Persuasion Adaptations: Part 2

Persuasion, as a novel, is unique in that it is Austen’s last complete novel. It was published after her death and what we read is the second draft (yes, there is a first draft of this tale, called ‘The Elliots”) so there is a sense that the novel we read is not quite finished/polished. The title was given by Austen’s brother when he decided to publish Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death. And this may account for the lack of adaptations because it is difficult to adapt a novel that does, at times, feel a bit lacking in certain areas (particularly when it comes to the feelings or actions of Anne Elliot). However, this is Part 2 of a thee part series and we’ve now come to the 1995 Adaptation.

Nick Dear wrote the screenplay for the 1995 version, which was a BBC/Masterpiece conjoined venture. Additional funding from France and Mobil gave it a very large budget and instead of doing a five or six part miniseries, they opted to do a film version. This is where it becomes a bit unusual because this version did air on BBC and PBS in 1995, but was also then released in theaters as an art film (independent film) in the fall of that year as well. This adaptation has the unusual distinction of being the only feature length film version of Persuasion we have, even though it may not have been meant to be a film initially, it became one in the end. So, when I view this particular version, I do tend to label it as a film and not a television version given the bigger budget and how it comes together. It’s by far short at being a little over two hours, but flows nicely which works as an independent film. It was not as popular nor as advertised as 1995’s Sense & Sensibility film version, yet this film holds up just as well with it’s smaller budget and excellent RSC cast. This is likely the first version any Austen fan came across for this particular novel.

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Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Firstly, I do love the way this film opens. It does a superb job of showing you precisely what time frame we are in by showing us Naval men getting together on a ship and being told that Napoleon has abdicated. It’s our first introduction to the officers and it’s the first glimpse we have into the post-war world we will now find ourselves in. I do love Corin Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot. He positively shines as baronet obsessed with status and vanity. Mrs. Clay is plain and dowdy, but her looks (in terms of clothing) improve in Bath, which I do appreciate. Elizabeth is pretty but not overly so and looks to be around the same age as Anne. Mary, while mean to be younger, also looks to be around the same age as Anne, which I don’t mind. Having the Elliot siblings at least look closer in age doesn’t bother me as much as having Anne look much older than the other two. Anne looks tired, which I accept as her looks do progressively improve as the film enters into Bath. Susan Fleetwood, who portrays Lady Russell, sparkles as her character and I am sad to say she died in 1995, so this is her last film role. Every actor was cast exceptionally well and fits the role. Even the Miss Musgroves fit and they come across as annoying at times.

What I most love is the casting of the Crofts. While they do not have a major part in the novel, I buy that this couple cares deeply for Wentworth. I sense a familial connection between Sophia and Frederick. They act like siblings in public. That emotional connection which I found missing in the 1971 version is present in this one. And the Misgroves were cast very well as they come off as boisterous, loud, and full of life. Qualities which they didn’t quite capture in 1971, but are on full display here.

The Crofts. Truly Adorable.

Because this was filmed differently, there is much more on location and attention to using existing houses and homes, which is nice to see. Interior shots look like they were done in in some of these existing homes or in very detailed sets. One must consider that film quality has vastly improved since the 1970s as has camera quality, which will make a difference. More subtle use of natural lightening and also what I believe to be gray or tonal gels used to give the impression of overcast skies at times I actually don’t mind. The novel is meant to take place over the course of a late summer 1814 into Autumn and then end in Winter 1815. Much of the novel was cut due to time, but major points or scenes were kept such as Walter’s falling out of the tree, the walk to Uppercross, etc. Cutting of little scenes, while they are lovely in the novel, don’t necessarily translate well to a film. To a miniseries, yes, those generally are kept but since the intention was to go for more of a film feel, those scenes need to be cut.

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Sir Walter, Lady Russell, Elizabeth, Anne, and Mrs. Clay meeting Lady Dalrymple!

One thing cannot be stressed enough is that the costumes were exceptionally well done. The trousers (see Sir Walter above) are not only period correct, but of the right length to showcase those lovely legs encased in stockings! Alexandra Bryne did the Costume Design and won an award for it. She completely deserved it, in my humble opinion. The use of different textures, such as velvets, silks, jacquards, cottons, laces, and prints to give each character (from main characters to even servants) a story is the ultimate goal of any costume designer. Dresses and other garments also looked worn in places and comfortable, as they should look. No one should be donning a costume that looks so uncomfortable and stiff that it inhibits their acting style. Which brings us to the subject of the naval uniforms. Now, some critics then and now do not like seeing Wentworth, Admiral Croft, or any of the Naval men in uniform in this adaptation.  I have done a considerable amount of research and while it was frowned upon in France for me to wear their uniform after the War, be aware that they lost. In England, these men (both Navy and Army) were the victors-the heroes. I cannot think of a reason why they would not wear their uniforms to formal dinners. And for a Navy man to not wear his uniform in Bath? When Lord Nelson was that city’s favorite son? It doesn’t seem logical to not see men about in uniform after a major victory in a town that was all about the Navy at that time. So, for me, it is historically accurate to see Wentworth, Croft, Harville, Benwick and other naval men in their uniforms. I would have even liked to see an Army man or two in uniform to be honest. These men were heroes and would have been hailed as such. I do think critics lack the capability to do basic historical research at times.

