Part VI: Persuasion, cont’d

P07 stars Sally Hawkins as Anne, Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth, Alice Krige as Lady Russell, Anthony Head as Sir Walter, Nicholas Farrell as Mr. Musgrove, Peter Wight as Admiral Croft and Tobias Menzies as Mr. Elliot.  It was produced by ITV and was aired along with MP07 and NA07 as part of their Jane Austen “festival” in the spring of 2007.  I love the book so dearly and the cast sounded so wonderful that I couldn’t wait to see it, and scoured YouTube for clips.  I saw it three times between the spring of 2007 and the early winter of 2008 and I haven’t seen it since.  I saw the US version once and the UK version twice.  I own the UK version and that is the one I watched for this post.  Here, for what they are worth, are my thoughts.

First impressions – Anne is a mouth-breather with bad hair.  It is so tight and slicked-back that I have to wonder if it hurts.  We first see her scurrying around the house with a pad and pen, taking inventory of Kellynch.  So we’ve missed the first couple of chapters of the book, you know, the ones where we learn just how broke Sir Walter is and that he must retrench.  “My” Anne Elliot does not scurry.  She is a very dignified, elegant woman who does not scurry.  Oh my – there’s a servant holding an inkwell, just in time for Anne to use it.  Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.  She’s scurrying so quickly that I’m surprised she has the time to write anything down.  She certainly doesn’t look like she’s writing.  She just looks like she’s looking.

The music is lovely, almost haunting.  The score is by Martin Phipps.

Lady Russell appears and is completely ignorant of Sir Walter’s financial situation.  Obviously, she missed the first couple of chapters, too.  In this version, Mr. Shepherd doesn’t seem to exist because here, it’s Anne herself who convinces her father to let the house.  Austen’s Sir Walter  and Elizabeth didn’t think highly enough of Anne to listen to her on matters such as these.

It turns out that the family haven’t left yet.  While Anne’s been scurrying, Elizabeth and Sir Walter are strolling around the garden. Elizabeth’s wig is just awful.  She also looks much, much older than 29 (She is.  The actress was 41 in 2007.).  The screenwriter obviously took a page from Nick Dear’s script and has her eating sweets.

Ah, so Mr. Shepherd does exist.  He comes upon the Elliots and Lady Russell in the garden, along with Mrs. Clay.  Mrs. Clay is way too pretty.  What happened to the protruding tooth and the clumsy wrist?  She even has dimples and looks positively winsome.

Anne learns about the Crofts and scurries up to her bedroom.  Lady Russell follows her, and they have a conversation that is almost from the book about how Anne marrying Wentworth would not have been prudent.

Anne keeps a diary and reads it out loud while she’s writing.  She wonders if Wentworth is married.  I’m not sure I like this diary technique.  It seems almost like a crutch.  And then she looks at the camera while asking her diary if he has children.  I’m not a fan of “breaking the 4th wall” either.

I’m guessing that it’s in the interest of time that they show Admiral and Mrs. Croft arriving at Kellynch the very instant Anne departs.  (I am not exaggerating – the Crofts can see Anne leave.) I can think of no other explanation.  The Admiral is wearing civilian clothes, which is appropriate.  P95 has the officers wearing their uniforms, which is not period correct, regardless of how amazing they look in those uniforms.  Mrs. Croft looks very old.  Sophy and Frederick are only supposed to be 7 or 8 years apart – Marion Bailey is 11 or so years older than Rupert Penry-Jones.  He has a baby face, and she does not, so the age difference is quite pronounced.

I do like them keeping the Admiral’s comments about all the looking glasses.  I missed that in P95.  But what I don’t like is what Sophy says next – she has heard “talk” that Frederick was engaged the last time he was in Somerset.  “His heart was quite broken, I believe.”  I am stunned.  There is never, ever a hint in the book that Sophy knows about the engagement.

We meet Mary.  The dialogue does come straight from the book, but I do miss Anne seeing her at the window.  Meeting her this way, lying there on the couch with her eyes closed, could mean that she actually is ill rather than just faking it.  Mrs. Musgrove is not large so, just as in P71, we will get no “fat sighs” here (not that it matters, just as in P95, Richard Musgrove never existed).  Henrietta and Louisa are very young, but they do give a good first impression.  There is no manic giggling, and that’s a very good start.  Charles comes in with his father and the boys, but he does not give me a very good first impression.  He seems rather a twit.  Amanda Hale seems to be channeling Sophie Thompson, but is not succeeding.  She seems as if she’s got either Tourette’s or St. Vitus Dance because she just won’t stop twitching.  It’s unbelievably annoying.  But I am prejudiced towards Nicholas Farrell.  I’ve never not liked him in anything he’s been in, so I do have high hopes for him.

