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)|
Persuasion is a 1995 BBC adaptation directed by Roger Michell and based on Jane Austen's novel of the same name. The British actress Amanda Root stars as protagonist Anne Elliot, while Ciarán Hinds plays her romantic interest, Captain Frederick Wentworth. The film is set in 19th century England, nine years after Anne was persuaded by others to reject Wentworth's proposal of marriage. Persuasion follows the two becoming reacquainted with each other, as supporting characters and events threaten to interfere.
The film was adapted by the British writer Nick Dear. Persuasion was the product of an upswing in popularity for Austen's works, and was one of four Austen novels produced that year. The production was filmed on location at various English locales featured in the novel, including Lyme Regis and Bath. It was co-produced by BBC Two, the American studio WGBH-TV, and the French company Millesime.
Persuasion originally premiered on on British television, airing on 16 April 1995. It was released in American cinemas and elsewhere later that year and into 1996. The film received generally positive reviews, with many praising Root's performance and the production's "realistic" attention to the time period.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Themes and analysis
- 5 Reception
- 6 Provenance and legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
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 men of the navy. 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 daughter, the intelligent 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 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. Later, Anne visits her other sibling, Mary (Sophie Thompson). A hypochondriac, Mary has married into a local farming family, the Musgroves. Anne patiently listens to the many various complaints confided in her by each of the Musgroves, which includes Mary's husband Charles, sisters-in-law Louisa (Emma Roberts) and Henrietta (Victoria Hamilton), and parents-in-law Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove (Roger Hammond and 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, Wentworth, and the younger Musgroves go to Lyme to visit two of Wentworth's 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 the Musgrove residence to inform the elderly couple about their injured daughter. Afterwards, Anne 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 realise 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 ensure his inheritance from her father and keep the baronet from possibly marrying Mrs. Clay to provide a son. Soon after, 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. Anne quickly finds him and the two happily walk off down a street, arm in arm. That night at a party, Wentworth announces his intention to marry Anne, 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
Fiona Finlay, an English producer, had for several years been interested in making a film version of the Jane Austen novel Persuasion (published in 1817). Finlay approached the writer Nick Dear about adapting it for television. Instead, Dear suggested they work on two of Austen's other works – Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice – but agreed to adapt Persuasion after reading the novel, which he considered a maturer work than the others. Dear spent the next two years working on a script.
Dear found writing his script difficult for two reasons. Firstly, he needed to find a structure that would be faithful to the novel. Secondly, his protagonist barely spoke for the first half, and "therefore can't motor the action along as a central character conventionally does". Adapting Austen's wit was another challenge, as he could not use it "because it's almost all in the author's voice telling us about characters, with a certain wit or lightness that came from the characters themselves. It's a craft job, interpreting the novel for oneself and then finding a film language for it."
Previously a theatre and serial director, Roger Michell was chosen to direct Persuasion, in what was to be his first feature film. As a young child, Michell had been an admirer of Austen's, which set him apart from his male classmates. "I was the only boy in my class who took Austen as a special paper," he said. His attraction to Persuasion was based on his belief that it was Austen's most emotional and poignant novel, as well as her most autobiographical. He described the novel an "erotic love story which is full of sexual yearning".
The film's protagonist, Anne Elliot, was played by the 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 him a letter 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.
Root realised that while the novel's narrative style allowed Anne's thoughts to come through, the film adaptation had comparatively little dialogue. As a result, she "had to cover pages and pages of the story without uttering anything, much of the time. I couldn't even think about technique, I just had to keep looking at the book and then somehow radiate the feelings". They shot Persuasion in chronological order, which allowed Root to see "what a difference [her character's] sense of unhappiness can create," as by the end of the film Anne is "happier and looks better". Root considered the role to be much quieter than her experiences working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which included her portrayal of Lady Macbeth.
The Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, who depicted 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.
Costume design and make-up
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. Amanda Root 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 was a key aspect of the film's appeal.
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. Wentworth is typically depicted in naval uniforms, in contrast to Bryan Marshall's version of the character in the 1971 adaptation. Sue Parrill opines that the uniform helps set him apart from most of the other male characters.
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".
In comparison to its adaptations of the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC provided increased funding for many of its productions in the 1990s. Persuasion consequently benefited, allowing it to be filmed at on-site locations like Lyme and Bath, and in the southeastern English countryside. The film was also shot on location in the English counties Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Wiltshire. Nick Dear desired that 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
Changes from source material
Literary scholars have noted some significant differences between the film and the source material. Sarah R. Morrison observes that the film's version of Anne articulates thoughts that the character would never say in the novel. Morrison cites Anne's adamant defence of her visit to Mrs. Smith in the film as an example, as "Austen's narrator makes it abundantly clear that Anne would never presume to dispute with her father upon such terms of absolute equality". The film's Anne also engages in actions not visible in the novel, such as her haste to stop Wentworth from leaving the concert. Morrison attributes these differences to the difficulty in adapting novel to film, particularly as the latter form lacks a narrator to convey Anne's inner thoughts.
The film also expands upon Austen's subtle characterisation by exaggerating the emotions of characters and certain scenes. For example, in the novel during an early party Anne offers to play the pianoforte like usual, this time slightly tearful but also "extremely glad to be employed" and "unobserved". Conversely, Dear's screenplay has Wentworth quickly giving up his seat to Anne and then dancing with the Musgrove sisters, furthering the contrast between the two groups. According to David Monaghan, Austen's novel displays a "relatively radical vision" of societal change, such as the rise of a professional class challenging the old order of landed gentry. Monaghan posits that this vision appealed to Dear and Michell, who used visuals and movement to emphasise this change. However, the two "deviate significantly" from the source material by depicting Anne and Wentworth as "single-mindedly oriented" to the future and thus 20th-century viewers' sensibilities.
The scholar Sue Parrill asserts Persuasion '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". The weather, for instance, is particularly important to Anne's state of mind in the novel. Persuasion 's opening scenes establish its historical context, as well as the financial predicament the Elliot family finds itself in. Indeed, by opening the film with a depiction of sailors Rachel Brownstein opines that the director is confronting a common complaint of Austen's works – her failure to mention the Napoleonic Wars. The juxtaposition between the navy and the Elliots also establishes their differences, with the former group discussing the fall of Napoleon and the latter group discussing the relevantly minor inconvenience of overspending their income.
Theme of class
Austen scholars have studied the film's intersection with class and social change. While directing, Roger Michell felt that the story included "the prototype of the postmodern family" – Anne's mother is dead, her father is bankrupt, and "the old social orders are breaking down". 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". The film, she adds, accomplishes this in part by focusing on the servants' faces, gauging their negative reactions to events. Anne-Marie Scholz writes that the film and Emma Thompson's 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.
Theme of gender
In Michell's opinion, Austen was a "proto-feminist" who possessed a "clear-sighted vision of the ways the world is tilted against women". As evidence, Michell cited a scene in which Anne discusses how songs and proverbs about women's fickleness were all written by men.
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 deemed 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 filming of Persuasion coincided with a sudden resurgence of adaptations based on works of Jane Austen – the last feature film adapted from an Austen novel was Pride and Prejudice, 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 production of others, this surge in Austen's popularity involved many simultaneous projects – Persuasion 's production, for instance, coincided with the TV serial Pride and Prejudice and the feature film Sense and Sensibility. Roger Michell described the author's sudden popularity in 1995: "It's not a fever but a typhus in the U.K. at the moment".
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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