Comparing the Jane Austen’s Persuasion Movie Versions
Which film version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is best?
There have been a number of movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s Persuasion including a new one from Netflix, and it’s always a thrill to see Austen’s work adapted for the screen.
Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last completed work, is one of my favorite novels. The story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s second chance at love is a heart-melting romance that epitomizes Jane Austen’s gift for storytelling.
I’m going to compare the last three movie versions of Persuasion and reveal my favorite at the end of this post … where you can also enter my Persuasion giveaway!
PERSUASION: THE STORY
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot, a baronet’s daughter, is a 27-year-old spinster (gasp!) who 8 years ago was persuaded by a family friend to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a Royal Navy sailor who had nothing but charm to recommend him (ie. no fortune or prospects). As the story opens, Anne has never gotten over her love for Wentworth and has come to deeply regret that decision. Anne’s narcissistic father has run through the family fortune and the Elliots are forced to “retrench” and rent out the family estate, Kellynch Hall.
Wentworth returns from sea, now a rich Navy captain looking for a wife. He and Anne are thrown together in various circumstances that take us from the lush English countryside to coastal Lyme Regis to the city of Bath, where we wonder: will the quiet put-upon Anne ever get the courage to speak up for herself? Will she be seduced by the charms of her attentive cousin William Elliot? Will Wentworth marry the lovely Louisa, or will he get over his heartbreak and recognize Anne’s true worth?
If you know Jane Austen, you know the answer to the last question; but to watch the drama play out is to marvel at Austen’s skill at tugging at our emotions and layering in unexpected twists and turns.
Now let’s take a look at the last three movie versions of Persuasion:
The most faithful adaptation to the source material, this version from Sony Pictures has become a beloved classic. Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds are incandescent in their portrayals of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. We feel the depth of their unspoken emotions in every encounter.
It is enchanting to watch Amanda Root’s Anne blossom over the course of the film from a place of quiet suffering and regret to a strong woman who becomes increasingly vibrant and self-assured. (At times, though, Anne’s a bit too quiet. I found myself wanting to shout at the screen, “Anne! Just say something, will you?!”) Ciaran Hinds delivers a mesmerizing and mature performance as Wentworth; I believe that this man has commanded a naval vessel and that he’s never stopped loving Anne, even though he has tried to forget her.
The costumes are pitch-perfect and sumptuous, from the women’s gorgeous Regency gowns and accessories to the men’s frock coats and Royal Navy uniforms. The locations and production values are gorgeous and the supporting cast is terrific. I especially enjoyed Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Croft, the Admiral’s wife, who expresses why she loved being at sea with her husband—a point which pays off later. This version has the best and most faithful rendition of the Mrs. Smith subplot.
The famous “letter scene” at the end (where, spoiler alert, Captain Wentworth writes Anne a letter to express his true feelings) is handled with perfection, and the ending, which reveals Anne and Wentworth’s fate (if you don’t know, you’ll have to watch!) is delightfully imagined.
This BBC version also has exquisite production values and a melancholy, romantic tone that works effectively with Jane Austen’s story. Rupert Penry-Jones’s portrayal of Captain Wentworth is dynamic, heartfelt, and unforgettable; not only is he the most handsome of the three screen Wentworths (and it never hurts to be heart-thumpingly handsome!), he also best expresses that character’s hurt and anger over Anne’s rejection all those years ago. Sally Hawkins is equally magnificent as Anne, who is appropriately anxiety-ridden at the start and blooms before our eyes.
Although the two leads as per the novel are obliged to suffer in silence for most of the story, in this adaptation, their emotions are more visibly expressed. We feel the depth of their pain and longing with every look and breath and word, and the ending is wonderfully passionate.
Again, the supporting actors are excellent with special mention for Tobias Menzies who makes a cunning and scheming Mr. Elliot. When Hawkins writes in her diary we hear her thoughts in voice over, which is an effective device; however, she looks directly at the camera several times (a foreshadowing of the 2022 version?), which took me out of the story. The locations are wonderfully depicted. I felt as if I were there on the Cobb in Lyme Regis when Louisa Musgrove takes her infamous leap and walking the streets of Bath.
Many people have expressed displeasure with the climactic scene which has Anne racing through Bath, looking for Wentworth. I don’t mind it, because it makes sense to me that after reading the letter he wrote her, she’d go to the ends of the earth to find him. The ending adds a twist that’s not in the novel, which I found charming.
