Persuasion

Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root in Persuasion

 

 

Before popping up seemingly out of nowhere when he directed Notting Hill, Roger Michell had had a successful career as a theatre director, at the groundbreaking Royal Court Theatre in London with Samuel Beckett and John Osborne (where he also met Danny Boyle), then on to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) before switching to directing for TV. Persuasion was his second gig for the BBC, and considering that stories of difficult love (Notting Hill, The Mother, Venus) would be his future, and the theatre was his past, it’s a perfect melding of the two. His cast for Persuasion is theatrical through and through, Amanda Root (an RSC stalwart) playing Jane Austen’s spinster heroine Anne Elliot, a woman coming up to a slow boil on the flame rekindled by Captain Wentworth, the recently returned suitor she was persuaded to reject years before. Wentworth is played by Ciarán Hinds, also an RSC old hand. His is a knockout Wentworth (no wonder Hollywood spooned him up), a bluff old sea dog now reconciled to a life on his own, in the same way that Elliot has also come to terms with the prospect of being, without a husband, a social nobody. From these two unlikely characters, using actors Hollywood would never cast in the roles (ie they’re good looking but they don’t set your pants on fire), and carefully fanning one of the spinsterish Austen’s most passionate, personal works, Michell slowly builds a stressful, uncertain romance that will have you digging the fingernails into your palms – it would certainly make sense for these two lonely individuals to fall for each other, but they’ve got to do it for all the right reasons, not just because they’re both available, right?

Look down the cast list, from Corin Redgrave and Fiona Shaw to Samuel West and Simon Russell Beale – Michell has A-list British theatrical talent to work with. Another weapon in his armoury is the film’s production design, by William Dudley, who shows us the 18th century as it really might look – lived-in, scuffed, possibly in need of a lick of paint here and there.

The result is a film of great subtlety and believability, made for TV but gaining a theatrical release in the US (which doesn’t happen often), a simmering romance that sneaks up unawares, Michell catching the characters’ turbulent inner feelings without ever getting the megaphone out. In its own quiet way it is, as Miss Austen would doubtless say, kick-ass stuff.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Persuasion – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Persuasion”

  1. This has got to be the most watchable Jane Austen adaptation since the recent influx. Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds are simply the best at conveying unrequited love. One is not blindsided by the big names and distracting beauty of those that have filled the roles of more recent Austen films, and that’s how it should be. The performances by Sophie Thompson (Emma’s sister), Phoebe Nicholls (remember "Brideshead Revisited"?), and Corin Redgrave is enough to make this movie recommendable, but the 2 main characters are absolutely superb and sympathetic without being sappy or gratuitous. The other supporting cast is phenomenal; what one expects from a nice little English film. Cinematography and soundtrack are fitting as well. Highly recommended!

  2. I loved this film by Roger Michell. Adaptations of great literary classics are fraught with dangerous shoals which have all been blithely avoided in this superb adaption of Jane Austen's masterpiece about love.

    There isn't a false move in the entire enterprise. The casting is perfect and the performances flawless.

    Special kudos to Amanda Root's brilliant, subtle performance as the heroine Anne Elliot. Ciaran Hinds, as Captain Wentworth, is virile, handsome and highly attractive as the lonely sea-farer come to land after years of fighting in the Napolianic wars.

    Not only is this a ripping love story it is imbued with great humor and pathos as well.

    There is nothing "high-fallutin'" about it either. Not for one instant does the nasty face of preciosity enter in. The film speaks TO the viewer not at him from a high place.

    There are some brilliant vignettes, notably in the person of Cinnamon Faye as the honorable Miss Carteret. She doesn't have a single word to utter but in her facial mannerisms conveys a hilarious portrayal of the empty-headed daughter of the nasty Viscountess Dalrymple. Only in the very last scene does Ms Faye utter and that is simply to emit the silliest sneeze I've ever heard. One of the brilliant and rare moments of exquisite comedy to be seen in a film.

    Other standouts in the cast are John Woodvine and Fiona Shaw as the Admiral and his devoted wife. Sophie Thompson turns in a wonderful performance as the ever-whining, obnoxious younger sister, Mary, who, along with the elder Elliot daughter, Elizabeth, burden the long-suffering Anne with their uselessness. Phoebe Nicholls, of Brideshead Revisted fame (she was Sebastian Flyte's youngest sister Cordelia) contributes yet another wonderful performance in her career, as the ill-tempered Elizabeth, ultimately conveying the tragedy of the burgeoning spinster in the last scene.

    Even if great literary classics aren't your "bag" don't miss this minor masterpiece if you happen to love great film-making.

  3. Following in the BBC’s fine tradition of producing outstanding costume dramas through the 1970’s and 1980’s, including versions of Jane Austen’s novels, this Bafta award-winning co-production, with WGBH and Sony amongst others, of `Persuasion’ (her final complete work published mid rewrite in 1818, the year after her death), was made in 1995 with a stellar cast of British stage actors, many from the Royal Shakespeare Company with numerous TV credits.

