Persuasion (1995): Charming But Brief
Dear Reader, Greetings.
I lay before you the purpose of my Jane Austen column: to focus on reviews of select adaptations of her novels. On a five-point scale, I hope to justify my thoughts with the use of quotes, therefore, there will be inevitable spoilers. Beware. That said, each review will score the following: character development, additional/edited scenes/speeches (anything not in the original book), and production quality.
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever.”
Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a charming story of rekindled love, featuring her oldest (27-year-old) heroine, Anne Elliot. Though the book has two movie adaptations within the past twenty-five years, in this review, I will focus on the 1995 version with Amanda Root as the only sensible member of the Elliot family. As always, characters, additional scenes, and the production are the focus, hence, prepare for vanity, romance, and music... or the lack of it.
Vanity and pride are two terms often interchanged, but there are few families in literature whose vanity is as humorously depicted as the Elliots. From Sir Walter Elliot’s opening speech to the family’s’ love of being related to Lady Dalrymple, everything about them screams ridiculous, apart from Anne. For example, when passing her husbands’ low relations, Mary (the youngest Elliot) asserts that “It is so unpleasant having such connections. But I assure you, I have never been in that house above twice in my life.” Though the movie is only 90 minutes in length, it is efficient in depicting and commenting upon the role of connections and titles within society. Those who value societal hierarchy and relationships above all else may end up married, but this is not a path to happiness. This is one of the many lessons Austen’s novels provide and is well-executed within the context of the movie. Essential lines, such as the one previously mentioned, work toward fabricating a web of conceited characters with associated absurd feelings of superiority.
Concerning the production quality, I fear that the movie has not aged particularly well. Similar to Mansfield Park, the colors are very drab and the lack of background music makes the movie difficult to enjoy at times. Whilst both the quality of the acting and the adaptation of the novel are remarkable, I think the overall effect is somewhat lacking. For example, the camera often stays fixed in one place, creating a lack of movement and some scenes end rather abruptly. The transitions are not quite as seamless as they should be and scenes often move from one to another. While these attributes are characteristic of movies produced in the 90s, in comparison to Emma (1996)orSense and Sensibility (1995), Persuasion seems very dated.
The best part of the movie by far is the last ten minutes. After reading Captain Wentworth’s letter (quoted above), confessing his lingering affection for Anne, the audience finally rejoices after an hour of the former’s evident cold-hearted distaste and the latter’s agony over her past mistakes. At the evening dinner party hosted by the Elliots, Captain Wentworth declares his desire to marry Anne in front of everyone. Not only is this scene not in the book, but it takes their romance to a whole new level. One of my main criticisms (in fact, the only) of Persuasion is that the two characters don’t feel as happy at the prospect of their union as I feel they should. After eight years apart, it is only natural that they should be excited, hence my love of his brief yet dramatic speech in front of both of their friends and family alike. The letter itself is somewhat lacking in passion, so this gesture acts as a delightful bonus.
Now comes the moment everyone has been waiting for: my rating. Based on the contents of the movie in conjunction with the stylistic qualities, Persuasion 1995 receives three-and-a-half stars. While definitely a leg up from Mansfield Park, it lacks the repeated watchability of a dramatization like Emma (2009). Yes, certain scenes will definitely be on my Youtube playlists, such as the ending and interactions between the Musgrove sisters and Anne, I don’t foresee a rewatch of the film any time soon.