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Persuasion (1995)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Persuasion (1995)
BBC TV/WGBH (Boston) for Screen Two, BBC2 tx. 16/4/1995
105 min, colour
DirectorRoger Michell
ProducerFiona Finlay
ScreenplayNick Dear
From the novel byJane Austen
PhotographyJohn Daly
MusicJeremy Sams

Cast: Amanda Root (Anne Elliot); Ciarán Hinds (Captain Wentworth); John Woodvine (Admiral Croft); David Collings (Mr Shepherd); Susan Fleetwood (Lady Russell); Corin Redgrave (Sir Walter Elliot); Fiona Shaw (Mrs Croft)

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Anne Elliot has spent eight years regretting being persuaded not to marry Fred Wentworth because of his lack of prospects. Now a rich and successful captain, he is about to enter her life for a second time.

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As a BBC Screen Two production of a Jane Austen novel, Persuasion shares little of the glossy visual style of predecessor Northanger Abbey (BBC, tx. 15/2/1987). A darker, more realistic version of Austen's world, the film reflects the bittersweet tone of her last (and least satirical) novel. Director Roger Michell's historically convincing evocation features drab, practical costumes, night scenes bathed in candlelight, and unusually visible servants. His efforts were rewarded with five BAFTAs, including Design, Costume, and Photography and Lighting.

The film is concerned with negative consequences of persuasion: Captain Fred Wentworth resents Anne Elliot for being persuaded not to marry him. Yet, its subtext suggests that the wait has benefited their relationship. The intervening eight years have given Anne time to reflect, mature and become a wiser, more confident person. Having learnt the courage of her convictions, she is now worthy of Wentworth's love because she is no longer easily influenced. The delays and obstacles they have faced have only strengthened their love and allowed them to appreciate each other more fully.

Lacking Austen's narration, Persuasion depends on John Daly's fluid camerawork to unravel the unspoken thoughts and emotions of the couple. He captures the sexual chemistry betrayed in the secret longing glances that pass between the couple, and the gestures and reactions that divulge their true feelings. His circling camera reveals Wentworth eavesdropping on Anne's conversations; these overheard exchanges, and the couple's coded dialogue, allow them to realise there is still hope for their relationship.

With the help of costume and makeup, Amanda Root's performance as Anne Elliot conveys the full Cinderella transformation of Austen's heroine. At first the undervalued family martyr, Ann is the wallflower who has lost her 'bloom'. Her loose-fitting costumes hint at how she has pined away since refusing Wentworth (Ciarán Hinds). As she regains her confidence, she blossoms; she dresses becomingly, her eyes sparkle and her features become animated.

Remarkably, scriptwriter Nick Dear retains most of the source novel's complex plot and numerous characters despite the less than two hours running time. The attention to detail and slavish adherence to the novel meant Persuasion was a critical and popular success while pleasing Austen purists. Dear's additional romantic drama touches, which include misunderstandings between the lovers, a public kiss, and Wentworth asking Sir Walter's permission to marry Anne (in front of her astonished family), only add to the film's charm.

Louise Watson

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Video Clips
1. Regret (2:46)
2. At dinner (3:19)
3. The letter (5:38)
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Hinds, Ciarán (1953-)
Jane Austen on Television