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Monday, July 16, 2012

Book to Reel: Jane Austen's Persuasion

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Colin Firth is extra dreamy as Mr. Darcy in the A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, it is so well known that I hardly see any point in recommending that version. Now, I am not saying that I am never going to write an article about it, but really, do I have to convince anyone to see that movie? I mention this because recently, Legacy Romance took a poll asking about favorite male characters, and of course Mr. Darcy came to mind. But one participant in the poll mentioned Captain Wentworth from Persuasion. It seemed a strange coincidence to me as I had been thinking about Captain Wentworth that morning--specifically, Ciaran Hinds’ portrayal of him in the 1995 BBC production. My mind was made up! I abandoned my plans to review Jane Eyre and settled on Persuasion for this edition of Book to Reel.

Persuasion was one of Jane Austen’s last books and was published posthumously in 1817 along with Northanger Abbey. It differs significantly from Pride and Prejudice in that there is no bright, sparkling heroine like Elizabeth Bennett to entertain us--no, only Anne Elliot, a girl described as being past the first blush of youth, rather faded, possibly destined to be a spinster. Amanda Root is quite good at portraying Anne Elliot, of looking plain and rather harassed by her imbecilic family, yet also appearing to have an intelligent mind and the ability to make good decisions and sound judgments. This is an interesting paradox as the story revolves around her willingness, in the past, to be persuaded against marrying the man she loves, Captain Wentworth, because he had no fortune and no guarantees. Captain Wentworth manages to make out very well for himself in the Navy, as he promised the Anne Elliot of his youth he would. They meet again after eight and a half years, she alone and unhappy, he a decorated hero poised to make a good match.

This film version of the novel is beautifully shot and the supporting cast is, on the whole, exceptional. I especially enjoyed Sophie Thompson’s portrayal of Mary Musgrove, Anne’s younger, hypochondriac sister. Phoebe Nicholls is not quite as successful as Elizabeth Elliot, Anne’s older sister--a bit over the top for my taste, though I did enjoy the minor deviation from the book that showed her eating in almost every scene of the film. It highlights her selfish, greedy nature in a delightfully amusing way.

But the real treasure is Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth. There is nothing conventional about Hinds’ appearance and I daresay some women would not find him handsome, but he is very striking and has a commanding presence, which ends up being more attractive than mere good looks. He is absolutely compelling as Frederick Wentworth from the moment he steps on screen, and he and Amanda Root have real chemistry. The scene where the two erstwhile lovers meet for the first time after their separation is fraught with tension, helped along by attention to detail. Anne, with downcast eyes, clutches the chair behind her. The camera takes a close up of her hand gripping the chair and the effect is poetic, almost more powerful than the following close up of her face. A trick of the lens perhaps makes the background recede behind her, giving the impression of a swoon. You can almost feel her heart palpitating. Captain Wentworth barely acknowledges her existence, his bitterness and resentment radiating in waves. Anne’s subsequent exposure to Captain Wentworth’s courtship of Louisa Musgrove is nothing short of torture, for her and for us, but when she is suffering the most, Captain Wentworth begins to soften toward his former flame. His solicitous care for her and his renewed regard tantalizes the viewer and makes us long for their reunion.

The liberties that the film takes are all, in my opinion, completely forgivable. To be sure, it is pure twenty-first century indulgence when Captain Wentworth announces to a room full of Anne’s detractors that she has accepted his marriage proposal, a scene certainly not included in the book, but it is oh, so very satisfying to watch! The costumes, set design, and scenery are all beautiful as well. It is always somewhat jarring to watch a movie entirely populated with British actors with substandard dental care and poor orthodontia--even my ten-year-old states “how horrible” everyone’s teeth are! But however unpleasant, it is more realistic than American-made period pieces where everyone is flashing obscenely perfect smiles with teeth so white they almost look blue. Bad teeth do lend an air of reality.

If you have not seen this version of Persuasion, treat yourself. It is a wonderful complement to the book and ranks among the best Austen adaptations. I don’t promise that Captain Wentworth is superior to Mr. Darcy, but he does give him a run for his money. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Persuasion also plays a big role in our newest release, Ladies in Waiting by Kate Douglas Wiggin. In the story A Cathedral Courtship, Kitty Schuyler receives a copy of the novel from a secret admirer, with portions of Captain Wentworth's impassioned letter to Anne underlined for emphasis!

POSTED BY: L.R. Blizzard

If you have any suggestions or recommendations for future Book to Reel reviews, please feel free to include them in the comments section following this article!

Ladies in Waiting by Kate Douglas Wiggin
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