Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel and just one of my favorite books of all-time. The 1995 version is one of my favorite movies. When I heard about the new ITV version coming out in 2007, I had really high hopes and couldn’t wait to see another spin on the story. And then it came out and I watched it and…let’s just say, I was not impressed.
I wanted to like it. I really did. I just watched this for the third time for the review. I was hoping that I would find more to like with each rewatch but unfortunately they had the opposite effect. I just found more things that I hated! What do I hate? Just the script, the cast, and the direction. So yeah, um…pretty much everything. Was there anything I liked about it? Well, the music was nice and the cinematography was pretty (aside from the overuse of shaky cam). And a couple of the side characters were well-acted. Hmm…that’s about it!
The adaptation suffers first of all from being too short. It just feels so truncated and rushed and so many of my favorite bits from the book were left out or just ruined. It didn’t seem like the creators cared about the story at all. With only a couple exceptions, I hated the cast. I don’t know if the actors or the writing or directing are to blame, but the performances left a lot to be desired. Everything just felt off. I tried not to compare it too much to the 1995 version and even though I couldn’t help but do that at some points, I just hate this version on its own. Whatever you do, don’t accuse me of disliking it only because of the 1995 version. While it certainly pales in comparison to that version, my hate stems from this just being a poor adaptation of the book, and a poor movie in itself.
Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot
A huge disappointment. First of all, her hair was always tightly slicked back with a thick layer of grease. You can’t make the “historically accurate” argument because NONE OF THE OTHER CHARACTERS HAS GREASY HAIR. And at first I thought it would be like this to be a big contrast for when she gets back her bloom after Lyme, but she doesn’t! She finally has a better hairstyle at the very end but it’s too late. Anne is supposed to be pretty and Sally Hawkins is usually good-looking, but they made her look gross in this for some reason! She also played the character as a total wimp who was always crying over Wentworth. For heaven’s sake, Anne was not THAT depressed! She also writes in a diary as a way to tell the viewers her thoughts and often looks right at the camera. That reminded me of MP 99 and I’m not a fan!
Rupert Penry-Jones as Frederick Wentworth
He’s really good-looking, but I can’t believe with that perfect, pale, unblemished complexion, he was at sea for the last eight years. Right…His character also was given pretty much nothing interesting to do in this. Pretty flat and boring so I’m not sure why everyone was crazy over him. Dull as dishwater, if you ask me.
Alice Krige as Lady Russell
One of the few decent performances in the whole movie! For some reason it comes as a total surprise to her in the beginning that Sir Walter is in debt and the Elliots will have to leave Kellynch.
Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot
They did something different with his character from the usual foppish buffoon. He was actually a bit more menacing. He’s still vain but he shouts a lot and I think I would be really afraid of him if I were Anne!
Julia Davis as Elizabeth Elliot
This actress’s performance was by no means bad (certainly an improvement from the way the 1995 character) but she was just way too old. She looked almost as if she could be Anne’s mother rather than an older (by only two years!) sister. And she was in a terrible wig too.
Mary Stockley as Penelope Clay
Who is this pretty young woman? Surely not Mrs. Clay? You’ve gotta be joking, right?
Tobias Menzies as William Elliot
He was actually another decent one. While I think Sam West gave a good performance, he didn’t have the right look. This guy is much more attractive.
Nicholas Farrell and Stella Gonet as Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove
Thankfully the line about their largeness was left out, as they’re both so slim. I actually liked the little bit of them we saw in this. But it was just a little bit.
Sam Hazeldine and Amanda Hale as Charles and Mary Musgrove
I hope this picture gives a good idea of the impression I got from them. Mary was easily the worst performance out of the lot. In fact, probably one of the worst acting performances I’ve ever seen. She made Mary seem mentally deranged in some way, always twitching and jerking her body about. Her delivery was horrible- like a warped imitation of Sophie Thompson. I don’t know what they were going for here. And Charles just seemed like a dunderhead. I doubt he even realized Mary was only faking sick!
Rosamund Stephen and Jennifer Higham as Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove
These two were okay, but they didn’t come to life for me the way they did in 1995. Henrietta seemed to like Wentworth but there was never any question of her wavering on her understanding with Charles Hayter (he’s never seen).
Joseph Mawle as Harry Harville
Yes, they gave him the name Harry in this one. (Just wait till you see what they named another character!) He is entirely in Wentworth’s confidence here and already knows about Anne when they first meet. Wentworth indeed makes all his intentions absolutely clear to Harville throughout the story so nothing comes as a surprise. For some reason he appears to be a bachelor in this, so I was surprised none of the ladies went after him, given how handsome he was!
Finlay Robertson as James Benwick
This is one of the few bits of casting I preferred to 1995. He is more age appropriate to the character. His part was really small and unfortunately the majority of it was in one great butchering of a scene. Namely, the constancy conversation. Yes, for some reason in this version, Anne has the talk with him at Lyme and Wentworth is clearly out of earshot. WTF???
Marion Bailey and Peter Wight as the Crofts
Are those Wentworth’s parents in there? Oh, those are the Crofts…hmmm. The Crofts here never seem to get as close to Anne as they do in the book or other versions and not as much emphasis is made on their happy marriage.
