Film review: Persuasion (2007), directed by Adrian Shergold
tl;dr: Persuading me to read the book instead, because how do you make Austen suck?!
(This is a re-post of a review I posted on IMDb in 2007. With spoilers.)
I love Jane Austen’s stories. I’ve only actually read two of them (Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility), but after having seen this adaption, I’m reaching for Persuasion from my bookcase just to make sense out of the story, and also because I refusing to believe Jane Austen could have written such nonsense. For me, I thought that if you base a film on a Jane Austen novel, you can’t really go wrong. It will turn out great pretty much by default. I was wrong.
First of all, where are the characters that you sympathise with and like? You have to have at least one likeable character to get the audience to invest their emotions in them, and this did not deliver. Sure, I wanted Anne and Wentworth to get together, but only because you know the purpose of the story is them getting together. Instead, I had to resist urges to throw my mug of tea at the TV.
Anne (Sally Hawkins) was utterly annoying throughout, and in the end I really have no idea why Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) was so smitten by her, as there seemed to be nothing there for him to be attracted to. She was meek, bland, dull, socially inadequate and came across like a sheep following everyone else’s instructions rather than having a mind of her own. This can still work for a lead character, if you do it well. This wasn’t done well.
The other characters were just displaying various degrees of narcissism, of which Mary (Amanda Hale) was the worst, a full-blown narcissist. Where Mrs Bennet in Pride & Prejudice had similar flaws, she was still endearing, whereas Mary was made out to be even more of a freak-show, more loathsome than funny.
Wentworth was very handsome and seemed like a decent kind of guy. For the most part of the story I was left wondering what kind of person he was and why he’s in love with Anne, as surely he’s the kind of guy who would want a person who is a little bit more … alive? Acting-wise, not too much to say, as I reacted more to the characters being portrayed rather than how good/bad the people acting were, so they must have been good. Anthony Head was excellent, but as soon as I saw he was in it I expected no less.
I also found the story very confusing. It wasn’t until the end of the movie where it seemed as if Elizabeth (Julia Davis) was not Anne’s stepmother, but in fact a sister (I’m still not 100% on that). The whole Anne/Wentworth back story was also a bit fuzzy. They had been together but then broke up and they’re both bitter about it? How come? I was wondering this for quite some time, and the explanation seemed to be she dumped him because she was persuaded to do so by someone? But it was said in a kind of “by the by” way that it was almost missed, as if it was somehow unimportant. How can it be unimportant when it’s the very core of the story?!
There was also a lot of name-dropping, but no real feel for who the characters were. This Louisa person (Jennifer Higham) for instance, who was she? A friend? Family? What? It wasn’t made very clear who the different characters are and their relationship with one another. Lady Russell (Alice Krige) was there a lot, but why? Mrs Croft (Marion Bailey) and Wentworth were brother and sister, which felt very unrealistic as Mrs Croft looked old enough to be his mother.
The final kiss, yes it was a bit strange them kissing in the street, but I didn’t really think about it, because I was too busy yelling “GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!” at the TV, because Anne’s lips trembled and trembled and trembled for what felt like ages before they actually met Wentworth’s. Have SOME hesitation there, but only for a couple of seconds or so, not half a bloody minute.
Then there’s the issue of camera work. As a regular film watcher, you don’t necessarily pay attention to angles and such unless you decide to look out for it. I didn’t decide to do so here, but I still noticed them. To me, that means the film makers are not doing a good job. A lot of conversations were had with extreme facial close-ups, something that should only be used when there’s a really important point to be made. In this adaption it was over-used and therefore lacked meaning. The hand-held feeling on occasion also didn’t really work in a period drama. The camera work in the running scene in the end also felt too contemporary. (Not to mention the running itself.)
This was the only Austen adaption I caught in ITV’s Austen season. Makes me wonder if it’s worth watching Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park or if I should just read the books and leave it at that. I’m sad to say, this is a Jane Austen adaption I did not enjoy. Maybe I’ll watch the 1995 version instead. The BBC are renowned for having done beautiful Austen adaptations before, after all.
1.5 out of 5 sprints through Bath.