November 17, 1995 in Seven

‘Persuasion’ Presents Lush, Authentic View Of History

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Not that there’s any need to further criticize Roland Joffe’s “The Scarlet Letter,” but … well, it does portray as authentic a view of 17th-century New England as, say, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” does of the Old West.

Imagine: If only Wyatt Earp had held an intervention for Doc Holliday, the lovable old gunslinger might not have succumbed as quickly to drink and TB.

These thoughts come randomly after seeing Roger Michell’s stately, moving adaptation of “Persuasion,” the novel of reawakening love by English writer Jane Austen. And, again, those thoughts less concern Joffe’s folly than they celebrate Michell’s masterpiece.

For as a film, “Persuasion” falls in place with a virtual what’s what of great “Masterpiece Theatre”-type productions, from “Upstairs, Downstairs” to “Howard’s End.”

Based on Austen’s 1817 novel, as embraced by the screenplay by Nick Dear, “Persuasion” involves the shattered romance between one Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) and the naval officer Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds). The second of three daughters of an incredibly snobbish baronet, Anne was persuaded at age 19 not to marry Frederick because of his lack of prospects.

The movie picks up eight years later with the still-unmarried Anne living at home and her family, desperately in need of funds, being forced to rent its estate to a retired admiral. As fate (and fiction) would have it, the admiral’s wife (Fiona Shaw) is Frederick’s brother.

So just as Anne is watching her fortunes take a turn for the worse, here returns Frederick, flush from success in the Napoleonic wars, looking for a wife. But does he look again for Anne? Well, if he did, “Persuasion” would have been a very different novel, and this would have been a very different movie.

Instead, Frederick is dismissive of Anne to the point of rudeness. His attentions wander to two young women who, in this story of complicated relations, just happen to be related to Anne by marriage (they are the younger sisters of the man who is married to Anne’s own younger sister). While Frederick is courted by these adoring girls, Anne must watch and carry on as well as she can.

Her coping abilities already have been well-established. With her father (Corin Redgrave) a bigoted, self-indulgent ass, and her older sister (Phoebe Nicholls) haughty and vain, it is Anne who takes on the necessary family duties. And we, at least, recognize her thoughtfulness, intelligence and compassion even if few around her do.

But it’s not that they just don’t see her virtues. They see those very traits as negatives, faults that get in the way of what is really important: fitting in with the “good company” that her father craves.

Those are the traits that Frederick once saw. And, as Anne is courted by a distant cousin whose compliments may - or may not - be genuine, he comes to see them again.

But is it too late?

“Persuasion” will not please everyone. Like other English films of guarded emotion, such as “The Remains of the Day,” it is a slow, albeit admirably crafted, study of people who specialize in miscommunication. Anne’s spoiled younger sister is healthy but insists she’s sick; Anne’s adviser, Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood), tells her ward to ignore her innermost feelings.

“Instinct?” she says with horror, when Anne mistrusts her cousin’s attentions. “This is no time for instinct.”

Yet for those who love authentic looks at life past, when rooms glowed with candlelight after sunset, when people acted on their privilege with little or no thought - or, worse, with disgust - toward those of common heritage (long live the French revolution!), “Persuasion” will offer a treat for the eyes and, perhaps, a tonic for the soul.

It doesn’t feature any nude scenes, pre-feminist rantings, music-video sequencings or other historical revisionism. It boasts only a fine story, a good cast and a director who is more interested in capturing a bit of history than in reinventing it.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “PERSUASION” *** 1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Roger Michell; starring Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds, Susan Fleetwood, Corin Redgrave and Fiona Shaw Running time: 1:52 Rating: PG

2. OTHER REVIEWERS ON ‘PERSUASION’ Here’s what other critics say about “Persuasion:” William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: This movie version of “Persuasion” is mostly great fun - and an English major’s delight. Jeff Millar/Houston Chronicle: “Persuasion” is Jane without pain, E-Z Austen. It’s a delight. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: “Persuasion” is a fascinating, detailed work of cinematic literature. Eleanor Ringel/Cox News Service: Gloriously romantic, yet giddily hilarious, “Persuasion” gives you a ruefully knowing smile as it sides with the wise heart. You leave the theater feeling better about everything. Caryn James/New York Times: This is the first of the season’s two major Austen adaptations, with Emma Thompson coming in “Sense and Sensibility” at Christmas. “Persuasion” is the more difficult to tackle, and this version is as successful as one of Austen’s neatly contrived marriages. The film offers the same pleasures as an Austen novel, as the audience sinks into a comforting, orderly world where life-shattering disruptions are handled with elegant ease. David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: … this latest English production of “Persuasion,” directed by Roger Michell is spectacularly successful in every way. Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: Director Manville, whose debut theatrical feature this is, does a superior job of marshaling all these resources and enforcing a uniformly engaging tone. Both for veteran Janeites and those new to the religion, “Persuasion” is a most persuasive place to be. Jay Carr/The Boston Globe: “Persuasion” is a stylishly and zestfully populated social and romantic obstacle course, and a steadily involving one. Henry Sheehan/Orange County Register: An extremely deft job of screenwriting, a well-orchestrated ensemble cast and, best of all, a captivating lead performance from the young English stage veteran Amanda Root sends “Persuasion” to the top of the list of literary adaptations that have been turning up on art-house screens for the past decade or so. Beth Pinsker/Dallas Morning News: Director Roger Michell’s wellfocused screen version drenches the author’s star-crossed British lovers in melancholy and keeps them tantalizingly at arm’s length.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “PERSUASION” *** 1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Roger Michell; starring Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds, Susan Fleetwood, Corin Redgrave and Fiona Shaw Running time: 1:52 Rating: PG

2. OTHER REVIEWERS ON ‘PERSUASION’ Here’s what other critics say about “Persuasion:” William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: This movie version of “Persuasion” is mostly great fun - and an English major’s delight. Jeff Millar/Houston Chronicle: “Persuasion” is Jane without pain, E-Z Austen. It’s a delight. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: “Persuasion” is a fascinating, detailed work of cinematic literature. Eleanor Ringel/Cox News Service: Gloriously romantic, yet giddily hilarious, “Persuasion” gives you a ruefully knowing smile as it sides with the wise heart. You leave the theater feeling better about everything. Caryn James/New York Times: This is the first of the season’s two major Austen adaptations, with Emma Thompson coming in “Sense and Sensibility” at Christmas. “Persuasion” is the more difficult to tackle, and this version is as successful as one of Austen’s neatly contrived marriages. The film offers the same pleasures as an Austen novel, as the audience sinks into a comforting, orderly world where life-shattering disruptions are handled with elegant ease. David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: … this latest English production of “Persuasion,” directed by Roger Michell is spectacularly successful in every way. Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: Director Manville, whose debut theatrical feature this is, does a superior job of marshaling all these resources and enforcing a uniformly engaging tone. Both for veteran Janeites and those new to the religion, “Persuasion” is a most persuasive place to be. Jay Carr/The Boston Globe: “Persuasion” is a stylishly and zestfully populated social and romantic obstacle course, and a steadily involving one. Henry Sheehan/Orange County Register: An extremely deft job of screenwriting, a well-orchestrated ensemble cast and, best of all, a captivating lead performance from the young English stage veteran Amanda Root sends “Persuasion” to the top of the list of literary adaptations that have been turning up on art-house screens for the past decade or so. Beth Pinsker/Dallas Morning News: Director Roger Michell’s wellfocused screen version drenches the author’s star-crossed British lovers in melancholy and keeps them tantalizingly at arm’s length.


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