Jane Austen’s Persuasion (2007) – A Movie Review

Sally Hawkins, as Anne Elliot in Persuasion (2007)

A new adaptation of Persuasion will air on Masterpiece PBS tonight. Based on Jane Austen’s 1817 novel, its themes of patience, fortitude, and second chances ring true to today’s audience even after two hundred years. The story of Anne Elliot, a twenty-seven-year-old unmarried daughter of an aristocrat who was advised seven years earlier to decline an offer of marriage from a dashing young Royal Navy officer she loved because his social standing was not on par with her family’s rank, is one of Austen’s most poignant. When Wentworth reappears in her life as an established, wealthy, and eligible suitor, every unmarried young woman in the neighborhood takes notice. How the two react to this uncomfortable situation and work past their regret and disappointment is one of classic literature’s most endearing stories.

Adapting Austen’s story to the screen takes a highly sensitive writer and director. This new ITV/Masterpiece PBS production of Persuasion is the first installment of The Complete Jane Austen series this year on PBS which will also include new productions of three other new adaptations of her major novels, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility, and a biopic Miss Austen Regrets. There will also be an encore presentation of Emma (1996) and Pride and Prejudice (1995) to complete the lineup. This new Persuasion has a promising ensemble of accomplished British actors and crew to support Austen’s narrative. Being both a tragedy and a comedy, one really never knows how it will be handled.

There have been other screen adaptations of Austen’s classic love story, notably Persuasion (1995) a feature film starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth. Written by Nick Dear and directed by Roger Mitchell, it was produced by the BBC and was intended to air on TV, but later premiered as a theatrical movie. It won awards and the acclaim of the Jane Austen community for its gentle love story deftly told. I can still re-watch it in a heartbeat and be in awe of the fabulous acting, costumes, scenery, and sensitivity to Austen’s original novel.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion (2007)

While it has been twelve years since it released, Persuasion (1995) casts a giant shadow for Jane Austen fans coloring their opinion of any new production. The screenwriter of Persuasion (2007), Simon Burke, took a different approach to his interpretation by accentuating the division between the two main characters. Anne (Sally Hawkins) is even more reserved and quiet, and Captain Wentworth (Ruppert Penry-Jones) even stiffer and unlikable than Austen’s origins, or the 1995 interpretation. The director Adrian Shergold played this up, even more, by often having Anne not speak, but use facial expressions and voice-overs to convey her emotions and feelings. The chemistry between the two principal characters continues to simmer and their eventual rekindled romance does spark some heat, but at what cost? The final scene when the lovers realize that they were meant to be together is one of Austen’s most memorable. The letter that Captain Wentworth writes to Anne to declare his love is frequently quoted and often discussed.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

Swoon. The  “you pierce my soul” line could melt any romantic skeptic. Unfortunately, in this new adaptation, Anne reads the letter and then runs through the streets of Bath to find Captain Wentworth. This madcap marathon race by the heroine was comical and totally broke the romantic tension that Austen had built up to. It lost my respect as a viewer and canceled out much of the good qualities of this production that we had previously enjoyed.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters in Persuasion (2007)

After completing Persuasion, Jane Austen wrote in 1817 to her niece Fanny Knight and shared that her heroine Anne “is almost too good for me,” jokingly placing her estimation of her good character above her own talent. Known for her sarcasm and irony in her novels and letters, Austen ofter undervalued her own opinions and work to add levity. I wish that the writer and director had heeded Austen’s backhanded admission of her talent and listened to her advice.

I really wanted to like this one. I did! It does have a few charms to recommend. Rupert Penry-Jones is easy to look at and has a commanding presence on screen. He also got short shrift with dialogue. Shame, because his voice is glorious. The two young Musgrove sisters are a delight against an otherwise somber landscape. Amanda Hale as the snorting Mary Musgrove stole her scenes. Anthony Head’s hilarious performance as foppish Sir Walter Elliot was also stellar. He is the real star of this version of Persuasion. Shall we rename it Arrogance in his honor and call it a day?

Persuasion (2007)
ITV/Masterpiece PBS

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this movie from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of ITV/Masterpiece PBS © 2007; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

26 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s Persuasion (2007) – A Movie Review

  1. In addition, add the insult of close-ups to Sally’s long face and weak chin, which her face cannot take. She is ordinarily pretty, not extraordinary, and the camera was not kind to her half the time.

    Her acting is superb. What she did with so little material is breathtaking, but then the director nearly dismantled her lovely interpretation with those awful close up shots.