Lady Dalrymple, Viscountess. Notice her makeup! Glorious!

One item I do not like is the lack of makeup on the women. Makeup was available. Lady Russell is seen wearing a little bit and I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to that end for all the women involved. I saw more attempts for historical accuracy for the extras in terms of makeup than for the main characters (though Lady Dalrymple has a goodly amount). We must stop this mindset that women no longer wore makeup after the French Revolution because it’s simply not true. The style of makeup changed, but it was still worn. I do like the different hairstyles, which is a plus. Some have complained about the short hair on Mrs. Croft and Lady Russell. Historically, women did have short hair at this time. Many of these women wore turbans. Guess who wears turbans in the films?

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A la Titus from Costume Parisienne circa 18008-1810 (I believe)

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Lady Russell in a divine Scotch Turban.

I also appreciate that this is the only adaptation to portray Mrs. Smith (Anne Elliot’s schoolfriend) as an actual invalid. Most tend to portray her as a down-on-her-luck widow, which she is. However, her maiden name is Emma Hamilton. Any student of history who knows even a smidgen of Lord Nelson knows Lady Emma Hamilton was the lover of Lord Nelson, gave birth to his illegitimate daughter, and didn’t have a good ending (alcoholism in Calais). So, I have always wished for her to look ill and someone who should be residing in Westgate Buildings. Westgate Buildings were located near the Doctors and the Baths for a reason as the residents in these buildings were invalids. The rooms should be sparse and hold a minimum of comfort. Everything wasn’t all lovely and refinement back then.

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Anne visiting Mrs. Emma Smith and Nurse Rooke in Westgate. Emma looks ill.

Other minor details which tickle my fancy that are historically accurate and are just nice touches: dancing is seen as lively, engaging and exuberant. Beer is seen served in the daytime (beer was drunk for Breakfast). You see people processing fish in Lyme (and it’s messy!). Eyebrows on women are not pencil (accurate) and being in a carriage doesn’t always look comfortable. On the other hand, things which I found annoying are Louisa’s lack of controlling her hair. Changing Charles Hayter (the cousin engaged to Henrietta) to Henry Hayter and he’s barely in it. At least have him walk Henrietta home from Winthrop (more screen time for the poor chap). The Charles Musgrove children are always depicted as being much older than they should be. If Mary is 22 at the oldest, she’s been married either 4 years (so her boys are 3 and 2) or has been married as long as 6 years (so 5 & 4). Yes, that would mean she was either 18 or 16 when she married Charles (the boys are routinely depicted as being at least 7 or 8).

A few issues that annoy some people, though not me is having Anne become a bit more self-assured when she comes to Bath and standing up to her father. Remember, Austen never polished this novel because she died young, so having Anne stand up to her father and see Mrs. Smith over the Dalrymples verbally, while not in the book, is what she does. She does chose to defy her father’s wishes and see her friend, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to have her say “No”. And as for the scene where Wentworth is discharging a request made by his Admiral, some critics have stated this scene is from the infamous first draft of the novel, but is missing from the second (which is the version that was published). I’ve never read the first draft so cannot confirm this theory, but if that is true, it may have been a scene Austen was debating on whether she should include it or not. The last issue people have is the kiss. For all the silly reasons to be upset, a kiss is the least of their concerns. Yes, historically, women did not kiss in public as it was not proper yet there are many first hand letters and accounts from people available online to read that describe engaged couples kissing in public at this time. People in love will behave in a certain way and this has been true for ages. It’s not that unbelievable to see Anne and Frederick sharing a kiss to cement their mutual understanding. This is a love story, after all, or a couple that has been apart, but in love with each other for 8 years. That is an incredibly long time to wait for a kiss.

