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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I like your reasoning for selecting the 1995 version. I agree with you. I plan on watching the Netflix Persuasion on a day when I need a laugh as it will be so outrageous from what I have read. Thank you for your analysis and especially for the giveaway. The puzzle will be delightful to create during the summer hot days.
Love your writing , no matter in what context. I agree with you about the 1995 version but i am a traditionalist.. I subscribed to your newsletter. Great work!
Thank you for your summaries and analysis of the Persuasion versions most of us love (as well as the Netflix version, which I haven’t had the courage to watch yet). 1995 version is by far my favorite, and I love Ciarán Hinds as Wentworth!
I have DVD copies of the first two movie adaptations of Persuasion. I also love that same 1995 one that you voted for. I have seen the last one on Netflix and was not pleased with it. I do jigsaw puzzle online daily (100 pieces usually) so I would love to win one.
The 1995 version is definitely my favorite. The prior one was not at all for me. Your writing has brought me many hours of enjoyment. Thanks for your lovely giveaway.
Have not seen any Persuasion movies, but love all 3 of your Jane Austen books!
haven’t seen it yet
I wholeheartedly agree. The 1995 Persuasion is the best! Ciaran is such an amazing actor. He is also my favorite Mr. Rochester. He does such a good job as Wentworth, hiding his feelings behind stoicism and every now and then the curtain falls and you catch a glimpse of true feelings. I enjoyed the Sally H version as well, she is one of those wonderful actresses that can display her character’s emotions in an uncomplicated way and without it feeling fake. I loved her running through the streets. Feels accurate. The most recent adaptation I didn’t hate, it was funny but also cringey at times. I had to watch it sans my Austen cap. I found Anne as a binge drinker very disrespectful to the character, so those moments were cringeworthy. But watching it as it is, without expectations or hopes of it being a faithful adaptation, I found most of it funny and entertaining (this Mary and her hypochondria needs to be a whole other movie). Hopefully this adaptation will bring new fans to the story and to Austen as well. Maybe new audiences will want to watch other versions or even better to read the novel:) There is a 1971 bbc version that wasn’t discussed in your post. Curious as to how you feel about it, if you’ve seen it.
Totally agree, Syrie. 1995 is my favorite, too–Amanda Root *is* Anne Elliot. Thank you for the Netflix review–since we don’t have that subscription I don’t have to feel I’m missing anything. It, indeed, sounds cringe-worthy! I look forward to seeing you in Victoria!
I agree that ‘95 version was best. It is the one I own on DVD, but did end up enjoying this year’s Netflix version. Hope you will have another Austen inspired book on the horizon! (Own all of your othered & live them!)
Well, like so many, I will agree, Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds are definitely Jane Austen’s characters stepping straight off the page and onto the screen. However, I like all the adaptations in their own way. I’m not sure the Netflix version captured anything like the feel of Persuasion as written, but if viewed in the sense of a variation it’s not all bad. I mean we enjoy fan fiction because it gives us more of the characters we love, even when different/non-cannon things take place.
I enjoyed the 2022 adaptation and so did the young ones (8, 11, 14) at our Persuasion Watch Party! Thank you for your reviews on this post!
We watched the 2022 Netflix adaptation this evening, not having seen the earlier versions. It was fun to talk about how Jane Austen might have felt about such a modernized version, including the updated script and the diverse actors. Would she have enjoyed it or found it offensive? I guess we’ll never know!
I missed the deadline by a couple days for the giveaway, but am commenting anyway! I actually really enjoyed the 2022 version, despite not being sure I would after watching the preview. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment, and I also think the film “worked” in its way. It is much more self-conscious than Austen ever would be, and of course Austen would never include the knowing “asides” to the audience that Anne makes throughout this film. But it is a creative and fun imagining of what Anne might say if she actually said anything (which she rarely does in the novel at all), and it reminds us that, after all, Anne is a young woman who, in our mode of living and being, might very well saunter around with a bottle of wine in hand. My favorite is the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds; then the 2022; then in a distant third the other version, which just has little to recommend it except for “Adam Carter” (smile).
I have only seen the 1995 and Netflix versions but I cannot forget Amanda Root blushing towards the end when she and Wentworth are face to face in bath.
It is because of the performances in the ’95 version that I’ve read the novel and am beginning it again!
The puzzle is lovely and could easily embody Louisa’s leap. (wink)
I have read the story many times. I watched the 1995 version so frequently that it wore out!
I’ve yet to watch the 2022 netflix version – partly because I know part of me will be thinking “oh Anne would never do/say that..” etc going from the previews I’ve seen.
She seems too flippant or snide, but I could be prejudging! And I admit that although I couldn’t imagine Mr Darcy diving into a pond and wandering around his estate half undressed and wet-chested; I didn’t object to that anachronism too much in the colin firth BBC version of P&P!!!
Getting back to Persuasion- my vote too lies with the 1995 version.
It was incredible how beautifully Anne’s gradual transformation from genteel sadness and forbearance towards determination and greater self esteem was portrayed by Amanda Root. Likewise Cieran Hinds played Captain Wentworth’s emotional journey to perfection.
Not to knock the great cast in the next version, Sally Hawkins is a poignant Anne too.
As a bit of a purist I can’t help liking 1995 script the best so that swings it for me…