The 1995 Persuasion movie is not only my favorite adaptation of that particular book, it’s one of my top five Jane Austen adaptations. And one of my favorite period movies. And just one of my favorite movies! It’s just that good. The cast is excellent. I love the look and feel of realism it has too, similar to the 2005 Pride and Prejudice and Bright Star movies- realistic lighting, no makeup, messy hair, etc.
Every adaptation has its flaws, and I guess I should just get them out of the way beforehand. This film contains one big historical error! The sailors often go about in their naval uniforms. While this looks really nice on screen, it is actually not accurate. As we know from Mansfield Park, these uniforms could only be seen while the officers were on duty. Probably most casual viewers wouldn’t know this and it’s cool to see them though. Another issue that doesn’t really bother me in particular is the somewhat lacking exposition. I feel a little bit, that this movie was written with book fans in mind. If you weren’t already familiar with the story, you might find it a bit confusing, especially in the beginning, what was going on between Anne and Wentworth. As I said, I had no problem following anything but since I had already read the book that doesn’t really mean much.
The casting is admittedly not perfect. Many of the actors are a bit too old, but nothing jarring like in 1971. Their brilliant performances more than made up for this- with one big exception. I’ll get into it below. Both the canceled and actual ending of the book were used. Some liked the addition, but I could take it or leave it, personally. Some of the other changes from the book may have worked as just a movie, but were lacking for me as an adaptation. Actually, I can say that about pretty much everything- there’s nearly nothing in this movie that I don’t like as just a movie. The one exception is the letter scene- it’s very well done but for one thing- it’s so hard to hear it! First it’s Wentworth’s voice, and then Annes, and overlapping, and it’s just hard to make out. The letter still makes me swoon and if I hadn’t read it so many times already, I would be very annoyed with these scene!
Amanda Root as Anne Elliot (before)
I loved Amanda Root as Anne. She’s still my favorite to have played the part. In the beginning she was a bit more timid and quiet and it reflected in her look. She was a bit worn-out. When she sees Wentworth again for the first time, she makes no signs of her nervousness except for gripping the back of a chair. I love all the understated moments like that in this film! Then as her confidence grew, she developed more of a healthy glow. This follows the book and I love how subtly and gradually it was done.
There was no drastic makeover yet you can see the difference in her hairstyle and wardrobe, the way she carries herself, and the sparkle in her eyes. One negative I have is making her a bit too outspoken. She says the line about Mrs. Smith not being the only widow in Bath with no surname of dignity out loud, to her father. In the book she tactfully refrained from speaking these words! I guess they felt this was the only way to get the message across, but I felt it was out of character.
Ciaran Hinds as Frederick Wentworth
He wore that uniform so well; it’s a shame it’s not true to period. He is also my favorite Wentworth. He’s not conventionally handsome by any means but he’s attractive in a rugged sort of way (you could buy him as a sailor!). He also has charm and charisma that made him appealing to everyone. He played Wentworth’s love for Anne beautifully- he tries to hide it and act indifferently in the beginning but eventually he can’t suppress it anymore. Even as early on as Uppercross, he can’t help but notice her lagging behind during the long walk and so quietly asks the Crofts to give Anne a ride the rest of the way back. The scene with him helping her into the gig is another of those “swoonworthy” moments.
Susan Fleetwood as Lady Russell
She gave a good performance as Lady Russell- she showed her loving side to Anne yet she still was actually a bit of a snob, valuing rank and position much more than Anne does. Unfortunately she died of cancer shortly after filming.
Corin Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot
This adaptation also has my favorite Sir Walter! He is perfectly proud, vain, and buffoonish. He’s such a joke but he doesn’t realize it. His outfit in the screencap looks like upholstery! One thing I did not like was the ending when Wentworth announced their engagement, he stupidly asks “Whatever for?” A bit over the top, even for Sir Walter.
Phoebe Nicholls as Elizabeth Elliot
Well, I said there was one big exception to the wonderful cast- and this is it. Let me just get one thing out of the way- I have nothing against Phoebe Nicholls’ s actual acting of the role- she does a great job with what she’s given. The problem is, what she was given was not the character of the book! Elizabeth is supposed to be proud, haughty, and cold- yet proper, fitting her position. This Elizabeth is rude, slouches, shouts, and is just waaaay over the top. The film-makers just went too far in trying to show what an awful character she is. It works as just a film, but not as an adaptation.