So, is this adaption perfect? By no means it isn’t! It is enjoyable, short (which is nice if you don’t want to sit through a long miniseries), and is simply lovely. It also has the added distinction of being the only film version we have, which is a great pity. For a novel that ranks higher than Emma, it has less film and TV adaptations to it’s name. I would love to see a bigger budget, closer to three hour film version. This novel deserves it. We as Jane Austen fans deserve it. For now, I guess we’ll settle for a nice, quiet gravel walk…

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Persuasion Adaptations: Part 1

Now, I must confess that Jane Austen’s Persuasion is by far my favorite of her novels. So, one would think that there would be a plethora of adaptations available to pick and chose in order to discuss which ones work and which ones don’t. Shockingly, there have been only 4 adaptations of this wonderful novel. A BBC Miniseries in the early 1960s (which they erased and has been “lost”) is considered the first and regrettably no one can view it. There are a few still photographs available on-line and the cast list makes me wish a copy may one day be found. The second adaptation is a 1971 BBC/ITV version and is now available on DVD. The third, and probably most well known, is the 1995 version which is a BBC/A&E collaboration which was released as an independent film (more on that in Part 2). And finally, a 2007 BBC/ITV production. Since there are only three available, this makes it much easier on my part to discuss each in their own posting (parts), which will end with a conclusion on the last part regarding my recommendation. So, let us begin with the oldest, shall we?

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Wentworth (Mutton Chops!), Anne, and Charles Musgrove in Bath.

Persuasion (1971) adaptation was adapted by Julian Mitchell and originally aired in five episodes. When you see it now on DVD, it is only in 2 parts, which makes it easier to view (there’s definitely more of an unbroken story this way) but be aware it IS long (thankfully we have pause functions). Things that do stand out that are commendable about this version is the adherence to the text. The stillborn son is mentioned and this is the only adaptation to mention Sir Walter’s wife did have children other than the three daughters. I do love the over abundance of mirrors placed around the set of Kellynch to show rather than tell us how vain Sir Walter is because this is a fundamental part of his character and there is a reference in the novel to him having an excessive amount of looking glasses in his bedchamber, so this subtle way of reinforcing that concept is nice. I should warn whomever does seek out to watch this adaptation that there is a major difference from when the actors are inside to when they are outside. Some of this is simply down to the way it was filmed (this was done in 1970) and while the outside scenes are lovely, the inside scenes are definitely done on a set or sound-stage. I found that to be a trifle disappointing, but considering other adaptations done around the same time, this seems to be the normal procedure so I do take this into consideration.

The cast is a mixture of people who truly fit the role and those who seem just an odd fit. Ann Fairbank is wonderful as Anne Elliot. She is charming, able to convey silently all those emotions we know Anne is feeling, but also able to not seem like a weakling, which is not how I see Anne Elliot, but many people feel she should be portrayed this way. As the only original Anne Elliot we have, we have an excellent actress who does fit this role even when watching it today. Bryan Marshall is Captain Frederick Wentworth and while he is the perfect counterbalance to Ann Fairbank, he doesn’t quite fit the role of a Royal Naval Captain. While the pair are able to convey a shared past to us, I do feel his performance would not have been as convincing as it was without such am excellent Anne Elliot to pull it from him. I don’t “buy” into his role until about half way through. Now, this could have been done on purpose, to somehow make the audience feel awry about the good Captain and his intentions until part way through the series (which fits the novel), but in order to “buy” into this love story (and it IS a love story), you have to want to be with Captain Wentworth. You have to make some sort of emotional connection to his character (which is a basic tenant I learned during my Theatre days) or you lose the audience. He loses me, which is sad because he’s a fine actor.

As for the other actors, I thought Sir Walter was a very good casting as was Mr. Shepherd. I don’t mind the actress who portrays Mrs. Clay because she is sweet and conniving, which is a unique way of portraying that character. Elizabeth Elliot and Mary Musgrove both look younger than Anne Elliot, which is an issue considering in the novels, Elizabeth is the eldest and Mary is the youngest (Anne is the middle child). I do understand that one casts for the part, but it was unusual. Lady Russell was neither elegant nor motherly and I had issues as well as the casting of the Crofts and the Musgroves as well.  Lady Russell is described as being an elegant widow and she was portrayed and costumed a bit dowdy, which is an affront to the novel. The Crofts in no way seemed like they had ever been to sea and I didn’t believe Mrs. Croft was sister to Wentworth (they are siblings in the novel). There was almost no sense of a sibling relationship there which I was missing. The Musgroves are said to be large and were cast as two fairly tiny individuals. I’ve not yet deiced whether I like William Elliot or not. However, Captain Harville (poor man!), kept switching which leg was injured in this adaptation (a cane would have greatly helped). Captain Harville would have made an excellent William Elliot in my opinion (basically, switch those actors and I believe it would have been a great improvement).