    I agree with your assessment in everything except Mary Musgrove, whose shrillness and snorting got on my nerves.

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  2. I think Sally Hawkins is a very good actress but she was NOT Anne Elliot. We barbarians who write fan fiction ;-) study these characters closely and I know Anne Elliot very, very well. Maybe too well.

    I feel sorry for the screenwriter, who didn’t do a bad job with exposition as far as The Year Six and setting up the love triangle with Mr. Elliot–I guess actually a square with Louisa Musgrove, really–and then all of a sudden seemed to realize he had only 10 minutes left to get in everything after Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath. “I know! I’ll have Anne run around getting exposition from random characters like a Greek tragedy!” It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. :-)

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  3. I had enjoyed it last night despite the fact that I had to switch back and forth to watch the Golden Globe results. I was impressed by all the Bath mentions and seeing some actual Bath scenery and sites. I’ll definitely watch it again.

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  4. I was very disappointed in this adaptation.

    I knew it was going off the rails when Anne’s crucial conversation with Captain Harville at Bath came early on (in Lyme and with Captain Benwick!).

    The last half hour was actually upsetting to me. Anne would never run through Bath. Mrs. Smith would not be tearing about the place, either. The letter, perhaps the most lovely moment in the novel, was almost entirely lost under the huffing and puffing proffered by Sally Hawkins. It was painful to watch Anne await her kiss, and wait, and wait – was that supposed to drive home the “romance” of the moment? And how, one wonders, could Captain Wentworth obtain Kellynch Hall? And, anyway, why the need to ADD a scene not written by Austen when so much of the lovely book was omitted?

    As for the casting, I thought Amanda Hale was terrible as Mary Musgrove, the woman playing Elizabeth far too old and the actress playing Mrs. Clay far too pretty.

    There was some silliness, too. A servant standing around with an inkwell just in the off-chance her mistress might come by? Louisa’s “duh” reply to Captain Wentworth’s query about the timing Charles’ proposal to Anne (“…before he married Mary”).

    Pretty sets, locations and costumes, though. (Well, one must find something positive to say!)

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  5. Any Jane Austen dramatization is better than anything else that might be shown on TV, but otherwise I was disappointed.

    This will never replace the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version which I adore – though Wentworth was much nicer to look at.

    The story was chopped up for convenience, there was too little character development, and Anne was altogether too shrinking and trembling-lipped for me. She may be clever enough to reset a collarbone, but her other charms, and their staying power for Captain Wentworth, were far from obvious. The scenes of her dashing around Bath robbed her of dignity. It was badly done.

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  6. Hello Deborah Jane, and thanks for your insightful observations and opinions. I think that you accurately described many of its faults and shortcomings. Really sad considerings all the the screenwriter and director had to start with. If they can not improve upon the dialogue and plot, then why change it? I was also disturbed by the ‘mis-casting’ of many of the characters. Sally Hawkins may be an up-and-coming British actress, but this production will certainly not advance her acclaim. You point out “some silliness”, well, you were very kind in your omissions!

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  7. Hello cottagerswife, Thank you for joing in today. I whole heartly agree with you! The 1995 Root/Hinds version of Persuasion still reigns supreme with me also! One of the best Jane Austen adaptations ever. This version not only robbed Anne of her dignity, but many others, including Jane Austen. Badly done, ITV, badly done!

    We shall see how Northanger Abbey fares next week.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  8. I also agree with Deborah Jane’s review. To make matters worse, PBS left out two scenes and cut at least two scenes short from the original ITV movie (you can watch it on youtube). I agree with Penry-Jones’ voice and I like his slower, more deliberate delivery of lines in comparison to Ciaran Hinds’ more quick delivery. As to the running around and hurried up story lines – why did they do it? Why didn’t they just add another half hour to the story and follow the book more closely? I did like the movie because I love seeing my favorite books acted out but it so easily could have been better.

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  9. I had been very reluctant to watch Persuasion last night knowing that they could not possibly match the Root/Hinds version of Persuasion, but I did not imagine that it would such a poor production. After all it was Masterpiece Theater. The need to cut some scenes is understandable, but having the wrong people say the wrong lines in the wrong place is a terrible thing to do to a truly well written story. I found Anne to be much too weak of a character, and Captain Wentworth had nothing to commend himself besides his looks. The Musgrove sisters were well done. I will probably watch the rest of the upcoming Austen productions, but I’m not expecting much from them.