Maisie Dimbleby as Harriet Smith
Yes, you read that right- they actually called her Harriet Smith in this. Was that supposed to be an in-joke? I certainly didn’t laugh at that or the incomprehensible scene she has at the end either. Just you wait. Her backstory with Mr. Elliot was cut as well.
WTF? Scenes, AKA Stuff I Hated
This version is full of several scenes that just made me cry out WTF or scratch my head in confusion. I’ve already mentioned the constancy conversation at Lyme, but there are plenty more!
The Opening Scene
Anne is rushing around Kellynch apparently taking inventory of items that the servants are packing up. She doesn’t really seem to be writing anything though, just scratching the pen on the page at random intervals. She runs out of ink and there just happens to be a servant conveniently standing in the corner with an inkwell for a refill. WTF? Was the servant just made to stand there all day, hoping that someone would walk by in need of ink? I don’t understand.
Anne the Surgeon
When little Charles dislocates his collar bone, Anne rushes to help, despite being in the middle of changing for the party. She doesn’t seem to be the least bit embarrassed to be seen in her underwear in front of Charles and his father and none of them seems to care either! Then the worst happens: with Mr. Musgrove’s assistance, she sets little Charles’s collar bone, in her underwear! WTF? Since when has Anne had medical training? They couldn’t wait for the apothecary? She couldn’t have put some clothes on?
Rest Assured, Charles is not a Bigamist
When Wentworth asks Louisa when Charles proposed to Anne, she can only reply, “I do not exactly know, but before he married Mary.” Wow, thanks for clearing that up, Louisa! I’m sure Wentworth was thinking that it was AFTER he married Mary and that sneaky Charles was trying to commit bigamy. WTF?
Wentworth “Helping” Anne into the Carriage
The scene where Wentworth helps Anne into the Crofts’ gig is supposed to be a really touching moment and makes Anne think that perhaps he still notices and cares for her a bit after all. Not here. He doesn’t covertly tell them to take Anne, they just ask to take her for some reason. Then he plops her down “like a sack of potatoes,” to quote Julie. It looks quite uncomfortable for both parties and not romantic at all! Also for some reason, she’s behind the Crofts and so it doesn’t feel like she’s quite included to me.
The whole direction of this scene was off. You don’t see the fall at all. The helplessness and desperation the other characters besides Anne exhibit in the book is gone and everyone rushes to her aid, even Mary. It seems that Anne’s cool head in a time of crisis was not even really needed. She does tell Benwick to get the surgeon and Wentworth to press his cravat against the wound, which is actually bleeding. However, he was already in the process of doing that, so I don’t know why she needed to tell him. Afterwards, there is no crying or hysterics and everyone only seems mildly upset by the situation. WTF?
Mrs. Smith’s Miraculous Recovery!
Yes, that is Mrs. Smith walking with Anne. Wow, either Mrs. Rooke is a miracle worker or the Bath waters really do have healing powers! She made it just in time to tell Anne of Mr. Elliot’s devious plans. He even planned to make Mrs. Clay his mistress after being married to Anne!
The Bath Marathon
Probably the worst scene in the whole adaptation is the Bath Marathon. They truly butchered the ending. First Anne tells Wentworth that she is not engaged to Mr. Elliot and he leaves the house. Anne is interrupted by Mrs. Musgrove and Henrietta. Despite being only FEW SECONDS behind, Wentworth is nowhere to be seen when she goes outside. Naturally Anne thinks the logical thing to do is to run all over the city like a chicken with her head cut off and just happens to run into Mrs. Smith (see above). Wentworth is no longer at his lodgings when she gets there, but somehow had time to stop and write THE LETTER, which he entrusted to Harville. Anne reads the letter as she runs to find the Crofts, because Wentworth left to take the waters with them. Yet when she reaches the Crofts, they say he’s gone back to her house! She finally reaches him outside the house where he’s casually chatting with Charles. WTF????? Never mind how out of character and inappropriate Anne running all over the streets of Bath is, the scene just doesn’t make any sense! How did Anne not bump into Wentworth anywhere? How did he have time to go home, write the letter, go out with the Crofts, and make it back to Anne’s house without breaking a sweat while Anne is running for her life? Does he have super-human speed? Then to top things off, he and Anne come to an understanding and share a disgusting, drawn-out kiss as Anne is sweaty and panting from the run and Wentworth won’t even bend down all the way to kiss her. WTF??
Wentworth BUYS KELLYNCH as a wedding present for Anne. WTF? Kellynch is entailed on Mr. Elliot! And there’s no way Wentworth’s fortune was enough to pay off Sir Walter’s debts and buy the estate. You’ve got to be kidding me! If we put all the WTF-ness aside, it would actually be a sweet scene. Anne has finally washed her hair and it looks much more flattering. The two share a nice kiss this time and then dance. I don’t know if it was period correct for them to waltz or not, but it would have been really a romantic ending, since Anne had given up dancing. Except wait, they never included the lines about Anne giving up dancing! What an opportunity they missed!
RAWR! This last viewing made me want to turn into the Hulk almost as badly as MP 1999. It had such potential but it was all wasted. In some parts it seemed like they were copying 1995, and in others it was as if they were trying too hard to be different. I just don’t understand. I would actually rank this in my bottom five Austen adaptations, sadly. Even the 1971 version, dull as it was, was better than this.
My Rating: 4/10, for the few decent performances and good music.