TBT: Persuasion (1995)

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I know everyone has a big ‘ol boner for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and likes to draw deep lines in the sand over which film adaptation is the best adaptation (here at Frock Flicks, we are firmly Team 1995 BBC/A&E) but as far as Austen novels go, Persuasion is my absolute favorite. And Persuasion (1995), starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, is my favorite film adaptation of any Jane Austen novel ever. Directed by Roger Michell of My Cousin Rachel (2017) fame, and costume designs by Alexandra Byrne, who did Emma. (2020), Mary Queen of Scots (2018), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), and Elizabeth (1998), this film is just pure, understated, perfection.

One of the things that speaks to me about Persuasion is the poignancy of the fact that the heroine, Anne Elliot, is older (at 27 years old, she is the oldest Austen heroine — in today’s terms, of course, she’s basically a fetus), so she has had enough time to make a few mistakes in her life and come to regret them. Anne, the middle daughter of a bankrupt baronet, is, like all Austen heroines, intelligent and capable of holding her own against the ridiculousness of the culture she was born into. But unlike the feisty Elizabeth Bennet, or the crafty Emma Woodhouse, Anne is resigned to the fact that she missed her chance with the dashing Frederick Wentworth, who had proposed marriage to her some 8 years before, just as he was to ship off in the Royal Navy. Anne’s older and wiser best friend, Lady Russell, thought the match was risky, with Wentworth being untested and of a less respectable station compared to Anne’s, and counselled her to not accept. Trusting in her friend’s wisdom, Anne broke her engagement to Wentworth, only to face the fact that there were no other suitors that suited her, and then went on to hear of nothing but Wentworth’s increasing fortune over the years. By the time Wentworth returns to England, as a companion to his close friend and brother-in-law, Admiral Croft (who is now letting Anne’s family estate), he is a career seaman with a captaincy and in possession of an undeniably respectable £20,000, making him the local catch for all the younger, prettier women in Anne’s circle.

HELLO, YES, I WOULD LIKE ONE OF THESE PLEASE.

Amanda Root plays Anne as plainly as possible. She looks believably aged, even though she is only 27, especially compared to her more glamorous older sister Elizabeth, and fashionable younger sister Mary. She is constantly overlooked or thrown under any possible bus that her family can get away with, and it is generally understood that there is some irritation that she did not accept a proposal and get on with it, already. It comes out in the course of the plot that after Wentworth’s departure, Anne had been courted by Mr. Musgrove, a local gentleman and heir to a respectable estate, but she turned him down. Musgrove then went on to marry Anne’s younger sister Mary (who I am contractually obligated to mention is played by Emma Thompson’s sister, Sophie Thompson), much to the dismay of nearly everybody. But good, sensible, solid Anne never complains about doing the right thing. She shoulders the constant burdens her ridiculous family saddles her with in a quietly stalwart way, because really, what else is there but to live and endure?

Lady Russell. This bitch, you guys.

 

That thousand-yard-stare of Anne’s is super relatable.

 

In 2005, I was lucky to catch an exhibit at the Costume Museum at Bath that had a number of costumes from this film on display, including these two outfits worn by Elizabeth Elliot (Phoebe Nichols) and Mrs. Clay (Felicity Dean).

 

A closeup photo I took in 2005 of Elizabeth’s yellow velvet spencer. Also, yikes, that was 16 years ago and I am old.

 

The tambour embroidered hem of Mrs. Clay’s dress. Seriously, the attention to detail on the costumes is incredible.

 

Anne starts to develop a friendship with Mrs. Croft, Capt. Wentworth’s sister and the wife of Admiral Croft.

 

Later in the film, Anne starts dressing more fashionably. This evening gown is one of the last costumes she wears in the film.

 

Here’s a close-up of the back from the exhibit in Bath. I was blown away by the refinement of the embellishment and the construction.

 

A close-up shot of the sleeve on Anne’s dress from the Bath exhibit. The delicacy of the piping and the subtlty of the silk net overlay on the bodice, as well as the tiny pearls around the neckline really give the gown an understated elegance.

 

This film is also basically Neoclassical porn. The scenes shot at the Elliots’ residence in the Circus at Bath are jaw-droppingly beautiful.

 

I have a few shots of Elizabeth’s red evening gown from the Costume Museum’s exhibit, but they’re all really blurry. Just take my word for it, this gown is stunning in person.