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  10. I disliked this version intensely but am a fan of the books so most screen versions leave something to be desired for me. I was terribly disappointed in the writing, pace, connectivity and screenplay. Unfortunately, this is a story that requires much more time to be truly well done, and while the Root/Hinds version is vastly superior to this one, even it digressed from the story a great deal particularly as regards Mrs. Smith.

    The sets were wonderful and the location scenes were excellent. Lady Russell deserved much more attention, in this version she simply disappeared which was a great waste of talent considering the actress chosen for the role. She was a mere “cipher” to put it in Jane-an terms. The running around of Anne at the end was the worst of all. It would have been unthinkable in that society. I liked the Musgrove sisters, and I think that Mrs. Clay was closer to being correct for the part than the one in the Root/Hinds version. Mrs. Clay was “altogether well-looking” as described by Austen. I also liked most of the casting, although I tend to agree that the main character wasn’t suited for the role of Anne. I will continue watching the series, but not with the enthusiasm and anticipation that I had before now. Fortunately, the upcoming version of Pride and Prejudice is my favorite production of all the Jane Austen movies I’ve seen. That will be a saving grace for the series unless it is cut-up to fit the time slots.

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  11. I agree with virtually all of the comments panning this production. How sad that the writer and director thought they could improve on what Jane Austen actually wrote. As a teacher, what saddens me even more is that students will watch this film version and think that they know the story of Persuasion, when they don’t. The scene where Frederick writes the letter in Anne’s presence as she converses with Captain Harville and Anne later reads it is the most thrilling and the most significant in the book, and it’s missing from this story! How dense could the writer be? I will forbid my students to watch it and will quiz them in ways that catch them out if they do. Just kidding, but I will warn them sternly that they are missing something great if they substitute this lame version of the film for the joyous experience of reading the book or watching the much superior Root/Hinds version.

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  12. I watched Persuasion for the second time yesterday to give it a chance, and Sally Hawkins is truly woeful. The romantic denouement where Anne kisses Wentworth had me cringing: Hawkins gaping and gasping; Penry-Jones seemingly reluctant to lock lips. Is he actually backing away? Absolute lack of charisma and chemistry from the leads, and nothing in Hawkin’s drippy, permanently lost-for-words and gasping Anne to convince me that Captain Wentworth had ever seen any feisty qualities in her. Grim.

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  13. Deborah Jane is right on with her comments. The miscasting was brutal. People who were supposed to be pretty were ugly and vice-versa. Henrrietta and Louisa were cute, according to the book, yet they were odd looking in the movie.

    In my opinion, the acting was good, particularly from the two main characters. Casting and script sucked. My two least favourite scenes: Ann running around Bath and and her kissing a reluctant lover. What on earth was that?

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  14. i don’t know about all of you i thought that this was great and to be honest i like the part when they have that kiss.because they waited so long for that that it doesn’t matter to wait a little more.as we say in my country better late than never.also i loved the performance of sally hawkins because she maybe seems shy but not impassioned

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  15. Wow! You guys are brutal!

    I actually liked this movie. I think it pretty much got across the gist of the story, and of course that is what it should do in the allotted amount of time it is given. However, you can’t please everyone, and yes, it could’ve been longer but I’m certainly glad they did the film and have watched it several times.

    What I did not like was the sprint through Bath or the way the movie suddenly started to sprint to the finish line at the same time. I also didn’t like Anne’s outfit in that running scene (a minor detail). I was sorry that they changed the way the letter was written and the kiss would’ve worked better if we could perhaps have seen it from a different perspective/angles etc. Some of the camera work irritated me. What may have seemed to be awkwardness or reluctance, I think was more likely supposed to have been hesitancy. A couple truly of this era would have displayed just that, not to mention that a scene like this would have never played out on the street in Regency England. However, that’s what we in these modern times want to see and movie makers do try to deliver. There has to be a kiss right? It was difficult to see that stuff because the camera man had some kind of thing going on with Anne’s face only. If we could have seen the scene backed up slightly at least part of the time, and perhaps a bit more of Wentworth’s expression leading up to the kiss, it would’ve made more sense to us. It was hard to figure out what was really going on from his perspective, and I think we missed a lot of the nuance there. Probably a waste of some pretty good acting actually.

    All in all though, this movie was nicely done, the leading actors were really very good and I actually thought that Sally Hawkins made a very believable Anne and is certainly a very talented actress. She was pretty, but not overly so. In the novel Anne Elliot is known to have a pretty face with nice even features, however she has lost much of her glow due to her suffering, weight loss and so on. This she slowly regains as the story progresses and I would’ve enjoyed seeing that subtle change occur a little more in the movie. The softening perhaps of her hair style (which was very severe) and clothing etc.