Netflix’s new Persuasion offers a modernized, quirky, light and fun approach. Although set in the Regency era, the dialog has anachronistic phrases sprinkled in, such as “If you’re a five in London, you’re a ten in Bath” and “I’m an empath.” Dakota Johnson’s Anne breaks the fourth wall, offers sly comments directly to the camera, weeps in the bathtub, chugs wine from a bottle, suffers pratfalls, blurts out things a lady would never say (I’m still not sure what the octopus thing was about), and is generally a hot mess.
Although this is a huge departure from the Anne that Jane Austen created, and some of these things were cringe-worthy to observe, it was entertaining. Jane Austen herself would have probably enjoyed it. The film follows the plot for the most part, is wonderfully diverse, and has beautiful locations.
Cosmo Jarvis gives us a long-suffering Captain Wentworth, but his feelings for Anne are evident from day one. To me, the whole point of Austen’s tale is that Wentworth hasn’t gotten over his broken heart, and we must wait with bated breath for him to grow and change and recognize the truth of his feelings. Similarly, although I adore Henry Golding and he makes a delightfully smarmy Mr. Elliot, all the tension and surprise is removed from that part of the storyline, because he admits up front to his dastardly intentions.
The cast is great with my favorites being Mia McKenna-Bruce as the hypochondriac monster Mary Elliot and Richard E. Grant as the comically self-admiring Sir Walter Elliot (I love it that his house is full of life-sized portraits of himself, to add to his perpetually gazing in the mirror). One of my biggest pet peeves: they changed Captain Wentworth’s letter. Why rewrite one of the most romantic letters in English literature? This is not for Austen purists but if you’re in the mood for an alternate Persuasion that might just make you laugh out loud, this version has charms of its own.
Jane Austen’s novels have been endlessly re-imagined in fan fiction and film and it’s a testament to Austen’s brilliant writing that it can be revised and modernized and still result in an enjoyable and heartfelt story. Which film version of Persuasion is my favorite?
It’s not an easy decision; but even though Rupert Penry-Jones will always be my favorite Wentworth, I give the honor of best Persuasion adaptation to the 1995 version, which I think best portrays the story as Jane Austen would have imagined it when she wrote it.
ENTER MY PERSUASION GIVEAWAY AT THE END OF THIS POST!
AND FEED YOUR JANE AUSTEN ADDICTION!
Looking for a great summer read? If you love Jane Austen as much as I do, here are three Austen novels that I hope you’ll enjoy:
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen reveals the untold story of Jane’s romance with the mysterious gentleman said to be the love of her life. (International and USA Today bestseller, Regency World Magazine Best New Fiction)
“Tantalizing, tender, and true to the Austen mythos.” —Library Journal, starred review, Editor’s Pick
“Deserves front-runner status in the field of Austen fan-fiction and film.” —Kirkus Reviews
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is the ultimate Janeite fantasy. In this book-within-a-book, the romantic tale from a priceless, long lost Jane Austen novel is interwoven with the story of the modern-day librarian who discovers it, only to fall for the man who could take it from her.
“A literary feast for Anglophiles …[with] an Austen-worthy ending.” —Publishers Weekly
“This richly imagined Jane Austen ‘road novel’ is such a page turner … A standout addition to the archive of Austen homages.” —Kirkus (starred review)
Jane Austen’s First Love brings to life Jane Austen’s real-life romance with a charismatic teen over one mad, matchmaking summer, where she gains a lifetime’s worth of experience that will help make her into the literary titan she is destined to become. (Library Journal Editor’s Pick; 5 Best of the Year Lists)
“Based on James’s extensive research on the enigmatic Edward Taylor … this masterwork feels like a real memoir. Highly recommended.” —Historical Novel Society
“A quite delightful romance—not only a touching record of a young girl’s first experience of love, but also a funny, eventful and entertaining comedy of Regency manners … presented with affection and respect.” —Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine
ENTER MY PERSUASION GIVEAWAY!
In honor of the release of the new Persuasion movie, I’m giving away this 40-piece wooden WENTWORTH miniature puzzle from England’s National Trust, if I receive at least 40 comments on this blog post.
To enter, please leave a comment below, sharing your feelings about Persuasion—the novel or film versions. If you’ve never seen any of the adaptations, are you intrigued to watch one after reading this blog? Contest ends August 18, 2022. Open to U.S. residents only.
Thank you, dear readers. Feel free to share this blog post with your friends and on social media. I look forward to hearing from you.
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