This film manages to pack in a much abriged version of the novel, and yet still somehow is able to deliver the right amount of longing and angst. And Anne is believably average, though that sparkling Austen wit shines through the cracks. Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth is appropriately dashing, but also a tad world weary himself. They have both seen a lot, been though a lot, and both carry a torch for someone they think is beyond their reach. And of course there’s the Austen trope of the dashing cad, played by Samuel West, as Mr. Elliot, Anne’s cousin and male heir to the Elliot estate who shows up to sweep Anne off her feet and secure his fortune.

Obligatory “Sam West Being Sexy as Fuck” photo. Also, that frock coat, you guys. It’s a gorgeous grass green wool and impeccably tailored. And scroll back up to that photo above that I took of Mrs. Clay’s spencer… I’m not sure if it’s the same fabric, but it’s very very close, which gives a subtle hint about a certain plot twist in the film.

As Jane Austen might have said, there are many excellent things about this film to recommend itself, so you should just sit down and watch it if you’re in the mood for a Regency romance that’s a little more bittersweet than not.

 

 

Have you seen Persuasion? What did you think? Share with us in the comments.

32 Responses

    • M.E. Lawrence

      It is my favorite British adaptation (“McCabe and Mrs. Miller” is my favorite American adaptation), the only Austen movie I can think of that captures the sense of depression lurking in the shadows of her actual life. Sophie Thompson is fabulous but, then, every performance in “Persuasion” is pretty damned good.

      Reply
  1. Sarah P Combs

    Absolutely…mine also. Recently talked my book club into reading the book AND watching the movie. I commented that I could watch it JUST FOR THE GORGEOUS FURNITURE…

    Reply
    • Kate D

      Love the book and this movie. Especially the scene where Anne sits on window seat and everyone just sits next to her and complains to her in turns. Her “I am resigned to this” is such a mood.

      Reply
  2. Katie O.

    I like this adaptation but don’t love it. I felt they did a good job with the Anne being downtrodden and resigned part, but the romance of Wentworth and Anne felt underdone to me. The costumes are amazing though.

    Reply
    • Sarah Walsh

      This is also right near the top of my list as “Best Jane Austen adaptation of all time.” I went to that same exhibit in Bath in late 2005, and yes it was SUCH a thrill to see the costumes from this film and so many others up close!!

      Reply
  3. Alissa

    Wonderful, wonderful novel. Featuring probably the most exciting letter writing scene in the world’s literature – I was literally yelling at the characters, despite perfectly knowing the ending. You just cannot help rooting for them so much. The film captures that emotion really well.

    Reply
  4. Constance

    I am a little bit anti-Persuation as the part where it seems like Wentworth has resigned himself to one of the silly cousins (Lydia?) but gets free of her only because she happens to fall in love with his bookish friend who is mourning his wife…maybe Wentworth was never interested in her but it seems like Anne only gets her chance again because the others are satisfied and/or spoken for. Maybe it is the over-politeness of Regency era men, that they feel they must flatter all women or maybe JA just wanted to create more heartache for Anne before she gets the man in the end. But also that Anne allows herself to such a doormat for her sisters annoys me…they are OTT selfish and shallow. Anyway this story always irritates me overall…especially her clueless father.

    Reply
    • Kelly

      In the novel, it’s clear that at the time of her accident, Wentworth hadn’t realized that his behavior to Louisa had led to assumptions among her family that he was ready to propose to her–he hightails out of there, and posts some politely distant inquiries after Louisa’s health. By which time, of course, Captain Bentwick is over his broken heart by reading poetry with the convalescent Louisa and she seems to have forgotten all about Wentworth.
      This is my favorite, too–Anne’s family is just so awful (and Sophie Thompson is the best, hoeing into the ham and cake while complaining about being very ill), and the growing romance so delicately and beautifully rendered. Does anyone else remember the incredibly tacky video-box cover for this? It had two much younger, more glamorous people, him in a naval uniform with an open-necked shirt, her with her hair cascading over her shoulders, in a torrid-romance-novel pose. Utterly laughable–the film distribution company obviously not trusting that audiences would go for this story without Hollywood-gorgeous actors. Root and Hinds are perfection here–I love the way she “youthens” subtly and believably by being around people who care about her.
      Thank you for this post–so good to see moments of the film again, and yes yes yes about Sam West! “In my heart, I know you…intimately.” And moments later he’s in that daffy Merchant-Ivory spoof, Stiff Upper Lips–he’s delightfully goofy.

