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.