Little Charles falls from the tree and is brought back to the house. His mother gets hysterical and ANNE RE-SETS HIS COLLARBONE.  WHILE IN HER DRESSING GOWN.  AND IT’S UNBUTTONED.  Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.  We all know how capable Anne is, but this is ridiculous.

After Anne and Frederick meet again, Anne looks at the camera, writes passages from the novel in her diary and cries.  I don’t feel for her the way I do in the book or in P95.  I just don’t. I think that they are almost forcing the issue by breaking the 4th wall.  Well, the technique does not work for me at all.  I don’t have the empathy for the character that I am accustomed to having.

Frederick barely says a word.  He just stands around and stares.  Except when he tells the whole gang that he’s ready to get married.  I like having him say the words he’s supposed to say, but he didn’t say them in public.  It works better when he says them to his sister in private; it’s just rude to say them in front of everyone.  And Frederick, despite everything, is still polite.

The dance is at Kellynch instead of Uppercross, and I missed Frederick asking why Anne doesn’t dance.

The more I see Amanda Hale, the less impressed I am with her.  Sophie Thompson was comic relief.  This woman is just annoying.   She’s constantly twitching and contorting her face and body.  I am not sure why she’s doing this.  I’ve never seen her in anything else, and so cannot say if she does this in all of her roles (she was, apparently, in episode 9.3 of Spooks, but I cannot remember her and cannot comment on her acting in that part).

Henrietta and Louisa take the Long Walk with the express intention of going to visit Winthrop and Mary goes along voluntarily.  That makes no sense whatsoever.  Anne spends the entire walk looking as if she’s about to cry.  Here, even Charles forgets about Anne and lets her fall into the water. It’s so obvious that you just know it’s going to happen. This reminds me that we never got the scene at Uppercross where the entire Musgrove family confides in Anne.  I miss that scene – it shows just how much they care about her and trust her judgment.  This Anne, despite her expertise with collarbones, does not seem to be a source of advice and consolation from the Musgrove family.  Anyway, when she falls into the water and lies on the ground, flat on her back, all of a sudden Frederick is there to help her up.  That’s very odd and not even close to anything that happened in the book.  The way it happens almost made me think it was a dream sequence.

OK, this made me laugh.  When Frederick and Louisa are talking about how the family wished that Charles had married Anne instead, Frederick asks her when this happened. “I do not exactly know, but before he married Mary.”  Are you kidding me?????  Did anyone proofread the script???  I can’t believe that RPJ doesn’t start laughing out loud at this one.  All he does is look perturbed.  RPJ is a fine actor but he’s totally wasted here.  He’s barely strung 10 sentences together since the movie started more than 30 minutes ago. And this is all besides the fact that he doesn’t look as if he’s spent 8 minutes out of doors, much less 8 years.

I’m very glad that Charles Hayter gets to keep his name.  The “Henry Hayter” business in P95 was just silly.

But I am NOT glad at what happens next.  The scene where the party meets up with the Crofts, the scene where Anne first starts to see that maybe Frederick still has some feelings for her, is totally ruined.  He plops her down on the back of the gig, like a sack of potatoes.  She doesn’t sit with the Crofts, she’s sitting on the back of the gig, facing the other way.  Anne is almost a bystander, not a part of the conversation.  It’s ludicrous and not even remotely swoon-worthy.  This is just Not Good.

Voiceovers worked to a certain extent in P&P80, but they don’t work here.  Not after seeing P95, where so much happened with no words being spoken because they simply weren’t needed.

