Everyone has their favorite Austen adaptation, and this is mine. Something about the sweep, scope and promise of second chances present in Persuasion speaks to me in a way that other Austen films do not. Persuasion is based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name, published in 1818.
The novel itself is Austen’s final work and one of my favorites; an opinion I share with many others. The film I’m looking at is the 1995 version, starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth. Warning, there are some spoilers, although I tried to keep them minimal.
As the film begins, we learn that the Napoleonic Wars are over and Napoleon has been exiled to the island of Elba. Additionally, it turns out that a young sailor, Captain Frederick Wentworth, has made his fortune in the war. As he is rising in wealth and status, the Elliot family is rapidly losing theirs. This reversal of fortune is due to years of both not living frugally and a fixation on status.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Anne was in love with a sailor, this same Frederick Wentworth, in her younger years, but broke off their engagement under pressure from her family. Of course, logically, this was a very sound decision for Anne to have made, not marrying a penniless sailor who was headed off to war. As the story continues, however, it becomes clear that despite the logic behind her choice, she has regretted it ever since and has chosen to remain an old maid.
When the Elliot family is forced to retrench, moving to Bath where they can live in high society while spending less money, the family estate is rented out to an Admiral and his wife (played by Fiona Shaw and John Woodvine). The admiral’s wife happens to be the sister of Captain Wentworth, who comes to visit them.
As Anne is visiting her sister and her in-laws in the same neighborhood, Anne and Wentworth are thrown together in several awkward situations, especially as he begins to court Anne’s sister-in-law, Louisa. Of course, Anne is clearly not over Wentworth, and Root conveys the inner turmoil of Anne without being over the top.
At the time the story opens, Anne has turned down a good offer of marriage and is officially an old maid, while Wentworth is a very eligible bachelor. His feelings become clearer as the film progresses; he is clearly not over Anne either. Like Root, Hinds also manages to convey Wentworth’s turmoil as he is thrown into contact with the woman who broke his heart and he is determined to forget. Of course, the attempts at forgetting Anne have mixed results, which is also well portrayed.
When Anne reunites with her family in Bath, she is courted by her cousin, Mr. Elliot, a match that is expected and accepted by her family and friends. Despite this, she finds herself, again, drawn to Wentworth, as he is similarly drawn to her. The question becomes, can their hearts be persuaded to move beyond their past hurts and misunderstandings, as well as the expectations and prejudices of Anne’s family?
In the letter scene at the end of the film, we learn that Wentworth has not been able to forget Anne. In fact, the five heart rating quote that is used on this site is used in this very scene and is from the letter he leaves her.
From that scene until the ending of the film is what I would call one of the most romantic moments in film. The idea that these two characters, torn apart in their youth, have found each other again, serves to remind viewers that second chances exist and that, sometimes, love does find a way. Our heads sometimes just need a little persuasion from our hearts.
This particular version of Persuasion has a lot of positive things to offer, one of which is the casting of Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Since Anne and Wentworth are older than the typical Austen hero and heroine, I appreciated that the actor and actress chosen as leads are also older. The two of them make an attractive couple and, as I mentioned above, both of them are able to convey very clearly what the characters are thinking. This allows the characters to convey their emotions to both each other and the audience without speaking a word, making the film feel more authentic.
Even from the beginning of the story, we can see why people fall in love with Anne; she’s a genuinely nice person who tries to do right by everyone. From nursing her gravely injured nephew, spending time with her friend Mrs. Smith and the way the Musgroves’ clearly adore her, Anne is the kind of character that I want to be friends with.
Anne also grows in gumption as the movie progresses. In the beginning, we learn that she broke off her engagement because of family pressures, but while she never forgets that she has obligations to her family, she begins to defy them in some ways. Rather than take tea with distant and titled relations, she chooses to visit her friend, the poor Mrs. Smith. She also befriends the Crofts, despite her father’s feelings and chooses to speak to Wentworth even when it might not be proper to do so, like when attending the musical performance in Bath.
Something that I notice every time I watch this movie is how Anne changes in appearance as the film goes on. When the film opens, Anne seems to be very mousy and plain. As the story progresses, however, she gradually both comes out of her shell and becomes more beautiful. At the end of the film, when she is standing with her husband on the deck of the ship, she is radiant and happy, and he is similarly happy.
The supporting characters are also wonderful in this film. Admiral and Mrs. Croft give the impression of knowing more than Anne or Wentworth thinks they do, and their relationship reminds me of the Gardeners in Pride and Prejudice. In several scenes, they seem to be helpfully nudging our heroes with seemingly innocent comments. These comments, however, always serve to give hope to whomever they are addressed to (usually Anne).
Anne’s father and sisters are delightfully self-absorbed and obsessed with their status. However, they are not flat characters. Anne’s sisters are given dimension, particularly in Elizabeth Elliot’s friendship with Mrs. Clay and Mary’s attempts to gain her husband Charles’ affections.
The Musgroves are a warm and caring family that seems to be happy despite not being as high in status as the Elliot family is. They embrace Anne and offer her the affection that is lacking from her own house. Lady Russell is shown as someone who tries to give good advice to her young friend, Anne. Although she played a major role in the breaking of Anne and Wentworth’s original engagement, it can be seen as a way to protect her naïve young friend from potentially becoming a penniless widow, something that is difficult to hold against her. Wentworth’s navy friends are also delightful, as are Mrs. Smith, Nurse Rook, Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay.
…this adaptation is faithful to the source material and conveys the spirit of the novel. It’s a simple, elegant, passionate and sweet adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beloved stories.
These supporting characters and the rest of the supporting cast are not overstated. They do not overwhelm the main characters or overshadow the romance at the heart of the film, that of Anne and Wentworth. Rather, they enhance it, giving the leads both obstacles and support as they move toward each other.
Overall, this adaptation is faithful to the source material and conveys the spirit of the novel. It’s a simple, elegant, passionate and sweet adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beloved stories.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
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