Friday, November 30, 2012

Review of 2007 Persuasion by Lisa Nelson

Persuasion. Dir. Adrian Shergold. Perf. Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Rupert Penry-Jones, Anthony Head, Amanda Hale.  ITV/BBC Television, 2007. 2 out of 4 stars.
I must admit that I was very skeptical about liking the character of Anne Elliot on film as well as I liked her in the book. It would seem to be a very hard task to make her deep thoughts and feelings known to the audience without the benefit of the play-by-play of what she is thinking and feeling that we get from Jane Austen’s detailed writing. But I was pleasantly surprised by Sally Hawkins’s strong and sympathetic performance, which was the best feature of the film. It is too bad that the rest of the film was not quite as good. Some scenes were played up for comedy, or were made entirely too dramatic, when they should have been more natural. In this adaptation the grand gestures sometimes drown out what can be breathtaking in the subtleness that Austen creates in her writing. 
      Right away on seeing Anne’s father, Sir William (played by Anthony Head), it was clear that he was not the narcissistic and blissfully ignorant character that I had an impression of in the book but an angry, domineering, and quite intimidating man who did not seem the type to leave Anne to herself but to try to control her. The character of Anne’s sister, Mary Musgrove, was also overdone, but in the opposite direction from the seriousness of the father. Her self-importance is accompanied by a comically strained voice that makes her seem too ridiculous to be anything but the comic relief that begs attention. Mary’s dialogue written by Austen is ridiculous and annoying enough without the added character acting that hits us over the head with how we are supposed to view her. Captain Wentworth was played quite well by Rupert Penry-Jones, but at one point, he storms out of the concert at Bath in a passion of anger before it has even started, and Anne chases after him, which seems wildly out of character for both of them. I would think that if they were that passionate in the first place they would have confessed their feelings to each other already.
Although the rest of the cast does a fair job it was very disappointing how many scenes were cut short, and many of the best parts of the book were not shown at all. When Anne has the conversation that she was supposed to have with Captain Harville at the end, about which sex loves longest, with Captain Benwick at Lyme instead, all my hopes of seeing the scene that had me holding my breath while Captain Wentworth dropped his pen were dashed. It was also cut very short and did not seem to matter as much in this film as it should have. Although her marriage is seen as happy and ideal, Mrs. Croft’s stories of her own experience as a sailor’s wife were overlooked. The scenes with Mrs. Smith were cut short as well without giving her whole story with Mr. Elliot, and it is only very quickly mentioned at the end that he had bad intentions in wanting to marry Anne. The issues that were most interesting in the story were ignored in the film in favor of getting to the action of moving Anne and Captain Wentworth closer together, which turned out to climax in the slowest and most awkward kiss I’ve seen outside of a comedy.
All in all, this version was not terrible to watch but very disappointing if you’ve read the book and were expecting to see the most intriguing parts played out. The 1995 version is a much more thoughtful piece which was more careful to include the deeper issues of gender and class behind the love story that Austen intended her readers to see. Austen portrayed everyday people going about their daily lives in her writing. She did not intend to write the love story of the century in any of her novels. She wrote not merely about strong feelings, but true feelings being worked out through social customs and restrictions. The awkward use in the film of enormous crashing waves at Lyme, some overdone characters, a passionate fit of jealousy, and an ending that has the heroine running around frantically and out of breathe for the sake of drama and action does not compliment the subtle and complex way that Jane Austen tells an enchanting story.

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