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Anne in Lady Russell’s home. Notice the Oriental Vibe.

The costumes are…typical of the 1970s in that they are trying to be historically accurate, but at the same time, they are costuming as if for the stage and not film, so you do see zippers. A lot of zippers and a hodge podge of styles ranging from 1810 to 1830 in one story. FYI, the story of Persuasion takes place in 1814-1815 and is the only Jane Austen novel that we have a definite time-line as it begins with Napoleon being sent to Elba and ends before he escapes. Why this is so hard to keep in mind for all the adaptations, I cannot fathom. Getting back to the costumes in this one-the men were wearing trousers more suitable for Jane Eyre than Austen. The prints, if you can tell from the above image, are very late 1960s. If I were to show a profile of any of the ladies in this adapataion, you would get the nice bullet nipple profile, which is NOT historically accurate. As you can tell, the hair was not good at all. Ann Fairbank had, for the most part, what I can only describe as a sort of pushed back beehive. I can only surmise they were trying to fit the hairstyles into the bonnets, not realizing that women’s hair did not need to fit the exact shape of a poke bonnet.

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Elizabeth Elliot. Her hair is more 1820s. And her dress is very psychedelic.

The facial hair on the men as well is a bit weird. Now, I have seen some portraits of men during this time with facial hair. Mutton chops, however, are so closely tied with the Victorian aesthetic that it’s such an unusual choice here.

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Wentworth (Mutton Chops!) & Anne at the End. Her hair is vastly improved.

It does feel, and I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not, but many of the men’s clothes in particular were made for future Victorian adaptations or were pulled from stock. And while they are from the 19th Century, clothes befitting a man in the late 1820s to early 1830s is completely different profile wise from what he would be wearing in 1810-1815. The same applies to the costumes for the women. The waistlines varied from right under the bust to a few inches lower, which completely changes the profile of the gown being worn. Yes, this may sound a bit like I am picking on this adaptation, but there are some points that do work historically.

First is they do try to use silks, velvets, printed fabrics for the ladies and wool, suede, and rich jewel colors for the men. This is historically accurate in terms of what they were trying to achieve, but they just didn’t quite reach that threshold of being accurate. But for a “first” attempt (since the 1960s version is lost, this, for all accounts, is the first version available), it’s not bad. Secondly, the interior sets are full of Rocco elements, which I do like. People tend to think places like Kellynch and the Great Hall would have been completely Regency/Late Georgian inside and that’s not even remotely true. Elizabeth makes a statement in the novel about not redoing a room because of the lack of funds. How long has it been since the room was redone? Possibly close to thirty years if the last time it was redone was in the time of Elizabeth’s mother, which means styles would have drastically changed. Even if it was only fifteen years, that’s still a significant change in interior aesthetic which could be shown. So, in my opinion, the use of Rocco and mid Georgian Era elements fits for both interior shots (they even use a slight Oriental theme in Lady Russell’s home which was very popular starting around 1810 due to the Prince Regent and John Nash. Now, the colors used at times are a bit jarring (the bright reds and really bold greens) because softer colors were used and a bit more acceptable colors. This doesn’t mean bold colors were never used (Red patterned wallpaper in a Chinese design was very popular thanks to Prinny and Brighton), but I do have to keep in mind that the interior scenes are not shot inside actual homes, but on a set somewhere, and the bolder colors may have been used to help with lightening, but to also help the sets stand out from the black background.

Thirdly, I do appreciate using jewelry on the women and makeup. Regardless of what people try to tell you, makeup was still in use and still being manufactured. While white lead faces were no longer the acceptable look, the use of lip color, rouge, perhaps a little bit of kohl around the eyes was being used. Not much, as they did want to go for a more naturalistic look, but even today, the natural look requires makeup. And an effort was made to make Anne seem to take an interest in her looks after Wentworth makes the comment that she basically looks terrible. Even her hair, as badly styled as it is, does improve and ends up resembling something a bit more Regency at the end.

Fourthly, and I am completely sincere in this, I am grateful that even though the trousers are not accurate, Wentworth’s pants are a trifle snug. As are Captain Harville’s. I am a single woman in possession of wit and a fine mind, but even I can appreciate the male form when placed before me on display. I am not dead yet.

Finally, while this does have things that are not accurate, it is very faithful to the novel. The acting in it is exceptional and even though there are some odd casting choices, those people do a good job with their respective roles. The music used is original to the adaptation and is beautifully done. I have not yet been able to see if it’s available on CD, but I would not mind having the music because it is so well done. Since receiving this DVD for my birthday, I’ve seen this adaptation three times, so let’s just say I don’t dislike it.