Harry Harville?  Oh please.  That’s even worse than Henry Hayter.  And, it appears that Capt. Harville knows who Anne is. He gives Frederick a knowing look when introduced to Anne.  That’s definitely not in the book. Frederick didn’t tell anyone except his brother Edward.  Not Sophy, not Harville, not Benwick.  No one.  I will say that Harville is a good-looking man.  But where is Mrs. Harville?  I’ve always liked her.  This Capt. Harville appears to be a bachelor.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Anne and Benwick have the constancy conversation at Lyme.  And Frederick doesn’t hear it.  And it’s cut short to boot.  Badly, badly, BADLY done.   The writers certainly didn’t understand the importance of this conversation.  And it really ticks me off.  How can he write his letter without hearing what Anne has to say?  

Ah, here comes the stranger on the beach.  He’s tall, dark and handsome.  He’s Tobias Menzies, who appears to be a very appropriate Mr. Elliot. We see him look approvingly at Anne, but I’m not sure why.  Sally Hawkins’ Anne does not seem to have become, shall we say, refreshed by the sea air.  And, with that slicked-back, greasy-looking hair, she does not look even remotely as pretty as I’ve seen her in other things.

Louisa’s dive doesn’t have much build-up.  Anne takes charge, and everyone does what she tells them to.  And there’s blood here, unlike in the book, where there is no visible wound at all.  Harville is at the scene of the accident and, when we are back at the house, we see no Mrs. Harville at all.

The movie is half over, at around the same place the book is (Louisa’s accident), but everything just feels rushed.  I keep thinking that we’re missing something.

They seem to be using the Royal Crescent as Camden Place. What’s up with that?

There’s a scene in Lyme where Harville tells Frederick that it is expected that he will marry Louisa.  We never hear or see this in either of the other adaptations, and it is only referred to in the book.  This is an example of what I mean when I say that this adaptation gives us almost too much information.  P95 didn’t need to show us everything.  It treated us as if we were smart enough to figure it out on our own.  Here, however, everything has to be spelled out to us.  I don’t really like it.

I’m not sure why all of the characters spend their time going around the Pump Room in circles.  I keep thinking of a skating rink.  I don’t know how historically accurate this is, but it’s rather silly looking.

Anne’s letter from Uppercross is from Charles, not Mary.  And he doesn’t say that Louisa is going to marry Benwick; it just hints at a marriage, and of course, Anne thinks it’s Frederick and Louisa.  I’m not sure what the point is then, except to have Anne cry again.  I guess Sally Hawkins has a talent for crying and they didn’t want it to go to waste.

Sir Walter is not as vain as he could be, but he’s nastier than any Sir Walter I’ve ever come across.  When he tells Anne that she should go with them to the Dalrymples’, he shouts rather than whines.

We’re back at Lyme, and Frederick is telling Harville about how he still loves Anne.  Harville does indeed know all about her.  And then Harville tells him about Louisa and Benwick.  I dislike this scene a lot. It’s just so wrong on so many levels.

The writer seems to believe that every other word in Regency times was “exceedingly.”  The characters use it exceedingly often.

Anne finds out that her “cousin” (huh???) Louisa Musgrove is marrying Benwick through a personal visit from the Crofts.  Where did that come from?  Mrs. Croft says things that were supposed to come out of the Admiral’s mouth, and they don’t really work.  I’m not sure why this was a good idea.  And, once again, Anne looks like she’s going to cry.  She reminds me of Emily from Udolpho, who cried so often that I wanted to reach into the novel and smack her.  It’s bad enough that the Crofts notice something’s wrong with Anne, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

Next up, we get the scene where Anne and Frederick meet at Mollands.  I’m sorry to offend any of the P07 fans out there, but I see zero chemistry between these two.  Sally Hawkins hasn’t gotten any of Anne’s “bloom” back, and RPJ continues to look uncomfortable. This is such a waste of good actors.  Bad script and bad casting don’t bode well for a good adaptation.   And they have their Louisa/Benwick conversation at Mollands.  Isn’t the shop supposed to be crowded?  Mr. Elliot shows up and calls Anne by her first name.  That’s just wrong.  Then she tells Frederick about a concert at the Pump Room.  It almost sounds like she’s asking him for a date.  This is just wrong.

Anne really needs to do something about the mouth-breathing.  It makes her look considerably less than attractive.

Seeing Anne run after Frederick at the concert in this film is even worse than seeing her run after Frederick in P95 (which I definitely thought was out of character for Anne Elliot). This time, she gets up just as the orchestra starts playing a Mozart symphony and runs out to find him.  What happened to Anne being an Italian scholar?  I miss hearing Mr. Elliot fawning all over her.  And then he asks her to marry him at the concert.  Where did that come from?

