Movie Review - Persuasion (1995)

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Roger Michell
BBC Films
 for brief mild language

Jane Austen seems to have been rather keen on unrequited love, seeing that all of her heroines experience it—Emma and Catherine for a few weeks, Elizabeth and Elinor for a few months; Fanny had been pining for her oblivious cousin since she was a child, but for real, grown-up heartache over a love that’s apparently lost forever, none of them come close to Anne Elliot. The story begins eight years after her refusal of the poor and obscure Captain Wentworth, and she’s been regretting her choice ever since—especially since the Captain’s rise to fame and fortune have proven against the objections of her kind but domineering mentor. But while Lady Russell’s advice may have been enough to prevent Anne from marrying a man without wealth, it has not been enough to prevent the more pretentious and hard-hearted members of the Elliot family from sinking themselves into debt and losing the wealth they once had. Thus, when the movie opens, Sir Walter Elliot is forced to move out of Kellynch Hall, and, to add to Anne’s suffering, Captain Wentworth’s sister is moving in, bringing the Captain back into Anne’s acquaintance.

A BBC production made in a former century may not have the glamour to compete with newer films, and certainly the costumes and music score are not as grandiose as the newest generation of Austen aficionados have come to expect, but the heart of the story is strong in this version of Persuasion—the heart of the story being unrequited love, of course. And it’s not just a simple matter of Anne’s regrets about breaking off with the man she at least thought was the only one she could ever love; there’s Captain Wentworth’s indifference—or resentment—to be reckoned with, as well as the peculiarities of social form, the meddling of Lady Russell, and the introduction of a new gentleman into Anne’s acquaintance.

Sexual Content:
There’s also her sister’s companion to deal with—the kind of woman who seeks to ingratiate herself with Anne’s father by flattering his vanity… and the kind who wears low-cut dresses. There’s Captain Wentworth’s new attachment to another young lady, who playfully throws herself into his arms from time to time. There are the rumors being circulated that Anne may be returning to Kellynch Hall (where she would be able, the audience hopes, to make such improvements as removing the naked statuary1).

With all of the possible marriage arrangements in this romance, there was bound to be a kiss somewhere in the movie, and of course there is.

Violent and Intense Content:
A couple scenes involving serious injuries do their best to muddle the timing of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s relationship, from a young boy being carried into the house unconscious, while his mother screams, to a young lady’s almost fatal fall onto the pavement. Blood, however, does not seem to be something that was thought necessary for the development of the story, and it is therefore absent.


One of Sir Walter Elliot’s chief objections to Captain Wentworth in the first place was his association with the navy, and while the audience might not share his sentiments, the good Captain’s having been a sailor makes swearing coming from his mouth a trifle more to be anticipated than from, say, Mr. Darcy’s. Thrice he begins a sentence with “D---”2, twice he exclaims “Oh, God!” (though these might well have been sincere), while characters of less importance manage “In the name of heaven,” a “Lord bless me!” and a gleeful reference to gossip.


There really aren’t any Jane Austen stories that do not have worldview problems in them, any more than there are Jane Austen stories without unrequited love. They all involve a young woman who is superior to the rest of her family, one or more parents who lack virtue, wit or true refinement (or in this case, all three), and good decisions and better matches than the parents approve of or could have come up with in the first place. Anne’s father is about as ridiculous a parent as you will find in an Austen novel, and an unfavorable comparison is made between his financial incompetence and his late wife’s moderation and economy—and, of course, Anne’s superior understanding of these things and more. Anne’s attempt to excuse another father’s unpopular decision to leave his seriously injured son for an evening has her telling his wife that “Nursing does not belong to a man. It is not his province.”

It is a small thing, I think, but the one apparently serious reference to God (besides those already mentioned) is given by a fellow we don’t like much.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:

If there is any film version of any Jane Austen story anywhere, which does not place wine in the characters’ hands, for the sake of those who are offended by even the smallest use of alcohol I would be obliged if somebody would let me know which version it is.

Anne Elliot is Jane Austen’s oldest heroine, at twenty-seven years of age, and her story the one that is perhaps the least straightforward when it comes to achieving a happy ending. She also, more than any of the other heroines, shares the responsibility for her own unhappiness from the very beginning of the plot; her family’s failings are least like those of young girls’ own families, and this adaptation of Persuasion is the only Austen film I’ve yet seen that does not so much as hint at sexual immorality. There are many things about Persuasion that make it a recognizable Jane Austen creation—unrequited love being among them—but there are some things about this version at least that give it a unique flavor, such that even film reviewers who are by now growing a bit weary of Austen films can find enjoyment in this one.

There are still a few of the worldview issues to be dealt with, and the violence, which make me inclined to suggest at least a ten-and-up audience; and there is the matter of the costumes, which makes me think that this is probably a film better suited for females, even apart from the storyline.

1 After Sir Walter Elliot says of Admiral Croft, “If my own man might be allowed the arranging of his hair, I should not be ashamed to be seen with him anywhere,” I suggest turning away and counting to ten. This should be sufficient to avoid the sight of full male nudity in the Elliots’ entry hall. If the anatomy lesson hadn’t been made of stone, I don’t think it would have been permitted in a PG film.
2 When Captain Wentworth and company go inside to meet his friend Captain Harville, he joyfully (strangely enough) accounts for one of the d---s; the other two are when he is driving Anne and Harriet home at night.

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