Alejandro Agresti’s The Lake House(2006) is certainly not a cut-and-dry representation of Austen’s Persuasion. In fact, instead of calling this film an adaptation, we would recommend The Lake House as a stylistic, Hollywood film that only makes reference to Austen’s work at various points in the plot. The Jane Austen Society of North America agrees that the film cannot be considered an adaptation of Persuasion; rather, they include The Lake House in the “For your consideration…” section of their novel to screen adaptations. The film stars Sandra Bullock and Keaneau Reeves as star-crossed lovers Kate Forster and Alex Wyler who meet by way of a mysterious time travelling mailbox. Though the time travelling piece is over exaggerated and a bit confusing, I believe this film does represent some of the main themes raised in Persuasion.
Both principle actors shine in their roles, but their connection to one another leaves something to be desired because it is developed almost completely through written letters. The limitation of Kate and Alex’s physical relationship and their reliance on the written word is reminiscent of the social restrictions couples faced in Jane Austen’s time. The social code of conduct in Austen’s age prohibited any physical interaction between a courting couple, mirroring the restrictions placed on Alex and Kate because of their two year time discrepancy. The Jane Austen Society of North America cite the similarities between the “letter scene” of the novel in which Captain Wentworth makes his feelings to Anne known and the “letter scene” in which Kate writes a letter to Alex that effectively saves his life and finally brings the two main characters together in time and place. While we are not completely convinced that these scenes align completely, the uniting power of a single letter is shared by both situations.
Another theme evident in both Austen’s text and Agresti’s film is the characters’ connection to a house. Anne’s longing for Kellynch Hall mirrors Kate and Alex’s strong individual connections to their lake house. Alex’s character is an architect, furthering the theme of place in the film. Ultimately, Kate and Alex are seen entering the Lake House together just as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are shown at Kellynch in the final scene of the 2007 BBC version. The marked similarities in the characters’ relationships to place in the text and film provide evidence that Agresti and the writers of the screenplay had Persuasion in mind when they were designing The Lake House.
The most obvious connection between Austen’s novel and The Lake House, however, is the cameo role the novel plays in the film. Kate recognizes that her favorite book is Persuasion and she discusses this choice candidly when she unknowingly meets Alex for the first time. Their discussion of the novel’s themes brings Kate to tears and is clearly intended to translate into her own plight. In a letter, Kate asks Alex to find her copy of Persuasion which she left at a train station in 2004, the year in which Alex resides. Alex shows up at the train station and sees Kate for the first time, book in hand. The book unites Alex and Kate across time and place, an indication by Agresti of the novel’s key role in his film.