      Reply
  5. Susan Pola Staples

    Adored the movie and it — the book is a favourite of mine. The costumes are really gorgeous and subtle. I think it’s time for a re-watch and reread. Just need to finish the 2 Nancy Wake books first.

    And you are NOT old. You are a fine wine, growing more subtle and sparkly with age. And I want one of them 2.

    Reply
  6. Mary

    This film of “Persuasion” is perfection. It was the first DVD I ever bought — and I didn’t even have a DVD player yet! I love the scene when Anne visits Charles Musgrove’s family, and everyone confides their complaints to her.

    Reply
  7. Sarah

    This is my favorite movie of all time. The two main characters don’t even really speak to each other until more than half way through the movie, but almost everything they say to other people has a double meaning for the other person. I also love the way Anne’s hair and costumes gradually become less dowdy as the film progresses once she starts becoming more confident in herself. Amanda Root played that transformation to perfection.

    Reply
  8. Ms. M

    I love Persuasion and this adaptation! Thank you So Much for the photos from the costume exhibit. Those details really are stunning.

    Reply
  9. Frances Germeshausen

    This was a recent re-watch over here, and it is just as staggeringly wonderful as I remembered.

    Reply
  10. Lynelle Tarter

    All time favorite Jane Austen book and film adaptation. I remember reading once that Persuasion is a hard film to adapt well because so much of it is Anne’s internal life and feelings and I think this adaptation gets so much of it right. And I love the costumes, all the little accessories and nothing feels like a costume, more like real clothes and real hair that may escape hair pins after a walk in the wind (but is still pinned up!).

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    • Shannon Russell

      Yes, they look lived in. The salt on the clothing of the naval officers always amazes me. Such beautiful attention to detail.

      Reply
  11. MsNomi

    Stunning scenery and architecture. One of my two favorite Austen man-crushes…Ciaran Hinds’ Wentworth (and Colin Firth’s Darcy of course).

    Reply
  12. MrsC (Maryanne)

    LOVE it. So many things to love. That scene where they finally meet each other in the market and the look between them has SO MUCH sexual tension it’s brilliant. Amanda Root’s eyes are actors in their own rights! and the costumes blew me away. Things looked washed and dirty and not always perfectly fitting and also, made from different patterns. And same with the houses, and in the dinner party and concert scenes it’s candle light and people are a bit sweaty and not wearing makeup. And have not fab teeth. It feels so much realer, without having any pigs!

    Reply
  13. Popka Superstar

    Have to entirely agree with you on every point. It’s such a subtle book and you really need great actors for it. I do love both Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds a lot, too.

    Reply
  14. Shannon Russell

    Hopped on your site to search for this vary thing only to find that I had watched it the same day as your reposting! Great Minds! I love the little splashes of plaid throughout the film and of course the GLORIOUS ensemble Lady Russell (that bitch!) wears with the silk plaid cape, differently plaid hat and then a STRIPED scarf! Gaaaah! But also not to be forgotten is the beautiful floral ensemble that Sir Walter Elliot is wearing when he is chastising Anne for not joining them in the excursion to see Lady Dalrymple. Great Cast, great costuming! Love it!

    Reply
  15. Black Tulip

    My favourite Jane Austen novel, and my favourite need-a-pick-me-up watch. Hair is worn up (except for one, entirely appropriate, occasion), married women wear caps, and Mr Elliot is believable as a possible suitor – I felt that the film version made him too obviously a bad-un from the start. Oh, and the two leads play the roles to perfection.

    Reply
  16. Allison Rabenau

    My absolute favorite as well! I love the way the clothes, hair, and makeup (or rather, lack of it) feel so real and lived in.

    Reply
  17. Karen K.

    My favorite Austen and tied for my favorite adaptation (with 95 P&P) as well! It is so heartbreaking for Anne to watch those silly girls throwing themselves at Wentworth. And I love the slow burn when he realizes he’s still in love with her.

    Also thanks for pointing out the green fabric for young Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay — I love when costumers do those subtle tie-ins. I would never have caught that but now all I think is AHA!

    Reply
  18. Gail

    My favorite Austen, book as well as movie. Mature, melancholy.
    And note – no makeup on Anne. Every bit smart and thought out, and excellently cast.

    Reply
  19. Terry Towels

    Ane Pema Chodron says that whatever you are feeling, at least a million other people are feeling at the same time. Everything I came here to say, was already said.

    Oh, the subtlety of the acting in this one. Exquisite.

    Reply

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