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A solid adaptation of Austen's quietest novel
on January 8, 2004
My copy of the novel "Persuasion" refers to it as having an "autumnal" tone, which has definitely carried over into this adaptation. It makes no pretensions to being another "Pride and Prejudice," or "Sense and Sensibility", lacking those books' underlying theme of warm friendship between sisters. Nor is it like "Emma" or "Northanger Abbey," both comedies featuring immature women and their self-discovery. In other words, "Persuasion" may be a disappointment to those who passionately love one of those other stories, and expect the same thing. This is ironic, considering that some believe "Persuasion" was based on an incident in Jane Austen's real life, where she apparently turned away a suitor in her youth, and later regretted it.
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.