Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Persuasion Film Review

Leap day, February 29th, is a date that only occurs, obviously, during Leap Years — those annum that are evenly divisible by 4. Seems like the perfect occasion to venture off onto something altogether different. As scary as that sounds, and with that in mind, it is time once more for the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I to add another of our duo posts in the series we started in the Spring of 2010. For this one, we, meaning I, will attempt to break new ground as we examine the novel/film pairing of a particular book by famed author Jane Austen.

Yes, you are reading this correctly. That Jane Austen. Meaning, the same ‘guy’ that has reviewed science fiction (dystopian and otherwise), gritty crime stories, political and tech thrillers, and seminal horror adaptations, will give it a go at examining a work of English romance by none other than the queen of that particular genre. As usual, the wordy one will look at the text of the well-known novel later adapted to the screen, which I will review. In this case, she’ll be looking at the last novel of Austen’s, Persuasion, which, from what I hear, was published posthumously in 1818 (guess we won’t have any references to what the author thought about the screen adaptation or its casting). I’ll look at the 1995 version done for the BBC Masterpiece Theatre production. Rachel’s book review can be found here:

Persuasion by Jane Austen

A brief synopsis of the film: earlier in her life, Anne Elliot, one of the daughters of an aristocratic English family, broke off an engagement to one Frederick Wentworth. Miss Elliot was persuaded to do so by those who trouble themselves over such matters as the young seaman’s family connections and class were deemed to come up short. Years later when her father (going through belt-tightening times) rents out the family estate to an Admiral Croft, Frederick re-enters Anne’s existence since his sister is married to that high-ranking officer. Plus, Frederick is now a rich and successful Captain, making him a highly eligible bachelor in the midst of the upper crust. Whom will he marry? One of Anne’s relatives vying for the honor? Or will he and Anne rekindle that old flame, one supposedly as dead as her current prospects?

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]

“He had no fortune, no connections. It was entirely prudent of you to reject him.”

What the Hell was I thinking? Since my blogging colleague has been ever so accommodating with the novels/films I’ve suggested throughout this series, in all fairness I did put forward the idea of doing a romance novel/film pairing sometime back. What is that quote from Apocalypse Now that seems so befitting at the moment?

“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.”

As Captain Willard did, I’ll just salute and carry on with the mission. If I can suffer through a colonoscopy prep, I can muddle through with this, as well. It’d also be a disservice to my colleague if I was less than candid in my thoughts of the film. So, here goes. If you’ve seen this production, there is a scene when Anne’s father, Lord Retrench (okay, Sir Walter Elliot, marvelously portrayed by Corin Redgrave), is at vocal recital attended by all sorts of the upper class. And he’s sleeping through it. I instantly connected with him.

I’m far from an expert on Jane Austen as it gets, but I am familiar with the author by reputation. Known for her refinement of the English novel, and especially in her delving into the distinction of the class and society of a recognizable period, she is famed for her work as a writer and observer of relationships. Especially those of friendship and romance. Of course, it’s my belief that my gender comes up short (again, there’s that term) with regard to understanding such connections. I believe we are genetically, or perhaps it’s better said ‘not genetically’, wired to this. Take this example of my hypothesis:

“Anne’s sister’s husband’s sisters”

Mention this to any male you know and you’ll get an unmistakable puzzled look in return. Much like when Sandra Bullock spoke Mandarin Chinese with a German accent at last Sunday’s Academy Awards. We, the ones with the Y-chromosome, just won’t get it. You’d have to visually draw it all out on paper, with us watching you do it, before we even grasp the linkage put forth. If I mention this to my wife, she’ll simply say, “Yeah. And?” She, like most of the women I know, is more than capable of following and grasping relationships, their connections, and all their intricacies. Me? I have trouble saying it. This is what I was faced here.

Granted, I’m not saying anything negative toward the adaptation of the novel in this BBC production. Far from it. The period piece appeared richly done. The locations, by all appearances, were what I’d have expected (I based this upon my limited, sporadic public television Masterpiece Theatre viewing through the years, mind you). I must say, I loved the dinner table scenes lit oh so beautifully by candlelight. And Amanda Root, as the forlorn Anne, and Ciarán Hinds, as intrepid but hesitant Captain, made for comely romantic leads in the film. The latter especially so after I caught his work last year in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

“If I may, so long as the woman you love lives, and lives for you, all the privilege I claim for my own sex, and it is not a very enviable one – you need not covet it, is that of loving longest when all hope is gone.”

My issue with these compositions is my lack of understanding for the genre of the romance novel. Too many times, the flowery language of the piece was daunting for someone like me to understand. Like, “Wait… what the Hell did they just say?” (see above) Too many times I found myself searching if someone placed their crib notes online to help me understand it all. It was far too easy for me not to keep up. Again, it was not the source. Perhaps it came down to that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” aspect that threw me similarly off. Much like when I read Ted Lewis’ 1969 novel, Jack’s Return Home (for our Get Carter duo post).

