Adrian Shergold’s 2007 version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion features Sally Hawkins in the role of Anne Elliot and Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth. Though the film strays several times from the novel’s plot line, these minor discrepancies accompany the territory of film adaptation and the movie as a whole remains faithful to Austen’s work. Persuasion most noticeably focuses on Anne Elliot’s sense of isolation as an outlier in her family, and on a larger scale, society in terms of her age and lack of marital status. From the instant we are introduced to Ms. Elliot (the very first opening scenes of the film), she is separate from her father and sister, taking charge of the house’s affairs. Dressed in frumpy clothing that does not seem to mirror her family’s high social status, she clearly juxtaposes the rest of her family as Sir Walter and Elizabeth are donning refined and luxurious-looking clothing. Anne’s struggles in dealing with her past and the reappearance of Captain Wentworth are portrayed through unique camerawork and narration by journaling. Her constant eye contact with the camera is reminiscent of Fanny Price’s character from the film adaptation of Mansfield Park. Anne breaks the fourth wall, engaging in direct, figurative “conversation” with the viewer. These moments are significant because they function as the narrative voice we encounter throughout the novel, lending insight into Anne’s pain and internal turmoil. In addition to the common occurrence of journaling, Shergold’s camerawork is an intriguing and crucial component to the film. Close-ups are frequent, invading the space of the characters and bringing the viewers directly into contact with them as a means to further emotional connection and understanding. Besides close-ups, the camera often follows Anne, lending the audience a better view on the literal isolation she experiences, generally when walking with her family and others. When Anne, Charles, and Elizabeth encounter Wentworth in the woods after arguing whose affections he is after, the camera quickly switches to the Captain’s point of view and then returns to Anne’s. As discussed in class, Anne’s moments of interaction with Wentworth often omit the present, as she loses self-possession and can only function in the past and future of those fleeting occurrences. Incredibly difficult to capture this on camera, Shergold instead portrays Anne’s struggles through the mise en scene. Immediately after Wentworth places Anne in the back of the Crofts’ carriage, the camera pans back to capture her riding alone in the back while Mr. and Mrs. Croft discuss the inevitability of the Captain marrying either Henrietta or Louisa. Though some may think of the camerawork as awkward and distracting, Shergold’s employment of certain angles and shots serve to further the artistry of the film and highlight Austen’s craft.
Accurate portrayals of Persuasion’s characters through the perfect selection of actors and costuming also participate in the creation of an enjoyable adaptation of Austen’s novel. Anthony Head, playing Sir Walter, epitomizes his character’s despicability and vanity. Constant references to appearance, admiration of himself, and his treatment of Anne all work to further contempt and disdain for Sir Walter from the audience. Mary’s absurd and annoying character is nailed by Amanda Hale, who is clearly her father’s daughter, eager and willing to leave her injured child in the hands of Anne in order to dine with the Crofts. Though Mr. Elliot did not appear as I had envisioned him (he was slightly too akin to a young version of Abraham Lincoln for me), he captured the charming yet deceitful nature of his character. I was slightly disappointed that Mrs. Clay’s “unfortunate” looks were not mentioned by Sir Walter, as her freckles and tooth had the potential to offer comedic value. Unlike many of the other films depicting Austen’s works that we have watched, this version of Persuasion does not incorporate the bits of humor and wit that are generally inherent to her books and rather takes a more somber and dark route. Finally, I was thoroughly impressed with the characterization of the Crofts, as they were likeable characters whose love and affection for each other illustrates, as mentioned in class, their potential to be classified as one of the only truly genuine couples from Austen’s novels. Overall, despite several minor differences and changes to Persuasion’s plot, this TV movie is a viable adaptation, as demonstrated through its focus on Anne’s isolation, camerawork and narration, and actor selection.