Monday, January 14, 2008


Although this is technically a reading blog, I find it more than appropriate to comment on Masterpiece Theatre’s new series The Complete Jane Austen and particularly last night’s adaptation of Persuasion.

My first introduction to Persuasion was the 1995 BBC film featuring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Inspired by the movie, I read the novel for the first time on a train ride through Scandinavia. I was immediately smitten with Jane Austen’s final novel, and it remains among my top three.

Naturally, I looked forward to the new ITV adaptation, so let me start with the positives:

#1 Rupert Penry-Jones is delightfully attractive.

#2 Please see #1.

As you might guess, I was horribly disappointed by the adaptation. The film’s pacing is so frantic it never allows a sense of character development. Anne Elliot is reacquainted with her former love Captain Wentworth. Practically a moment later, he declares his love for her. At what point did they reconnect? How did they fall back in love? And why?

I had a similar feeling about Anne’s relationship with Mr. Elliot. They meet, and suddenly they are supposed to be on the brink of engagement. Yet, the film completely glosses over their relationship’s development.

Anne Elliot, as portrayed by Sally Hawkins, is absolutely insipid. In every scene with Captain Wentworth, she simply stands with a vacant look and an open mouth. Why would Captain Wentworth fall in love (or re-fall in love) with someone clearly lacking intelligence and passion? Granted, Anne weeps as she writes in her journal and when she believes Captain Wentworth is engaged to Louisa Musgrove. Yet, Captain Wentworth never sees this side of her nature.

I must also mention the movie contains the most painful love scene in the history of film. Captain Wentworth stands woodenly as Anne slowly and awkwardly moves in for the kiss. Is he punishing her for rejecting him eight years earlier? The scene is so horrible I could watch it repeatedly.

Immediately after finishing PBS’s Persuasion, I watched the 1995 version. Amanda Roots’s Anne is a fleshed-out character. She has intelligence and humor despite being bullied by her family. She and Captain Wentworth engage in lively exchanges, and they clearly never fell out of love with each other. This adaptation is far superior in every way. It’s almost like comparing a Jane Austen novel with a Nora Roberts romance (sorry, Nora Roberts fans).


notaconnoisseur said...

I had the opportunity to read Persuasion again recently and was surprised and delighted with how closely the Amanda Root film followed Jane Austen's original novel. One of my favorite parts of the film is that Anne seems to bloom and become radiant as she renews her acquaintance and love for Wentworth. I too was disappointed with the new adaptation. However, I can hardly wait to see how Northanger Abbey turns out next week.

Jan said...

Your review is right on. I, too, felt the movie was lacking in character and relationship development...but you said it oh-so-much better than I could. I enjoyed most of what was there in the movie, but noticed large absences of explanation for the relationships. Had I not read the book, I don't think I would have understood what was going on.

I have not seen the Amanda Root version, but I will.