I’m sure I’ll have folk across the pond cringing when they’ve read how I’ve juxtaposed the genteel of eighteenth century Bath with the sordid blokes found in Newcastle of the 1970s. Really, I’m just the messenger here. And though there were times I experienced trouble keeping up with it all, wanting just to chuck it all in and fall off like Sir Elliott at that recital (or guiltily wishing it had been Lady Russell taking a certain flying leap near the harbour instead of the other silly maiden), I found I could, and did, get through it all.

The themes Austen is known for are well on display in this adaptation. The women’s (along with the men’s) positions in society, and their constrictions, are never far off as the tale of second chances unfolds. I never had the sense the filmmakers were overstating the environment these people lived in, though privilege (for both Anne and Frederick) did have its rewards. Yet, I found, outside of those two, I did not suffer well most of this class. I kept myself wondering what was happening with the lower strata Charles Dickens wrote so clearly about during my screening.

No criticism of Austen is intended with that remark, let me be clear. The issue is solely with the viewer. And it was the romance that’s center stage with this story. It’s understandable why many are drawn to the subject. I do get that (see Ruth’s and Paula’s look their favorite period heroes that offered me a better understanding). Now, I’m not saying I am ready and willing for an attempt at Sense and Sensibility, or even Pride and Prejudice, anytime soon. Far from it. But, I will admit the story’s redemptive chance at love (besides, getting to see Anne make her way to join her Captain on deck at the finale was touching — the accompanying beautiful sunset wasn’t bad either) was not the worst thing in the world.

Parallel Post Series
Advertisements

33 Responses to “Persuasion Film Review”

  1. rtm

    Wahoo!! What a lovely choice for a leap year review and bravo for venturing into a genre outside your comfort zone, Michael, kudos to you!!!

    I’m glad you went with Persuasion, it is my favorite Jane Austen story, even though I still rate the film adaptation of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as superior. Yes, the story’s ‘redemptive chance at love’ is exactly what I love most about it and both Amanda and Ciaran played their part really well.

    If you’re in the mood for another period drama in the future, I highly recommend Ang Lee’s ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ trust me you will appreciate and perhaps even love it. Lee’s direction and Emma Thompson’s script are marvelous, not to mention the fabulous performances, especially Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon… a far cry from Hans Gruber, but definitely indelible.

    Like

    Reply
    • Rachel

      Yay! Another lover of Persuasion. I never seem to run into other Austen fans who love this one. I agree that Sense and Sensibility is a far better adaptation and almost chose that for our joint post simply due to the superior movie. However, I like Persuasion as a book so much better than SandS that I went with the selfish choice. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
        • rtm

          Hi Rachel, I’m glad to find another fan of Persuasion, too!

          Michael, I like Persuasion’s story better because it’s more focused on just Anne and Frederick so we get a more in-depth insight into those two characters. Plus I just love the theme of second chances in general, it’s just all the sweeter than the more conventional love stories.

          But yes, do give S&S a try if you like Rickman. I do think the more I watch that one, the more I appreciate his character and his performance.

          Like

          Reply
        • Rachel

          Hey Michael, objectively I’d have to answer with “nothing.” However, I do not have the patience to deal with Marianne (she’s the sensibility sister) and so don’t enjoy the story as much.

          Like

          Reply
    • le0pard13

      I think you covered it well when you said it was “outside your comfort zone“. Yep, it was different, alright. Both Amanda and Ciaran were my favorite parts of the film, too. I keep hearing from friends, too, about ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and give that one a spin sometime in the future. Alan Rickman’s in it?!? Well, if Hans or Snape thinks enough of it, who am I to say I can’t watch it ;-). Thanks, Ruth.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Christine McCann

    “If I can suffer through a colonoscopy prep, I can muddle through with this, as well.” LOL! Way to take one for the team, Michael! Well done, sir. I’ve never read Austen. I keep thinking I should remedy that. The only Austen films I’ve seen are EMMA and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. I caught a repeat on BBCAmerica of a fun miniseries in the UK called LOST IN AUSTEN, where a diehard modern day Pride and Prejudice fan gets pulled into that world. (I understand that there’s to be an American movie made by Nora Ephron, I think. )

    I wholeheartedly agree with rtm about watching SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. One of my absolute favorite films. Brian’s even watched it with me a few times…and enjoyed it! (shh, don’t tell him I told you. ;P) Watch it. I promise, I promise, I promise you won’t regret it. Great cast, great writing, great direction. Emma’s acceptance speech for the best adapted screenplay (for Golden Globe, I think) was quite clever. She wrote it from Jane Austen’s POV.

    P.S. I was surprised how much I enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I like Ciarán Hinds. Of course, I can’t recall who it is just now, but there’s another actor that I frequently confuse with Ciarán Hinds. Grr…trivial pursuit question for the day. 😉

    Like

    Reply
    • Rachel

      I replied over at my blog, too, but I thought I’d add a bit here, too. As I wrote above I also think Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful film but my love of it is more for its technical proficiency than the story. (And what movie doesn’t Alan Rickman make better?:) It’s always been in the lower half of my Austen love than the upper.

