I’ve reserved my judgment about the new Masterpiece (they’ve dropped “Theatre” apparently) version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion until I had time to watch it, uninterrupted. I finally got the chance yesterday, curled up on the couch under a blanket, the main TV in the house all to myself.
Now I have to admit: I love the 1995 version of this-book-turned-movie. I’ve seen it probably 100 times. And I’ve read raging debate all over the internet among Jane Austen lovers about which version is better, etc. I wanted to give this one a chance. After all, the story is so good it would be hard to mess it up, right?
I thought the casting and acting and sets and costumes were fine. No problem. My beef is with the writer, the one who wrote this screen play adaptation, and with the director. I felt rushed through each scene, no unfolding of character, just a hurry to say the words that would advance the plot. I couldn’t even tell Henrietta from Louisa Musgrove because they were only onscreen a little bit, when the plot required their presence, but because I didn’t know them, the plot they helped shape felt contrived.
The writer also moved one of the best lines—the one that is supposed to be the hinge on which the story turns, and plops it into the middle of the movie where the lines are said but nothing happens as a result of them. On top of that, instead of letting Anne’s pain and desperation show in her words and actions, the writer tells it by having Anne write journal entries which are voice-over so the viewer can “hear her thoughts” so to speak. Anne is also shown sobbing alone. In the other version, we knew how Anne felt, that she probably sobbed in her private moments, but we didn’t have to see them to know—and it tugged at our hearts more deeply. Subtlety and pacing were both, in my opinion, neglected shamefully.
Finally, my biggest criticism of the director comes when Anne and Captain Wentworth realize they love each other and want each other to know it. The director chooses, at this critical moment, to focus the camera on Anne’s face only. There is no romantic satisfaction in that! That would be like only looking at the bride at a wedding. But isn’t the real moment in a wedding when you see both the bride and groom gazing at each other, adoration naked on their faces? We were cheated out of that moment in this film.
So I’ll go on loving the 1995 version, the one with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. The 2007 version will fade quickly from my mind.