    Rupert Penry Jones was an awesome Captain Wentworth, very dashing and handsome. He is an actor who can certainly get his message across. I was never in doubt of what he was thinking or feeling for the entire movie and these I thought were depicted very accurately. His resentment towards her, the gradual softening, understanding and realization of her superior qualities, and finally, the awakening to the fact that he loves her still.

    The last scene was a bit strange, but perhaps we can assume that Captain Wentworth simply took over the lease of Kelynch Hall from his brother in law, the Admiral Croft. :)

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    • Johanna, thanks for stopping by. This adaptation of Persuasions does have its merits, namely Rupert Penry Jones. I agree about the wonky camera work. I have not viewed this movie for over a year, and the dust may have settled, and I may think differently. This review reflects my initial reaction. I will let you know it my opinion changes. Thanks, Laurel Ann

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  16. Pingback: Persuasion (2007) Encore on Sunday « Austenprose

  17. On my first viewing I was a bit put off by the Bath-scenes too, but all in all I think it was a decent movie. Film is such a different medium than novels and with the exception of the 95 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, I have been used to a lot of mick-mackery from writers and directors, and now don’t really expect movies to be too similar to the books. What I do require is for the movie to be constant and truthful to what I consider the soul and heart of the book and the characters.

    I found Penry-Jones’ portrail of Captain Wentworth’s slowly release of a closed heart very truthful. Even in the first half of the movie one can see him trying to handle the wall that is gradually coming down around his heart, and subsequently adressing the realisation that he is still in love with Anne, and that his pride could cost him his happiness. He has a pent-up intensity that conveys the surge of emotions raging inside,; an intensity I found to be totally absent in the 95 version of the Captain.

    As for Anne; at first her weak and squirmish character made me cringe, but on second viewing I found her to be completely in agreement with the original heroine. Anne is someone who suffers from the traumatic experience of losing one’s first love; and to make matters worse she’s well aware that time has proven her wrong in rejecting him. The impact of love lost in our formative years have been widely documented in literature and psychology as something that can alter an entire life. I found her lack of self-esteem and overly-humble body language quite realistic. Ultimately she has no- one in her life, maybe with the exception of Lady Russel, that loves and understands the young woman she was/is, and therefore she has lost herself. And when the one person who once loved her returns with a bitter attitude and an obvious disdain for her, she loses all hope of returning to the sweet, blossoming and loved woman she one’s was.

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  18. Why does an actor or actress need a great deal of dialogue to convey his/her character? Whatever “silent” acting Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones did, they did a great job.

    I have come across one major flaw of “Persuasion”. And it originated with Jane Austen’s pen.

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    • A great deal of dialogue is never necessary, it’s what they do with the quite time that is important. Having Anne look woefully into the camera was contrived. Sally Hawkins is a great actress. My objection was with the director.

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  19. Having Sally Hawkins look into the camera every once and a while didn’t bother me one whit. It just didn’t. The movie’s persistence in maintaining Austen’s characterization of William Elliot did. Having him portrayed as a rake out to marry Anne in order to keep an eye on Sir Walter struck me as contrived. It also struck me as contrived in the 1971 miniseries. And it struck me as contrived in the 1995 movie.

    If I must be honest, the handling of the William Elliot character is the ONLY thing I disliked about “PERSUASION” and I wish that the above mentioned versions had changed his character in order for the second half of the story to make more sense.

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    • Anne’s mad marathon dash through Bath did not set off any decorum alarms? I am not sure I understand your objections to movie adaptions “persistence in maintaining Austen’s characterizations.” Most people object because they don’t.

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  20. I used to feel that way. It occurred to me that some aspects of a novel do not translate to the film or television medium very well and that it is up to the adapter or screenwriter to make changes to suit the medium.

    I feel this way about the William Elliot character. One, he did not strike me as an effective rival for Frederick Wentworth, as Louisa Musgrove was for Anne Elliot. And two, his scheme to marry Anne in order to keep an eye on Sir Walter and make sure that the latter never remarry struck me as implausible and a situation that William would have never been able to fully control.

    As for Anne’s run through Bath . . . yeah, I found it annoying. I also found the scene in which Anne and Wentworth finally reconciled, amidst a street circus making a ruckus in the background in the 1995 version also annoying.

    This is why my feelings for both the 1995 and the 2007 version are equal. Despite their flaws, I really enjoyed both versions. I even like the 1971 version, despite its flaws.

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  21. Pingback: Persuasion (2007) Encore on Sunday « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

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