Again - the "autumnal" tone is picked up by the two leads, who are older and less conventionally attractive than, say, Kate Beckingsdale or Jeremy Northam. Ciaran Hinds has a quiet charisma that grows the longer you watch him, and has developed into a viable leading man. Amanda Root begins the film as a grey little mouse and transforms into a more lovely woman halfway through, solely through her skill as an actress, and not through a film of vasoline smeared on the camera.
Those who complain that Root is not pretty enough to fit their mental image are missing the point, and probably did not read the book, where Austen points out that Anne's beauty had faded with age. (As we read on, we realize that it's her love for life that's dimmed, which in turn has affected her attractiveness to others. Her handsome father certainly becomes less good-looking each time his prissy behavior is described.)
In the film, it would be easy to pull a "Grease"-like transformation - where, like Olivia Newton John, Amanda Root comes out all dolled up in makeup and a hot bodice, ready to jump on the Regency tilt-a-whirl. But the Captain and Anne regain their passion for another through their rediscovery of each other's hearts, not their good looks - although seeing each other's good character instantly brightens their countenance and puts a spring in their step, making them much more attractive. Neither Hinds nor Root need a gallon of makeup to make this transformation believable.
The two performances that I enjoyed most, however, were that of Sophie Thompson and Fiona Shaw. Thompson, who was only vaguely boorish in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," as a woman despairing of meeting a quality mate, goes full-hog as a high maintenance mooch. Very funny.
Shaw, on the other hand, is one of the funniest things about the "Harry Potter" movies, as Harry's dreadful aunt. Here, she is positively vibrant as a happy naval wife. She just brims with love and vigor, believable as a woman who has travelled the seas to be with her husband, and who wishes happiness for her younger brother and all around her. Both the character and the portrayal make a fine contrast to Anne's waspish sisters and father, and the overindulgent yet loving Musgroves. Only five years older than costar Root, with what seems to be a great range, I wonder what charm Shaw might have brought to the role of Anne if she had been offered the part at an appropriate age.
This is a warm, and yes, subtle movie, which will chase away the blues on a winter day.
1) It isn't stuffy and unnatural. The characters sound human when they speak; you can imagine that this is how people spoke in the 19th century - not like pompous orators, but like real people. The world surrounding the characters isn't overly polished or brightly lit; again, there's a natural, "lived-in" feeling to all the buildings and landscapes; they do not look like they came out of a glossy postcard.
2) The performances. I don't have enough praise for Amanda Root, who plays Anne Elliot, a woman whose marriage prospects are slim to nil, and who has just been thrown into the company of a man whom she rejected years ago. Root can speak volumes just with her eyes, and everything about her fits perfectly with the gentle, wry and intelligent Anne Elliot. As Captain Wentworth, Ciaran Hinds is also great; he disappears into the character. Both actors aren't conventionally beautiful or handsome either; Root in particular blossoms before the viewers eyes - at first she's very faded and quiet, and then we (like Wentworth) see her spirit shine out. In addition to Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, the rest of the cast also do a wonderful job. Perhaps because there aren't any big name actors, we can get totally immersed in the film.
3) It's true to Austen. There's subtle humor, real human feeling, and a keen understanding of human nature. It's an unforgettable love story.
4) The kiss. One kiss - perfectly timed, perfectly executed... you will melt.
5) The soundtrack. This holds true particularly for the assembly at Bath, and the Italian vocal pieces.