Feb. 17th, 2011

almaviva90: (The Merry Widow)
Rewatched the 1995 version of Persuasion the other day and it's reminded me yet again how much I love this adaptation out of all the Austen adaptations ever made - yes, even bettering the 1995 Sense and Sensibility with Thompson, Winslet, Grant and of course, Alan Rickman. Sounds sacrilegious perhaps, especially seeing how much I love S&S and especially this version of it. Persuasion hasn't as complex a storyline as S&S nor does it have as many characters but somehow I like it because of this. And not only does the novel differ from the others in this respect; it has a much more mature tone and heroine and while the heroines in the other novels fall in love for the first time in the books/films, this is perhaps the only time where the heroine, Anne Elliot, has not only fallen in love before but has also had to tend to a broken heart after being persuaded (this being the reason for the novel to be named so) by her mentor, Lady Russell, to break off her engagement to a handsome but penniless naval officer, Frederick Wentworth in 1806.

The film starts off in 1814, eight years later and Anne (Amanda Root), now aged twenty-seven and having lost her bloom, is facing certain spinsterhood - a situation which she treats calmly as a mere fact of life. However with her father's mounting debts, the once proud owners of Kellynch Hall are forced to retrench to Bath and lease the property to a certain Admiral (John Woodbine) and Mrs Croft (Fiona Shaw). All seems simple enough until Anne realises that Mrs Croft is in fact the sister of the now rich Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) who has returned to England apparently in search for a wife. Going to Uppercross, her sister Mary's (played hilariously by Sophie Thompson) home, she meets Wentworth for the first time in eight years and it is clear that his anger towards her breaking off their engagement has not subsided and he treats her with cool civility. He then expresses an interest in Mary's sister-in-law, Louisa Musgrove (Emma Roberts), who is more than welcome to the prospect of being the Captain's possible future wife. An excursion to Lyme Regis to visit his friend Captain Harville ends abruptly when Louisa, overly eager and confident to gain Wentworth's affections, sustains a concussion in a fall. While the others stand about the injured girl in shock, Anne is the first to regain her senses and administer aid, even ordering Wentworth and then a fellow Captain Benwick to summon help. Shocked by what his encouragement of Louisa's advances has resulted in and impressed by Anne's sensible and resourceful nature, Wentworth is once again forced to confront his returning feelings for his once-betrothed. However when Anne's estranged cousin, Mr William Elliot (Samuel West), expresses a sudden interest in marrying her, there is yet again another dilemma for Anne to solve. Lady Russell heartily approves of this match but Anne doubts the sincerity of Mr Elliot's intentions in marrying her despite admitting that he is exceedingly clever and charming. The storyline ends in Bath where the Musgroves are planning to buy wedding clothes for their two daughters (Louisa having now fallen in love with Captain Benwick during her recovery), Wentworth and Harville are also in the city and Wentworth is clearly quite jealous of Mr Elliot's attentions to Anne.

A most perplexing love triangle. L. to r. Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Samuel West as Mr Elliot.

Anne's doubts of Mr Elliot's character is proven after she is told that the reason why Mr Elliot is interested in marrying her is to get the title and land belonging to her father who is a baronet and to pay off his own debts. By marrying Anne, Mr Elliot will gain a stronger foothold in the family and fend off anyone wishing to marry her father who is a widower and thus remove anyone from endangering his inheritance. Realising and disgusted by Mr Elliot's intentions, she is set against any proposal which might come her way from that gentleman. The conclusion of the story comes during a conversation between Anne and Captain Harville on the faithfulness of both men and women in love which Wentworth overhears while writing a letter for Harville. (One of my favourite quotes said by Anne from the film crops up here as well: "If I may, so long as the woman you love lives, and lives for you, all the privilege I claim for my own sex, and it is not a very enviable one - you need not covet it, is that of loving longest when all hope is gone.") Wentworth then hastily writes another letter, confessing his feelings for Anne and begging her to reconsider taking him back, and leaves it for her to read before leaving the room. Having read it, Anne goes after him and they reconcile and renew their engagement. Later that evening, Wentworth asks Anne's father for permission to set a date for their marriage to which Sir Walter replies in disbelief: "Anne? You want to marry Anne? Whatever for?". The couple in question merely smile at this and the film ends with the newlywed Captain and Mrs Wentworth aboard a ship sailing off into the sunset.

The story is simple but simplicity sometimes means better and the film certainly packs a more emotional punch because of this. Not only are the two leads at conflict with their own feelings, they are also at conflict with society around them which alas are made up of usually the snobbish who only think of social class and standing, e.g. Sir Walter Elliot or those who are endlessly trying to persuade them from their own liberty of thought, e.g. Lady Russell. Upon first watching this film, you might be struck by how nearly none of the cast are exceptionally pretty or handsome (I fear that the Hollywood obsession to put priority on good looks rather than acting ability in the majority of their films may have spoiled us somewhat) but I think that's a good thing - good looks will distract you from the acting which you might not necessarily notice when you're too engrossed with some stunning beauty or other. But having said this, Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds do grow on you during the course of the film and by the end of it, I personally thought Root to be exceptionally pretty (she does in fact bloom and transform from pale, wan woman at the beginning to one glowing with beautifully calm serenity) and Hinds to be extremely attractive (he very closely resembles Alan Rickman in this film in both looks and voice). The rest of the supporting cast were excellent with kudos going especially to Sophie Thompson as Mary (her "Where's my toast?" line always gets me laughing) and John Woodbine and Fiona Shaw as the Crofts (who also represent throughout the film the kind of close and affectionate marriage which Anne and Wentworth would end up following). The film was shot in natural light which means that the indoor scenes, particularly at night, appear to be very dark indeed but this lends an authenticity which one usually does not see in Austen adaptations...it really *was* that dark at night in those days while to further this goal, the women were not given any makeup at all. Jeremy Sams (who I know was the librettist of The Merry Widow production which premiered at the ROH in '97 with TA) is responsible for the delightfully atmospheric music which never overwhelms the listener and lends a wonderful musical insight of the mood in various scenes.

Overall, this is probably the most Austen-ish of Austen adaptations so far (and please do not attempt to watch the 2007 version of Persuasion where Anne appears to run a marathon across the wet streets of Bath just to get to reveal her feelings for Wentworth...and bizzarely enough without the inclusion of the letter scene [outrageous!]) and if you ever get the good chance to watch this film, I can bet you can easily see why I'd heartily recommend it.


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January 2012


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