I’ve been reading and watching a lot of tragedies of late (not including the economy and political climate here in the US) so I took a break from the sturm und drang for Jane Austen’s Persuasion. And what a delightful and welcome break it was.
I watched the 1995 adaptation first. When PBS aired the 2007 adaptation earlier this year, many online Janeites expressed their preference for this earlier version, which was televised in the UK, but released in theaters elsewhere in the world. While I liked the PBS adaptation, I agree that it suffers by comparison to this earlier version.
The 1995 version was a bit longer, often an asset in adapting a work of fiction. Additionally, the actors who played the leads of Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth, Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, were the more realistic for looking like real people, perhaps because the film was shot entirely in natural light. The film actors looked old enough for the theme of reclaiming a lost love of youth. The leads in the PBS film were pretty and younger looking; they’d been glammed up–Sally Hawkins in no way looked past her bloom, as Anne is in the book. She was at least as pretty as Rupert Penry-Jones, as Wentworth. Finally, the 1995 film does not needlessly augment the tension at the end, as the PBS version did with its over-the-top scene of Anne running through the streets of Bath, one that was deservedly skewered on YouTube, here. Instead the film wisely let the quiet dignity of its actors, along with one of the most beautiful passages of Austen, convey the emotion:
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”
Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from.
Indeed, and it’s passages like this that made re-reading Persuasion a joy. The slim, sometimes grim tale is filled with jewel-bright and razor-sharp prose as it carries the reader to the happy, unsurprising ending for Anne and Captain Wentworth. I often stopped to re-read and marvel at sentences and passages along the way. I didn’t love Persuasion the first time I read it. Reading all the Austen complete novels, though, and reading about Austen, have given me an increased appreciation that made this reading a suitable antidote for the previous tragedies I’d partaken of.