movie. I love that it isn't just a story about love; it's a story of redemption and forgiveness and being strong when life knocks you down.

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    1. Joanna -- thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And exactly!! I think at first glance Persuasion can seem like such a simple story--but there's really so much there... It's definitely a top favorite of mine, too! ;-)

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  3. I really, really like this portrayal of Anne. While the movie overall isn't one I love, I do really think Sally Hawkins fit Anne so well. And I love that so much of it was filmed on location! I think I may watch it again some time, directly after rereading the book, or directly before, so I can match images of places in my head better. I'm actually considering getting this for my mom for Christmas, as I think she would love it.

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    1. Hamlette -- Oh, I'm so glad you like Anne, too! :-) And the locations are really neat. Some of my favorites are the scenes at Lyme on the Cobb. Since they chose to film it with gray, wind-swept days, there's an emphasis on the wind and pounding water, etc--tying the imagery together with all the action the captains had been involved with at sea. :-)

      And I do hope your mom enjoys it, too, whenever she's able to see it! ;-)

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    2. Sally Hawkins really matched my mental picture of Anne in almost every way.

      And the Lyme exterior scenes, especially that one between Wentworth and Benwick -- splendid.

      I watched the 1995 version with my mom before she'd ever read the book (so weird to me that she'd never read it!), and she liked it mostly, but that one does a bad job of conveying the backstory, so she was a bit lost. I have little doubt that the cosmetic things that bother me (the music, the running, and the prettiness of RPJ) will not bug her in the slightest, and she will enjoy it greatly.

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  4. What an excellent review! Beautifully said. Persuasion is my favorite Austen story, so I never tire of any of the versions that are out there. This one has it's frustrations for me, but overall I love it. :)

    SO agree with your analysis of Anne and Wentworth! (I also love the fact that you used book quotes to prove your point. Well done!) Sally and Rupert did a fabulous job of portraying the heartache, fear of rejection, kindling romance, slow growth of caring and bloom, simply everything.

    As much as I cannot stand the running scene and the fact that they changed that crucial conversation between Anne and Captain Harville, I still love this version to pieces. While I can see Hamlette's point of RPJ being "too pretty", I confess I love him all the more. The closeup's of his face when he's staring at Anne, which happens several times! :D, just show the subtleness of his acting. I've rewatched those points several times and his face is very expressive actually. Which I really love!

    Also, I've never thought about the fact that the piano scene could be a flashback. Guess I need to do a rewatch soon and see if that makes sense. What a great plan! I'm always up for an excuse to watch any Austen adaptation! ;)

    Very nice review!

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    1. Kara,
      Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And I love how you summed up Anne and Wentworth's relationship in your comment... Well said, indeed!

      And a note on the flashback idea: I’m not positive it is one (as he looks so…well…haunted), but it’s almost like it could be her imagination, too--after seeing him again--and in that house. A mix of all the pain and longings and past memories. They shot the entire scene with such a dreamy feel I think it’s a little open to interpretation. :-)

      Btw, thanks for the follow! And thank you so much for commenting! :-)

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  5. I agree this was beautifully done. Cannot understand why some critics hate Sally in tjis and say she is ugly in it. She has such a sweet face and delicate features. It is an adaptation not perfect but RJP and Sally are great together. When Wentworth watches her then turns away if she looks at him and he does ask his sister to take he back in the carriage as he meets them on the road. Cannot understand some of the really nasty reviews of this film. RJP is fantastic do we really want to see him look weatherbeaten as some people say. The running does not bother me, she is chasing her dream so that it does not get away this time.

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    1. RVL,
      I'm glad you agree and enjoy it! (And that moment with the Crofts in the lane is one of my favorites, too.) Yes, exactly. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!!

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