By Jennifer Abella
We’ve all got our favorite “Persuasion” adaptation — or if you don’t yet, you might by the time you leave the Jane Austen Summer Program in June. But what were the reviews of these adaptations when they were first released? Let’s see:
The Stage, Patrick Campbell, April 22, 1971:
“Howard Baker’s production of Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last and perhaps most endearing book, manages to avoid the cow pats, thistles and other pitfalls lurking for those who are not too familiar with the terrain.
Julian Mitchell’s script, judged on the first episode, is a particularly happy one in its understand and translation of the original. Without tying himself too literally to the words of the Austen text, he yet manages to convey the atmosphere of the early nineteenth century without more than a very occasional hint of archaism…. Mr Baker’s direction has style and period atmosphere … Itwas, however, strange to find a Granada production ambling along with so moderate a tempo and it is here that the fault lies. … The first episode gave the impression of trying to cram a pint into a quart pot. … Ann Firbank has identified herself as clearly with Jane Austen as she has with the autobiographical character of Anne Elliot. She plays with a sort of objective aloofness, commenting on the proceedings while still taking a part in them. One does not often see a character fully developed at the start of a serial: Miss Firbank has managed it. … The gallant hero, Captain Wentworth, was given what must have been the longest and most insistent build-up ever to his entrance which came too near the end of the episode for any real impression to be formed of Bryan Marshall’s ability to live up to the ballyhoo.”
The Independent, April 23, 1995:
“The challenge for any actor is to convey the inner life. In Persuasion, Amanda Root has to manage something even harder; the inner death. Adaptor Nick Dear took the bold decision not to convert Anne’s silent reflections into voiceover, let alone exterior speech. So half the time Root’s face is the only clue we have – but what a face. Sadness hangs about it like a smoke ring and her eyes are pools where merriment has drowned. When Lady Russell gives her a book of poetry and says, apparently without irony, “I care little for these Romantics, do you?” Anne nods to reassure her old friend that her taste is not at fault but the camera stays with her and we are rewarded with a flicker of dissent. When she first tries to say Wentworth’s name, it comes out as a hoarse whisper, rusty with lack of use. Having believed she was beyond pain, Anne now finds herself suffering a thousand fresh cuts as oblivious relatives invite her to speculate on which of the Musgrove girls Captain Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) will wed. Root takes this torture with such mild forbearance that you want to punch your way through the screen and throttle her tormentors. When Anne is told that she is so terribly altered that Captain Wentworth barely recognises her, Michell cuts to her sitting quite rigid in her bedroom inspecting her face in a mirror. It’s not self pity we see but tough self-scrutiny as if to check that time has indeed done its worst.
Put like that, Persuasion sounds about as much fun as Samuel Beckett at the dentist. But even in the glummest moments, Michell has his wits about him.”
Variety, May 29, 1995 – June 4, 1995
“By backgrounding the period so well — with charming details like housebound, unmarried girls fluttering around military heroes like 19th-century groupies — and limning in detail the conservative, gossipy community, the two leads are allowed to gradually emerge from the fabric rather than carry the whole dramatic burden from reel one.
When the pieces suddenly fall into place in the final reel, pic carries a genuinely heady adrenaline rush.
Root is terrific as the slow-burning Anne, without grandstanding her role into some latter-day proto-feminist. Her great late-on speech (“All the privilege I claim for my own sex is that of loving longest when all hope is gone”) is all the more moving for its quiet simplicity.
Performances like Hinds’ naval captain, and a whole army of acutely sketched supports, are securely anchored in the period rather than being re-creations of 19th-century stereotypes from a 20th-century perspective.”
New York Times, September 27, 1995
“… brilliantly captured by Mr. Michell, with the screenwriter Nick Dear and a cast completely in sync with Austen’s warm but piercing style. Their “Persuasion” is profoundly truthful in many ways: in its sense of emotional longing; in its natural, unglamorized visual beauty, ranging from drawing rooms to the sea; in its fidelity to the delicate tone of Austen’s satire and romance. … Ms. Root and Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth form the powerful center of the film. Ms. Root makes Anne sad but never self-pitying or forlorn. The chatterbox Mary has repeated Wentworth’s comment that he would never have recognized Anne, she is so changed. Anne tries hard to hide a love she believes can never now be returned. Her ability to signal unspoken emotions is matched by Mr. Hinds, whose sternly handsome face expresses the pain and distrust that linger after Anne’s old rejection.”
Orlando Sentinel: January 13, 2008
“The 90-minute broadcast stars an excellent Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot, the most solitary and oldest of Austen heroines. Rupert Penry-Jones is her Wentworth, an actor whose name, looks (Beckhamish, without the pecs and peroxide) and performance are more than up to the task. The festivities end with perhaps the longest, most hesitant uptilting kiss in memory.”
Boston Globe, Jan. 11, 2008
“The pace is too fast and, by the end, choppy; the writing, by Simon Burke, is reductive; and the casting is misguided. Certainly the sets and costumes are gorgeous, and the more satirical comedy involving Sir Walter Elliot’s desperate snobbery has its moments, but on the whole the movie is hurried and forgettable.. .. As Anne, Hawkins is right enough. She musters dignity in the face of regret and spinsterhood, never making Anne pathetic. But Penry-Jones is far too pretty to be Wentworth. He doesn’t have wisdom and pain written into the lines of his face, as did Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth in the 1995 version – indeed, he has no lines in his face.”
USA Today, January 11, 2008:
“The cinematography and direction are uncomfortably modern and showy, and yet Hawkins draws you into her character and her world….Many of the choices and cuts are bound to strike Austen purists as jarring, but the worst decisions are saved for the frantic finale. If you think Austen would have blanched at the private, fire-lit kiss at the end of the most recent Pride, imagine her reaction to these two tradition-bound lovers making out on a Bath sidewalk in broad daylight, which would draw attention today.”
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Find her on Twitter: @nextjen.