On Saturday I watched the movie version of Persuasion (1995) starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. It was highly rated, so I thought it would be the best of the available adaptations to watch.
On the positive side, it showed me some of the things from the book that were hard for me to visualize, such as the grandeur of Kellynch Hall and the accident in Lyme. The actors and actresses were, for the most part, average-looking people, they were not heavily made-up, and the costumes and sets were perfect. It felt very real.
The music of Chopin was used in the soundtrack and it was beautiful, so beautiful that it was occasionally distracting. As Chopin would have been about 7 years old at the time of Austen’s death, his music was also slightly out of place. The actors were soft-spoken, almost to the point of mumbling. If I hadn’t already known roughly what they were saying, I would have found the dialogue hard to follow.
Some of the characters were not at all as I envisioned them. Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, was portrayed as lazy and psychopathic, while I had imagined her as regal and calculating. That, I think, was just a matter of interpretation, but the screenwriters took some serious liberties with other characters, their actions and their motivations. Perhaps they worried that a modern audience wouldn’t be able to understand the subtleties of Georgian society, but some of the changes showed, I think, a lack of respect for Austen’s intentions. They really went wild toward the end of the story, granting everyone way too much chutzpah. Anne would not have kissed Captain Wentworth in the middle of the street and he would not have interrupted the party to ask Sir Elliot for Anne’s hand!
Anne’s extreme passivity was, for me, the most interesting facet of her character in the book. By making her more aggressive, the screenwriters may have improved the story for the modern audience, but they also took away the audience’s opportunity to appreciate what it was like to be a woman during Austen’s time. The movie is missing that sense of claustrophobia, that sense of being stuck in one’s small circle of society and having no power to change it. Without that understanding, Captain Wentworth’s second proposal loses much of its power, because for Anne, it wasn’t just about love, but also about escaping from her horrible family and her limited social circle.
I wouldn’t say that my movie-watching time was a complete waste. The movie brought certain parts of the story to life for me, for which I am grateful. I recommend it for its realistic appearance. However, I advise readers to put a buffer of time between finishing the book and watching the movie, so that the screenwriters’ changes won’t be so glaring.