by Cathleen Myers
Yet another faithful screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel which also succeeds as a gripping, enthralling film is Roger Michell’s Persuasion. The quietest, most autumnal of Austen’s novels, it is probably the most difficult to adapt for the screen. Sense and Sensibility, with all its razor-sharp wit, is as openly romantic as any Gothic novel. Persuasion, with its quiet, love story of a spinster who gets a second chance at love, would seem a comparatively unpromising film prospect, but Jane Austen writes wonderfully witty dialogue that translates well to the screen and her skillfully plotted love story is intensely moving.
The costumes, as one would expect in a BBC-produced film, look authentic and the film looks as if it were made entirely on location. Travelers will recognize both the streets of Bath and the beaches of Lyme Regis. One could almost hear the Janeites in the audience shuddering as the camera lingers on the steep stone steps Louisa is about to leap from: No wonder the idiotic girl nearly kills herself!
And most of the characters look right: Anne (Amanda Root) is appropriately plain and somber until, animated with joy, her face becomes lovely. Captain Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) is ruggedly handsome and he and the other naval officers look appropriately weather-beaten - in contrast to Anne’s suavely handsome civilian cousin "William" Elliot.
A few minor quibbles: There’s far too much use of first names to be realistic and almost everyone’s manners are too free and easy (Is this a concession to modern American audiences?). Captain Wentworth and the young Musgroves are on a first name basis the day after they’ve been introduced! Improbable! (In the novel, Wentworth forgets himself and addresses Anne by her first name only after Louisa Musgrove’s freak accident.).
A more serious flaw: For no apparent reason, the script completely changes William Elliot’s motivation. In the novel his simultaneous courtship of both Anne and the predatory Mrs. Clay makes perfect sense. In the novel, Elliott inherited a fortune from his first wife and is now seeking to secure himself both a trophy wife and a title. But in the film he is a fortune-hunter as well as a cad. This version of the story makes no economic sense whatsoever, as the adapter doesn’t seem to realize that the Elliot estate is entailed and, therefore, cannot be sold or used as collateral. A true fortune hunter would simply seek a rich heiress.
But the stirring finale will surprise and delight most Janeites. No, we will not reveal the surprise ending.
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