Felicity Dean as Mrs. Clay
I loved this Mrs. Clay. She was not very good-looking and especially dowdy in the beginning, yet after Bath she began to dress more carefully and wear evening gowns that showed off her “assets” to attract Sir Walter. You also see signs of her with Mr. Elliot but it’s never explained. The scene from the screencap is hilarious. The Elliots and Lady Russell are presented to Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret (ridiculous caricatures) and Mrs. Clay is tacked awkwardly on the end, a little too eager apparently.
Samuel West as Mr. Elliot
Many people don’t seem to be fans of his portrayal but I thought he did a pretty good job. He’s a fine actor, but I do have to admit that he hasn’t quite the look for the role. Mr. Elliot is supposed to be really good-looking and while West is by no means unattractive, there’s something about his look that bothers me. His rat-like features make him look automatically suspicious. His backstory was unfortunately changed, and it didn’t really make much sense, honestly. Instead of being rich but wanting to make sure he got the title and position, he’s poor and wants the money. Just one problem…what money? The film makes it clear the extent of Sir Walter’s debts! It doesn’t really make any sense.
Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove
Sophie Thompson as Mary is one of my favorite performances in any Jane Austen adaptation. She so perfectly plays the whiny hypochondriac. 1971’s Mary was good too but Thompson’s acting is more natural. I love the scene where she’s telling Anne how ill she is and yet feasting on a huge ham.
Simon Russell Beale as Charles Musgrove
My favorite as the long-suffering Charles Musgrove. 1971 wasn’t bad, but again, he’s a better actor. He clearly cares for all his family and seems like a really nice guy, but he’s also obviously not Anne’s type (I sometimes wonder “what if” she hadn’t refused him).
John Woodvine and Fiona Shaw as Admiral and Mrs. Croft
I think the Admiral was a bit too old but other than that, I loved them, especially Mrs. Croft. She looked even more weather-beaten than the men! They were such a happy, cheery couple, just like in the book. For some reason they gave Sophy the line of Frederick accepting any woman between 15 and 30, which I don’t quite understand, but no big deal.
Emma Roberts as Louisa Musgrove
Her hair probably got the messiest out of anyone. She was more confident and wild than Henrietta but not quite so immature as in 1971 so it was more believable that Anne (and the other characters) would actually think she and Wentworth would end up a couple. He did seem to admire her youthful spirit. I thought the slow motion of her fall was a bit weird even though I know what they were going for.
Victoria Hamilton as Henrietta Musgrove
She was so cute in this with her girlish curls. I feel so bad for the disparaging remarks about her looks in Mansfield Park. Although Henrietta is the elder sister, Louisa is clearly the one “in charge” and helps get Henrietta and her Hayter cousin back together. He is renamed Henry in this, probably because there are so many Charleses in this story already and as a complement to “Henrietta.”
Richard McCabe as Captain Benwick
His fiancee’s name was also changed, from Fanny to Phoebe. I kind of got the reasoning for Charles Hayter, but this I’m just confused about. Is it because of the modern dirty meaning for “fanny” in Britain? He was almost humorous with all the melancholy verses he would spout, and then seemed on the verge of even proposing to Anne, and saying he would never get over Phoebe…until we find out he gets engaged to Louisa.
Helen Schlesinger as Mrs. Smith
Her character is completely different from the book. She is a very cheerful and happy woman with no connection to Mr. Elliot. Instead, she finds out the truth about his motives through Nurse Rook, who knows all the gossip. I guess they wanted to simplify it for the limited time they had. I actually didn’t mind that, only the fact that Mr. Elliot’s motives don’t make sense!
Captain and Mrs. Harville are both obviously in it and do a good job. The Musgroves are jolly and appropriately large. The Musgrove boys are quite a bit older than in the book, where they’re only toddlers. It’s not a perfect cast, but it’s really close and I love it!
Before I say again how much I love this movie (I ended up rewatching it 3 times!), I remembered another scene that bothered me. Anne is taken to Upper Cross in a farmer’s cart instead of Lady Russell’s carriage. Really? That was stretching it quite a bit. I know Sir Walter doesn’t pay much attention to her, but he would never allow his daughter to be seen traveling in that way! And Lady Russell would never have allowed it! She couldn’t spare her carriage to go 3 miles away??
All in all, admittedly, this movie is not perfect. But it’s still a darn good movie and it’s the closest to perfection any of the adaptations of Persuasion have gotten so far.
My Rating: 10/10