    The film’s events converge on the time Napoleon has been banished to Elba and the Battle of Waterloo of 1815 is still a year away. Among the servicemen returning home is Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) who has been at sea for eight years since Anne Elliot’s (Amanda Root) rejection of his marriage proposal. The Captain is now a man of prosperity and social rank while his former nineteen-year-old love interest has matured into a ‘faded and thin’ old maid of twenty-seven in service to her family. Anne has lived to regret her mistake in being persuaded by her friend and patroness, Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood, `Heat and Dust’, who sadly died the year `Persuasion’ was released), to refuse Wentworth as a man of unsuitable temperament. Whilst his affection would now seem to be directed towards her brother-in-law’s sister, Louisa Musgrove (Emma Roberts), Anne’s only romantic hope lies in the dubious and underhand attentions of her cousin William Elliot (an obsequious Samuel West, who was memorably the ill-fated Leonard Bast in `Howards End’). However, the accident on the Cobb at Lyme Regis requires Anne’s sensible advice on how to handle the crisis and eventually leads to a second chance for her. Incidentally the Cobb was to play another starring role in John Fowles’ `The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, with Karel Reisz’ 1981 dramatic movie version embellishing it with a strikingly cloaked Meryl Streep braving the elements, ensuring that it will remain a tourist attraction in perpetuity.

    Ostensibly with concern over the intellectual inequality of Captain Benwick’s sudden attachment to Louisa after the accident, Captain Wentworth makes the impassioned declaration to Anne regarding his friend’s broken hearted loss of his fiancee: `A man does not recover from such a devotion to such a woman, he ought not, he does not’, but is patently reflecting on his own lasting strong feelings for Anne. Surely it is wiser to recognise when adoration for one person is no longer appropriate and a chance may lie with someone else. The supposed difference between the sexes regarding fidelity is discussed with Jane Austen adding the comment to her argument that the authors who view women as more fickle, have all been men. This last remark in the film is rather improbably but modernly given to Anne, who also makes the bold claim for her sex that it is capable of `loving longest when all hope is gone.’ It is not a question of gender but of genetic makeup and whether you are truly monogamous, as Western religions and society would decree us to be, or true to yourself.

    Although comfortable, life must have been dreadfully dull at times for the women in this world who could not relieve their tedium as their menfolk would by going off to war. This observation is endorsed by the couple of scenes depicting a concert and an evening of card playing, tinged with amber candle light infusing gentle nostalgic warmth to the proceedings which is at odds with the atmosphere of bored ritualistic entertainment. The different levels of lighting are used to subtle effect here and contrast with the cold glare of Ang Lee’s brilliantly lit interiors in his working of Austen’s first novel `Sense and Sensibility’, also produced in the same year.

    Amanda Root (`Mortimer’s Law’, and as Fanny Price, another of Austen’s independent women, in `Mansfield Park’ for BBC Radio 4) is brilliant as the quiet understated heroine with luminosity to her face that beautifully transcribes the full gamut of emotions she experiences from servitude to the blossoming of love. Her co-star, Ciaran Hinds (`The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’) is equally gifted of expression, with a barely repressed anger and resentment towards Anne, under the guise of curt civility that eventually he is forced to recognise masks his continuing passion for her. Interestingly over the next two years both leads went onto appear in different versions of Jane Eyre, with Amanda Root well cast as the kindly schoolteacher Miss Temple in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 version and Ciaran Hinds as a suitably anguished Mr Rochester in Robert Young’s 1997 TV adaptation.

    Jane Austen’s fable may be recognised as the classic fairy tale of Cinderella, of a good hearted and dutiful daughter put upon by her foolish and snobbish father and cruel sisters, but who is eventually saved by her true prince. With great effect, the author adds to the romance her wit and sense of humour to explore the characteristics of the genteel world she lived in with all its human frailties. Nick Dear’s screenplay, together with Roger Michell’s necessarily less frantic direction than in `Notting Hill’, adroitly captures the essence of Austen’s narrative to provide one of the finest visual interpretations of her work. Strong supporting performances are also given by the ensemble of Corin Redgrave (`Enigma’) as the supercilious father; Sophie Thompson (`Emma’) and Phoebe Nicholls (`The Elephant Man’) as the far from ugly sisters of hypochondriac Mary and haughty Elizabeth; and Fiona Shaw (`Jane Eyre’) and John Woodvine (`Wuthering Heights’) as the companionable Crofts.

    Obviously complying with its `Beautiful People’ culture the original cover of the American video version replaced the demure leads with two glamorous models, as a spokeswoman for Columbia Tristar in California has said, `I guess to make it a little more seductive to us over here’. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to read that this film was well received in the States especially as it remained true to its British identity, and therefore set an exemplary standard in not pandering to an anticipated overseas market by using well-known international stars.

  4. For some reason, people seem to leave "Persuasion" out when they are naming Jane Austen adaptations. I find that lamentable, since it is such a wonderful film. It is exceedingly British, which means that Americans might find it a little hard to understand, but personally I think it is superb.

    All the acting is stellar; I can’t really identify a bad performance. Ciaran Hines especially shines as the warm but reserved Captain Wentworth.

    Of all the Jane Austen adaptations (except "Pride and Prejudice") I believe "Persuasion" is the truest to the time period. The characters act within the conventions of regency England and seem to be comfortable doing so.

    I would recommend this movie to any Jane Austen lover or a person who enjoys period films or classic literature. A person who does not fall into those categories might enjoy it as well, but is likely to find it slow and difficult to understand.

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