Part VI: Persuasion, cont’d.
I hadn’t seen P71 in ages, and I’ve only seen it once. It stars Ann Firbank as Anne, Bryan Marshall as Wentworth, Richard Vernon as Admiral Croft, and nobody else I’ve ever heard of, before or since. It was written by Julian Mitchell, who, among other things, also gave us an episode of Elizabeth R, as well as Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, The Good Soldier, Another Country¸ and several episodes of Inspector Morse. Frankly, I always thought it was a colossal bore, but it’s on the list so I’m watching it. It’s almost 4 hours in length, so I couldn’t watch it all in one sitting. That’s why it’s taken so long to get this column up – I’ve had to take notes and synthesize everything so that it makes sense. Let’s see if I succeeded.
The production starts with a glimpse of Kellynch Hall, and we go inside to see Sir Walter reading from the Baronetage. I happen to like the way Austen begins Persuasion, but I don’t like hearing Sir Walter reading the passage word-for-word while we meet his daughters. It just sounds weird. I can’t help but think it would make more to have a voiceover person do it rather than having Sir Walter himself read the relevant section verbatim. But what do I know? I’m only a viewer, not a screenwriter.
After the reading, we see the Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Anne, along with Lady Russell and the Shepherds, gathering to discuss the family’s plans to retrench. One thing struck me as odd right off the bat. Lady Russell refers to Sir Walter as “Walter.” I can guarantee you that that would NEVER have happened in “real life.” Lady Russell was on intimate terms with the family, but not intimate enough that she could have gotten away with referring to Sir Walter by his Christian name. We are also introduced to Anne’s (in)famous green plaid dress. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed out on something special. The clothes in this adaptation are notoriously awful (along with the hair), and this awfulness is epitomized by said green plaid dress. At the 15-second mark of this YouTube video you can see some of the dress. She wears it a couple of times in this series, and it’s earned its place as probably the most well-known aspect of this series.
I don’t like how Anne and Lady Russell talk about Anne’s engagement – Lady Russell insists that Anne only accepted Frederick because he was the first young man to fall in love with her and that she didn’t really love him. People say that this is an almost slavishly literal translation of the book, but this scene certainly doesn’t come from any of the copies of Persuasion that I own. Then, as Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay leave Kellynch, Sir Walter takes his leave by kissing Lady Russell and Anne, and referring to Mrs. Clay by her first name. What happened to Austen’s Sir Walter? Wasn’t he good enough for Julian Mitchell?
We officially get to meet Mary. The scene where Anne walks into the cottage is almost word-for-word from the book. This is a Good Thing, because I find that scene to be laugh-out-loud funny in the book. The reader knows Mary is healthy. Anne knows Mary is healthy. Mary knows Mary is healthy. But, for some unknown reason, Mary thinks she’s fooled everyone around her into thinking she’s genuinely ill. This scene is priceless, every time.
Charles looks like a chipmunk. We were just told by Mary that both Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove are large, but Mrs. Musgrove certainly isn’t (so no “fat sighs” from her in this adaptation). They also both look as if they’re supposed to be more refined than the book would have us believe. Louisa and Henrietta both giggle so much I want to smack them.
Enter Captain Wentworth. His hair is bushy and his sideburns are just too much, but he is handsome. I will say that he doesn’t exactly look like someone who’s spent the past 8+ years at sea. He’s not weather-beaten at all. And, in a time where there was no sunscreen, people who spent a lot of time outdoors were affected by the elements. When he and Anne meet for the first time since the year ’06, they stare at each other before bowing and curtseying. I think the uncomfortable silence lasts a little too long – maybe it’s because Anne is wearing the Green Plaid Dress and Wentworth is so blinded by it that he can’t think straight. Who knows. But, after Charles and his sisters go off with Frederick to shoot, Anne tells Mary that she’d recognize him anywhere and that, if he’s changed, it’s only to his advantage. I could see doing a voiceover for that, but I don’t like her saying it out loud, and certainly not to Mary.
Ann Firbank is way too old to play Anne. In fact, a lot of the actors are too old for their roles. Ann Firbank was born in 1933 (38 playing 27); Valerie Gearon (Elizabeth) was born in 1937 (34 playing 29); Morag Hood (Mary) was born in 1942 (29 playing 23); Charlotte Mitchell (Mrs. Clay) is 45. I’m not sure how old the character is supposed to be, but I don’t think she’s supposed to be quite that old. Bryan Marshall is only 2 years older than his character, but Georgine Anderson, who plays Mrs. Croft, looks as if she’s his mother, rather than his sister (Mrs. Croft is only 38 in the book). And Richard Vernon, who plays Admiral Croft, is probably about right for his character’s age (he was born in 1925, and so was 46 in 1971) but he made a career out of playing much older characters, and he definitely looks older than 46 here. I like Captain and Mrs. Harville, but Captain Benwick looks like a vampire to me (except for the orange make-up — was that an attempt to make him look weather-beaten?). I know a lot of people who like him, but I just don’t. Elizabeth is the best thing about this adaptation, in my opinion. She does ice queen very well.
It’s a given that the hair and costumes are bad, but there are other weaknesses in the technical aspect of the production. For example, they seem to have had trouble with their microphones – if a character walks off screen, you can barely hear them.
There are a lot of things about this adaptation that make me scratch my head. For example, during the Long Walk, Anne stops along the way and spouts poetry. In the book, she does it to keep herself occupied, not to entertain Henrietta (which is what happens here). And the poem is all about “throbbing passions.” Isn’t that just a little too obvious? Later, when Frederick helps Anne into the Crofts’ gig, we only see it from afar. This matters. In the book, I find that scene to be positively swoon-worthy. Anne does too, because it leaves her completely flustered. And seeing it from so far away, as if it’s just a throw-away scene, takes away the impact of his actions. In fact, the whole film makes me feel very removed from the story. In the book, we are privy to Anne’s innermost thoughts, but here, she often sits and stares into space with almost a smirk on her face. I actually think she looks somewhat deranged. We really don’t know what she’s thinking.
The constancy conversation is there in its entirety (there are a couple of changes, but the essence is there), but it’s too loud. The idea that Frederick would have to concentrate to hear them cannot be taken seriously. And, as for The Letter itself, the climax of the story, I was not impressed. The book’s letter was written in haste, but this version is far too polished. I really wish they’d have left well enough alone. It’s a beautiful letter just the way Austen wrote it.
I’m very glad that we get to hear Anne and Frederick talk about their lives together, but the conversation itself is rather silly. The language is so flowery and so out of character for the Anne and Frederick in the book that it made me chuckle. Somehow, I don’t think that was the filmmaker’s intention, but that was my reaction. I thought it was interesting that we see Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot elope and then the aftermath of this elopement at Elizabeth’s party. That was a nice touch.
Overall, I’m glad I got to see it again, since I’d forgotten so much over the years, but I did remember one thing – it’s still boring. I saw none of the beauty and passion that’s in the book.