      If you want to try some Austen and you love Lee’s Sense and Sensibility then I would start with that book (Thompson’s screenplay is wonderful so it’s not going to be a glaringly different story when you delve into the book). It’s similar in tone to Persuasion and as equally well written. I am less interested in that story which is why I like Persuasion more. My personal batting order is:

      Pride and Prejudice*/Persuasion
      Northanger Abbey*
      Sense and Sensibility
      Mansfield Park
      Emma*

      *these are her titles that I consider comedies, the others are dramas.

      Hope you enjoy Austenland!

      Like

      Reply
    • le0pard13

      Yeah, I took one for the team, alright ;-). When I mentioned to she-who-must-be-obeyed that I needed to finish watching ‘Persuasion’ after the Academy Awards Sunday night, I did get a look (as she was aware of it being an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel). I must have that kind of rep in my own house ;-).

      Brian watched ‘Sense and Sensibility’?!? And, enjoyed it?!? I can see the wave building already for this one. I think I recall that Emma Thompson acceptance speech.

      Wasn’t ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ a charmer? Believe it or not, it was fellow (male) blogger J.D. who convinced me to give it a go.

      Thanks, Christine.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Rachel

    Oh dear, it’s as I thought. I’ve never watched the movie so soon after reading the book and when I did I was struck by how much of the satire is lost in the movie. I thought, oh damn, Michael is going to be bored, bored, bored because all the lovely wit that I know exists in the subtext is just gone here! However, I do think it’s funny that you’re considering this our first romance and I consider it the third. The Princess Bride and Somewhere in Time both seem like romances to me (albeit one with fantasy and one with science fiction).

    Genetically programmed??? But Sir Retrench (awesome name, btw) was in love with his English genealogy book and had it memorized. Maybe it’s more of a social construct thing, eh?

    As is probably obvious I agree with all the comments on how wonderful a film Sense and Sensibility is but if you really do want to give Austen another shot I’m going to say skip the movies and hit the source material. Pride and Prejudice is really funny and Northanger Abbey is actually a spoof of the gothic romances that were really popular when Austen was alive. I would go with either of those… maybe next leap year???

    I don’t know if this was intentional to the film or if my own interpretations are imagining it but I felt the directing changed a little as the film progressed. The scenes felt more claustrophobic in the beginning but more open and less tense towards the end. Again, this might be my interpretation due to the characters’ behavior but I wondered if you happened to notice that. I also found it interesting that even though the Elliots weren’t overweight the trope of eating as representative of indolence and obnoxiousness was used (so only half the usual trope package). What an oddly universal thing that I’m sad to see more of rather than less.

    I thought the end was sweet, as well. I also thought you might be interested to know that it’s the only part of the movie that isn’t faithful. That’s way too cinematic and grandiose for Austen. The actual ends merely describes the pattern our newlyweds have fallen into in their new life. There is a brief mention of the lot of a (then) sailor’s wife if the war should begin again but mostly they were just hanging out with the neighbors.

    Thanks for doing this one with me. Always good times!

    Like

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      There’s satire in the novel?!? Hmm… I found little of that in the adaptation. But then again, satire is a difficult concept and I could have just missed it.

      I’d be up for another, and we likely wouldn’t have wait four years to do it (my colonoscopies happen on a three year schedule ;-)).

      Good point about the filming and direction. Yes, you had more enclosed (dare I say, stuffy) settings at the beginning of the film. Another one, too, for the eating “as representative of indolence and obnoxiousness“. Perhaps, that’s why I kept thinking of ‘Oliver Twist’ as a reaction?

      No on-deck finale (with a stunning sunset as a backdrop)? Hmm… Fit for me as a send-off, but then again I’m a closet romantic at heart.

      Thanks again for suggesting this, Rachel. Now, on to more murder and cool dialogue for next month ;-).

      Like

      Reply
  4. Marianne

    I love this movie. I really really do. But I think I’ve been programmed to love it. And I would also love for short pants and white tights to come back in style for fathers. I think my husband would rock them.

    Like

    Reply
  5. ronan

    Haven’t seen this but I love the period. Have you seen the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle?

    Like

    Reply
    • Rachel

      I have but it’s four hours long and I felt sort of bad asking Michael to do a 4 hour long movie. I like both the book and the adaptation and it definitely would have been the one I picked if not for the length. Do you like it?

      Like

      Reply
    • le0pard13

      I’ve definitely heard about that adaptation and production, but I’ve never seen it. Something tells me it’s in my future ;-). Thanks, Ronan.

      Like

      Reply
  6. iluvcinema

    It is a lovely story (read the novel a couple of times) and this is a top notch adaptation (I had a minor, dismissive quibble about casting). Push that aside and it is very near perfect!

    There are some incidental changes in the plot

    This book was lovely briskly paced; some think it has something to do with its writing being so close the end of Austen’s life and that she was rushing to get through it (but I am not a Austen scholar, so I defer for more specific details about it).

    Like

    Reply

Are you talkin’ to me?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: