Persuasion (1995 film)
Region 1 DVD cover
|Directed by||Roger Michell|
|Produced by||Fiona Finlay|
|Screenplay by||Nick Dear|
by Jane Austen
|Music by||Jeremy Sams|
|Edited by||Kate Evans|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics (USA)|
|Running time||104 minutes|
Persuasion is a 1995 BBC TV-film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel of the same name. It was directed by British theater director Roger Michell, and its screenwriter was Nick Dear. Amanda Root starred as protagonist Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds played Captain Frederick Wentworth. Nine years previous to the film's beginning their characters were in love, until Anne was persuaded to reject his proposal of marriage; the film's storyline follows the two becoming reacquainted with each other, as supporting characters and events threaten to interfere.
Persuasion was the product of an upswing in popularity for the works of Jane Austen, and was one of four Austen novels produced that year. It was shot on location at various English locales featured in the novel, including Lyme Regis and Bath. The film was co-produced by BBC Two, American studio WGBH-TV, and French company Millesime.
The film premiered on 16 April 1995 on television in Britain, but was released theatrically in the United States and other countries later that year and into the following one. The film received generally positive reviews, with many praising Root's performance and the film's "realistic" attention to the time period.
The film opens between scenes cutting back and forth of a naval ship carrying Admiral Croft (John Woodvine), and a buggy carrying Mr. Shepherd (David Collings) and his daughter Mrs. Clay (Felicity Dean) to Kellynch Hall. Shepherd and Clay are accosted for debts owed by the residence's owner, Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave), while Croft discusses the end of the Napoleonic Wars with fellow navy men. Sir Walter, a vain foppish baronet, is faced with financial ruin unless he retrenches. Though he initially opposes the idea, he eventually agrees to plans to temporarily move to Bath while the hall is let; this was thought of by Shepherd, family friend Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood), and Sir Walter's second eldest, intelligent daughter Anne (Amanda Root).
Anne is visibly upset after learning that the new tenant of Kellynch Hall will be the admiral, who is the brother-in-law of Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciarán Hinds), a man she was persuaded to reject nine years previously because of his lack of prospects and connections. Wentworth is now wealthy from serving in the navy during the Wars, and has returned to England to presumably find a wife. While her father and elder sister Elizabeth leave the hall for Bath, Anne remains to finish up directing the residence's preparation for its new tenants. After discovering old letters between her and Wentworth, she expresses to Lady Russell her unhappiness at her family's current financial predicament, and her past decision to reject the captain's proposal of marriage. Anne visits their other sibling, Mary (Sophie Thompson), who has married into a local family, the Musgroves. Anne patiently listens to the many various complaints confided in her by Mary, her husband Charles, sisters-in-law Louisa (Emma Roberts) and Henrietta (Victoria Hamilton), and parents-in-law Mr. Musgrove (Roger Hammond) and Mrs. Musgrove (Judy Cornwell).
Having now settled in at Kellynch Hall, Admiral and Mrs. Croft visit the Musgroves. Mrs. Croft's brother Captain Wentworth comes to dine with them, but Anne avoids going when she volunteers to nurse Mary's son, who is injured with a broken collarbone. The following morning at breakfast, Anne and Mary are suddenly met briefly by Wentworth, the first time he and Anne have seen each other since her rejection. Mary later tells Anne Wentworth thought she was so altered, he "would not have known you again". Wentworth becomes the focus of matrimony to Louisa and Henrietta, as the family is unaware of his and Anne's past relationship. Hurt and rejected by Anne's refusal years before, he appears to court Louisa, much to Anne's chagrin. In a later walk taken by everyone, Wentworth learns from Louisa that Anne also was persuaded by Lady Russell to refuse Charles' offer of marriage, after which Charles instead proposed to Mary.
Anne, the Musgroves, and Wentworth go to Lyme to visit two of his old naval friends, Captain Harville (Robert Glenister) and Captain Benwick (Richard McCabe). While there, Louisa rashly jumps off a staircase in the hopes Wentworth will catch her, but falls before he can reach her and sustains a head injury. Wentworth, Henrietta, and Anne travel back to Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove's residence and tell them about their injured daughter, leading them to hurry back to Lyme. Anne soon goes to Bath to stay with her father and sister. Sir Walter and Elizabeth reveal they have repaired their relationship with a previously disreputable cousin, Mr. Elliot (Samuel West), the heir to the Elliot baronetcy and estate. Anne is introduced to him, and they realize they briefly saw each other in Lyme. Much to Lady Russell's pleasure, Mr. Elliot begins to court Anne, but she remains uncertain of his true character. Louisa having recovered and become engaged to Captain Benwick, Wentworth arrives in Bath and encounters Anne on several occasions, though their conversations are brief. Anne learns from an old friend, Mrs. Smith (Helen Schlesinger), that Mr. Elliot is bankrupt and only interested in marrying Anne to help further ensure his inheritance from her father and keep him from possibly marrying Mrs. Clay to provide a son.
Wentworth overhears Anne talking with Captain Harville about the constancy of a woman's love, and writes her a letter declaring he still loves her. The two walk off down a street, arm in arm, and he announces his intention to marry Anne at a party later that night, much to Mr. Elliot's consternation. The final scene shows Wentworth and Anne on a naval ship, happy to be together.
- Amanda Root as Anne Elliot
- Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth
- Susan Fleetwood as Lady Russell
- Corin Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot
- Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Croft
- John Woodvine as Admiral Croft
- Phoebe Nicholls as Elizabeth Elliot
- Samuel West as Mr. Elliot
- Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove
- Judy Cornwell as Mrs. Musgrove
- Simon Russell Beale as Charles Musgrove
- Felicity Dean as Mrs. Clay
- Roger Hammond as Mr. Musgrove
- Emma Roberts as Louisa Musgrove
- Victoria Hamilton as Henrietta Musgrove
- Robert Glenister as Captain Harville
- Richard McCabe as Captain Benwick
- Helen Schlesinger as Mrs. Smith
- Jane Wood as Nurse Rooke
- David Collings as Mr. Shepherd
- Darlene Johnson as Lady Dalrymple
- Cinnamon Faye as Miss Carteret
- Isaac Maxwell-Hunt as Henry Hayter
- Roger Llewellyn as Sir Henry Willoughby
- Sally George as Mrs. Harville
Conception and adaptation
The filming of Persuasion coincided with a sudden resurgence of Jane Austen adaptations – the last feature film based on an Austen novel had been Pride and Prejudice, which was released in 1940. Persuasion was the second of six Austen adaptations released during the mid-1990s; while it was common for a successful adaptation to encourage the makings of others, this surge in Austen's popularity involved many projects occurring at the same time – Persuasion's production, for instance, coincided with the TV serial Pride and Prejudice and the feature film Sense and Sensibility. The film's English director, Roger Michell, described the author's sudden popularity, "It's not a fever but a typhus in the U.K. at the moment". In comparison to its adaptations in the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC provided increased production funding and Persuasion consequently benefited, allowing the film to be shot at on-site locations like Lyme and Bath, and in the southeastern English countryside.
Producer Fiona Finlay had for several years been interested in making a film based on the novel Persuasion, and approached screenwriter Nick Dear about adapting it for television. Dear expressed a preference to work on either Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, but agreed to Persuasion after reading the novel, as he considered it to be a much more mature work than the others. Dear spent the next two following years working on a script.
As a young child, Roger Michell was an admirer of Jane Austen, which set him apart from the other boys in school. "I was the only boy in my class who took Austen as a special paper," he has said. Michell explained that Persuasion attracted him because he believed it to be Austen's most emotional and poignant novel, as well as her most autobiographical. Previously a theatre and serial director, Michell was chosen to direct Persuasion, in what was to be his first feature film.
Michell attempted to be as faithful to the novel as possible, in particular avoiding what he felt was the "glossy, artificial feel" of other 19th century depictions. Michell explained, "I was desperately trying to make it feel like it could be happening in the next room. I tried to make it something which is absolutely about real people and not about dressing or hairstyles or carpet." Consequently, because he felt the realistic look of the age would make the film more dramatic, Michell chose to depict the actors without make up, and disallowed them from looking too hygienic. English actress Amanda Root, who played Anne Elliot, commented about the film's natural look in an interview, "I basically didn't wear any makeup [in the movie], and my hair was obviously set in a very unflattering way. That was it, really. I suppose the lighting was quite harsh, as well. None of us looked good". She continued in a separate interview, "[Michell] didn't want the picture-postcard look, really. And I wanted to make Anne Elliot a somewhat plain woman who was not really miserable but had found a way to be content somehow, and yet emotions are buzzing around her all the time". Root believes the film's realistic depiction of the age is a key aspect of the film's appeal.
Persuasion was initially budgeted as a BBC Two production at £750,000, but received further funding after it was made a co-production with WGBH Boston for theatrical release in the United States. Persuasion thus inadvertently became Roger Michell and Nick Dear's first feature film. French company Millesime also co-produced the film in exchange for airing it on television in France. As a result of this additional funding, it was shot on 35 mm film, and its funding was increased to £1,000,000. Mobil Oil Corporation, as a sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre, also contributed to the film. WGBH gave the BBC detailed notes, which were then integrated into the script, while Millesime was unhappy with certain aspects of the story, for instance wanting the entire Lyme sequence removed because they considered it "too boring".
The film's main protagonist, Anne Elliot, was played by English actress Amanda Root in her theatrical film debut. By her own admission, "every actress in England" read for the part; having worked with the director previously, Root won the role by writing a letter to him to gain an audition. The American production company had wanted a better known actress for the part, but agreed to Root's casting after seeing her screen test. On her character's appearance, Root explained that "If you feel unhappy inside, you'll look it. We shot the movie in chronological order, and it made me realize what a difference that sense of unhappiness can create. Because obviously at the end of the film she's happier and looks better. At one point late in the shooting we had to go do one of the scenes that takes place earlier in the action. Having done the rest of the film, it was quite a shock to realize what it felt like to be that insular".
Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, who depicted Captain Frederick Wentworth, commented that Austen "understands a man's heart and how delicate it can be sometimes," and appreciated the fact that though Wentworth was a "competent leader of men in his profession" he was "socially inept" in Anne's presence. Susan Fleetwood, the actress who played Lady Russell, died soon after filming. Persuasion was her last film role.
During shooting, Persuasion often had to compete for costumes and props with the BBC production Pride and Prejudice, which was being filmed at the same time. Persuasion's crew consequently had to send for replacement items from Italy and Australia.
The film was shot on location in the English counties Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, and in the cities Bath, Lyme Regis, and Portsmouth. Nick Dear desired to have the opening sequence be on board a Royal Navy ship of the period, but the only authentic vessel available was the retired HMS Victory. It was dry docked in Portsmouth, and was only available for short periods, as the ship was meant to be for entertaining tourists. The subsequent shot, in which Anne and Wentworth gaze into the ocean, was taken from the 1984 historical film The Bounty. The film's low budget also resulted in one of the opening shots, depicting Admiral Croft's ship on the ocean, being taken from The Bounty. To display the climax when Anne and Wentworth finally approach each other with their feelings, two different scenes were shot, one in which they kiss and one in which they do not. The scene where they kiss was inputted by the request of the American distributor for its US release, and was retained for the British version because Michell liked the scene. Rebecca Eaton, one of the film's American producers, thought "A kiss would be an emotional pay-off".
Themes and analysis
Of the many productions of Austen adaptations that appeared in the 1990s, Carole M. Dole notes Persuasion was the only one to "insistently draw attention to class issues," and "provide striking visual testimony to the workings of the British class system". Anne-Marie Scholz writes that the film and Sense and Sensibility both highlight the theme of class, but in different ways. Unlike Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion depicts general class divisions rather than just how the working class impacts the protagonists – the camera focuses on their faces and expressions, personifying them. Furthermore, Scholz argues that Anne's marginal status as a woman is linked to that of the servants; the parallel between class and gender is conveyed with Anne's trip to Uppercross in a cart containing animals.
Sue Parrill believes the film's larger production budget, which allowed the crew to film at many on-site locations, "enabled the filmmakers to make fuller use of setting for symbolism and for creation of mood".
Persuasion, airing on British television's BBC Two, was broadcast 16 April 1995, Easter day. An estimated 3.8 million viewers watched the production. Two other Austen adaptations, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, were released in late 1995 to great success in the United Kingdom. Their success lifted Persuasion out of "potential obscurity", as the film's theatrical release occurred on 27 September solely in the United States. The film earned $56,000 in its first week of release in New York, and grossed $150,000 in Los Angeles. The total US gross was $5,269,757.
Persuasion garnered highly positive reviews from major film critics, and critical review website Rotten Tomatoes has calculated a rating of 83%, which refers to the percentage of positive reviews. Caryn James of the New York Times rated it a "critic's pick," praising the actors' performances. James elaborated, "[The novel] is brilliantly captured by Mr. Michell, with the screenwriter Nick Dear and a cast completely in sync with Austen's warm but piercing style. Their "Persuasion" is profoundly truthful in many ways: in its sense of emotional longing; in its natural, unglamorized visual beauty, ranging from drawing rooms to the sea; in its fidelity to the delicate tone of Austen's satire and romance". Writing for Entertainment Weekly, critic Ken Tucker graded the film with an A-, saying it "should enthral even those who haven't read the Jane Austen novel on which it is based... A clearheaded love story, Persuasion is the sort of passionate yet precise comedy that reminds me why Austen remains such a vital writer". Susan Ostrov Weisser, a professor of nineteenth-century literature, called the film a "faithful parade of Austen's world", and praised Root as the film's "crown jewel" for playing a "fiercely intelligent, regretful, and frustrated Anne Elliot with subtlety and nuance". In 2008, James Rampton of The Independent rated it the fourth best Austen adaptation of all time.
|Award||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|British Academy Television Awards||Best Costume Design||Alexandra Byrne||Won|
|Best Design||William Dudley and Brian Sykes||Won|
|Best Make Up||Jean Speak||Nominated|
|Best Original Television Music||Jeremy Sams||Nominated|
|Best Photography and Lighting (Fiction/Entertainment)||John Daly||Won|
|Best Single Drama||Fiona Finlay, Roger Michell and Nick Dear||Won|
|National Board of Review||Top Ten Movies||Persuasion||Won|
|Royal Television Society||Team Award (Craft)||Design Team||Won|
Provenance and legacy
The release of Persuasion and the other adaptations had a tremendous effect on the popularity of Jane Austen. Membership in the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) nearly doubled. Like Thompson, Nick Dear published his screenplay.
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