I wanted to write a review of two movie adaptations of Persuasion, my favourite Jane Austen book, for a long time but never got to it. Perhaps I wanted to write perfect posts to show my love but didn’t wish to repeat myself. Maybe I just had to realise I should do a comparison post. So here it is, broken down into several categories for easer reading. 😀
Summary of the story
Eight years earlier, Anne Elliot, the daughter of a financially troubled aristocratic family, was persuaded to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a young seaman, who, though promising, had poor family connections. When her father rents out the family estate to Admiral Croft, Anne is thrown into company with Frederick, because his sister is Mrs. Croft. Frederick is now a rich and successful Captain, and a highly eligible bachelor. Whom will he marry? One of Anne’s young in-laws? Or will he and Anne rekindle the old flame? (imdb)
Level of faithfulness to the book
The 1995 Persuasion is very faithful to the book, especially in the way major events and relationships are handled. Anne’s friendships from her time in school and how Lady Russell influences her life is highlighted, which is a good thing since both continue to be pivotal to her life. Anne’s personal growth and gradual disentanglement from her family’s influence is handled with greater attention to detail without inflating screen time. I like how she stands up to their expectations in a very non-forceful way. She has this quiet dignity that they mistake for meekness. But Anne has learned to heed her own mind, even though she has her doubts and insecurities. I also feel the movie sets us more clearly into the time period and atmosphere of 1810’s than the 2007 version. It is the ultimate adaptation and many sing it praises for a good reason.
2007 Persuasion is more lyric and modern in style, focusing on Anne and her troubled relationship with Captain Wentworth. Even though it is broken into two parts with longer overall screen time, the more lyrical approach to the story makes it move at a slower pace in some parts. But I like the way they focus on Wentworth’s friendships and life in short scenes – the story is compressed due to the longer contemplative scenes, but the main points are there. Even though they aren’t as faithful to the book, the changes aren’t jarring; rather, they are an organic mutation of the plot. But there will be some scenes where you’ll raise your eyebrows a little at the way characters behave – running or kissing in public isn’t something a lady would do in that time as far as we can judge from biographies and other literature. Just saying, for those who put great stock in being historically accurate, there will be a few modern elements involved. Still, I prefer to watch this version when I need a pick up. The soundtrack, intimate close-ups narrated by Anne, and panoramic scenes give it a more cinematic feel than the 1995 version. Colours just pop. The mood swells and calms down. It is a far more intimate portrayal of Anne’s inner life; her emotions are here for us to see whereas 1995 Anne is more subdued and controlled. I’ve been corrupted by other movies and prefer the more emotional version of the story.
The 1995 movie features Ciarán Hinds (Captain Wentworth) and Amanda Root (Anne Elliot) as our star-crossed lovers. I like them and their acting very much, but they aren’t as overtly romantic as the 2007 couple. Their acting is more subdued, complying with historical mannerism and conventions. They appear significantly older than the age they are in the book, but I don’t mind that much. Both are very good actors so their performance here is superb.
The 2007 couple seems to fit the age of book characters better. They sell the romance 100%. Sally Hawkins is forever my Anne Elliot (just as Jennifer Ehle is my Elizabeth Bennett, and Colin Firth Mr. Darcy). Some actors make these roles their own. As for a Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones), I like him but he’s not my ideal Captain. For some reason I imagine him as a dark-haired man, a little weathered from fighting and sailing in the south. Rupert is great in the role but he doesn’t sell it as well as Ciarán Hinds. So I’d switch the pairs and let them do their magic. 🙂
Costumes and Hairstyling
Both versions feature great costumes but since I’m not an expert in historical fashion in any shape or form, I can’t comment on the period accuracy of the pieces. I believe the 2007 version features the transition period in fashion when England went its own way with the wacky 1920-30 fashions; crazy sculptured hair, mutton-chop sleeves, and lots and lots of lace. The regency style fashion we all know from other Jane Austen adaptations is on the way out in this version of the story, which is historically inaccurate – Persuasion is set in 1810’s Bath, still very much in the Regency era.
The 1995 version has many great costumes, especially for the men with their uniforms. I’m not sold on all costumes for the women, though. Some dresses appear fussy to me with lots of frill and lacy trim, but thankfully these are in the minority and the usual long dresses with subdued prints reign supreme. I love the shawls and hats they wear; evening dresses showing off fine fabrics and jewellery being the highlight of the movie. Lady Russell and the Musgrove girls wear the most extravagant pieces, showing off their wealth. Anne is more subdued in her choices but she does have a dress or two whose colours I liked. The production team did a great job highlighting the differences in status through the dresses and accessories. I prefer Anne’s costumes from the 2007 version though since they are closer to my aesthetic in their colour palette.
I’m not happy with the hairstyling of the 1995 version – lots of flyaway hair or just very messy hairstyling of the women in some scenes. I didn’t like that, but I can easily overlook the cases when they were out in the wind. But not while they are sitting at the table! A brush is a wonderful invention… I was very much taken aback at the start of the movie but the hairstyling got progressively better.
The 2007 version has more colourful costumes that delight the eye, and great hairstyling. There are so many wonderful pieces to admire. Perhaps I like this version so much precisely because it is more colourful whereas the 1995 version is duller in the colour palette in regards to Anne. She does change gradually and finds herself, so I like the slow transformation they have going there but the 2007 version wins with the costumes. I’m sorry.
I prefer the 2007 version of the creepy cousin Elliot portrayed by Tobias Menzies. He nails the role and he’s extremely handsome in that top hat. You can easily understand why Anne’s father, elder sister, and Mrs. Russell are so taken with him. He just oozes charm, good breeding, and nobility. Too bad it’s all superficial and he’s a real scumbag.
Sir Walter Elliot of the 1995 version is the one I prefer, although Anthony Head does a great job at portraying the vain nobleman in the 2007 version. Faithfulness to the source material wins every time though and I’m afraid the modern version cuts out too much material to fully explore his character.
My favourite portrayal of Wentworth’s sister – Mrs. Croft – is done by Fiona Shaw in the 1995 version. She is just so warm and approachable. I’d love to have her as a friend. She may be a bit older than in the book but I don’t mind. She’s just lovely and the right person to draw Anne out of her shell a bit more. I also like the Admiral Croft of 1995 a lot more. Perhaps the overall portrayal of side characters is a lot better in the 1995 version. I’d switch Miss Elliot and Mrs. Clay to their 2007 versions though.
The 1995 version is the ultimate one that anyone should see. It is consistent in its high quality, so you can’t go wrong. I’d also recommend it to all who don’t particularly care for Austen’s novels because it is one which may just convince you that there is more than just romance at the core of them – she is an astute observer and commentator of her society.
The 2007 version has some anachronisms and modern romance tropes, but it’s nicely packaged for the most part. The problem zone is the conclusion with some clunky scenes that I did not particularly care for, but I like the overall adaptation of the novel. I’d recommend it to people who like very vivid colours and a more emotional tone, but don’t expect strict adherence to the novel.