All of a sudden, it’s the next day, and Anne sees a letter intended for herself on the table in the entry way.  It is from Frederick, who tells her he has a “commission from my admiral” and that he must speak with her at 11 that morning.  While I like the idea of a tribute to the cancelled chapters in P95, it seems way more cumbersome to do it this way.

Wentworth shows up at the house just as Mary and Charles do (I did say this felt rushed, didn’t I?) and Anne looks like she’s about to vomit.  There is no more delicate way to put it.  So then she takes Frederick into another room and shuts the door – all while her father, brother-in-law and 2 sisters are watching.  Whenever I think I’ve seen the last weird thing, another one happens.

So now is the “commission from my admiral” speech.  It’s just meh.

But now begins the stupidest part of this entire stupid movie. Frederick has just left the room in which he and Anne were talking, and Anne is less than a minute behind him.  So what does she do?  She runs after him.  And I am not kidding when I say she runs.  And, for a few seconds, so does Mrs. Smith (that Nurse Rooke is obviously even more capable than Anne herself – an invalid is now running through the streets of Bath!) and telling Anne the truth about Mr. Elliot.  She tells her more than we heard about in the book.  Since when does Mrs. Smith know that William Walter Weasel wants to install Mrs. Clay as his mistress even while he’s married to Anne?

Anyway, Frederick is gone.  Poof!  Vanished into thin air.  Good Lord, this running is stupid.  Anne is a woman who can’t walk a couple of miles without tiring, and now she’s running all around Bath like a chicken with her head cut off.  It’s stupid, stupid, stupid.  Some people have tried to justify it by saying that it’s because all of her emotions are swirling around.  Well, the book’s Anne had some of those same emotions, but she didn’t run through Bath like an idiot in an attempt to vent them.

Here’s a tip — instead of watching the running scene from the movie, check this out instead: Don’t click on it.  Copy and paste it into a browser window and enjoy.  Seeing this clip again reminds me of the time I saw this film on a big screen at Cooper Union in New York City.  The entire audience started laughing when Anne started running, and they didn’t stop until the credits rolled.  There’s something seriously wrong with that.  You’re not supposed to laugh at the ending of Persuasion.

But I digress.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, things get even worse.  Anne runs into Capt. Harville (literally) and HE GIVES HER FREDERICK’S LETTER. Is this another example of the space/time continuum being fiddled with?  How in the world has Frederick had the time to go to a place with a desk, a pen, some ink and some paper and write a letter?  He’s only just left Anne!  And, even more to the point. how can he write this particular letter since he never heard the constancy conversation?  I’ll tell you how.  It’s because the Letter, Austen’s magnificent Letter, has been butchered almost beyond recognition.  This alone is enough to make me hate this movie.  Once again: 

And, after all the running, she accepts his proposal and they kiss.  And it’s got to be the ugliest kiss in Austen adaptation history.  She’s been running around town doing the Bath Marathon, and she can hardly catch her breath.  The result is just a gross, un-sexy, guppy-like kiss.  And I hate it with a passion.  It’s so awful that I couldn’t even watch it.  Bleagh.

Next thing we know, she’s writing in that stupid diary again, and he takes her, blindfolded, to see her wedding gift.  It’s Kellynch Hall!  It doesn’t matter that the place is entailed to Mr. Elliot in the first place, or that Frederick doesn’t have enough money to buy it in the second place.  This kiss is nicer (and her hair is better) but it does not make up for the utter stupidity of the rest of the film.

I watched it so you don’t have to.  I was once asked what my favorite part of this film is.  My answer?  The closing credits.

It’s a real shame that the Odyssey has to end on such a disappointing note.  This movie had so much potential – a terrific cast and a decent budget – but it was just awful.  Not as bad as MP99 of course, but bad enough that, if I hadn’t had to watch it for this project, I would have happily let it sit in its box forever.

Luckily for us all, I do, however, have something else up my sleeve – it’s Aisha, the Bollywood adaptation of Emma that came out last summer.  Netflix sent me one of their copies, so I plan to watch that in the next couple of days and post my column shortly afterwards. And, in order to get the rotten taste of P07 out of my mouth, I just may watch P95 again (now that I’m allowed to) and revel in its beauty.