The second movie based on a novel by Jane Austen to come out in 1995, and the second movie treatment of Austen's last completed novel. (The first version was a 1971 miniseries. A third, made-for-TV movie would follow in 2007.) Persuasion largely follows the plot, tone, and tight character focus of the book, with very little shift outside of the point of view of the protagonist, Anne Elliot. While much less well known than the sensational Aug Lee & Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion shares much of that film's attention to manners, costume, and attitudes of the Napoleonic Era in domestic England. A reviewer once suggested it was a retelling of the Hornblower novels of iron men and wooden ships - only from the point of view of the women left on shore.
Persuasion opens on what might be the end of an era - the Elliot family has fallen on hard times, and must surrender the ancestrial home to a renter in order to pay off the Baronet's debts. The renter is a naval man, an Admiral Croft, who is now retired from the sea, and wishes to find a place to settle with his wife. But more connects the two families than the house - once upon a time, Anne Elliot was much in love with the Admiral's brother-in-law, Frederick Wentworth, and he with her. Persuaded by wiser heads to break off the engagement, Anne has never found a comparable match in the years since. And now Wentworth is home from the sea - famous, wealthy, and without a glance aside for Anne. Really. It's completely by accident that he keeps showing up where ever she is.
You can guess how this is going to end up.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation:
- Some of the dialogue has been... condensed, to make it more speakable. For example, when Anne is at Lyme she sees a handsome gent admiring her, but doesn't recognise him. Later over breakfast, Mary realises that their cousin William Walter Elliot is in town, and Anne realises that the handsome gent is he. In the book, Wentworth comments "Putting all these very extraordinary circumstances together, we must consider it to be the arrangement of Providence, that you should not be introduced to your cousin." In the film, Wentworth looks at Anne and says "Lucky then you didn't bump into him."
- Additionally, in the book Mr. Elliot was directly responsible for Mrs. Smith's poverty, as he had driven her and her husband into overconsumption and then refused to help Mrs. Smith with the legalities to obtain her proper inheritance. His Gold Digger motives are still called despicable by Anne, but in the book he's truly heinous.
- Adaptation Name Change: Charles Hayter is changed to Henry Hayter, preserving the One Steve Limit.
- Big Fancy House: Kellynch Hall certainly qualifies. So does the more 'economical' quarters the Elliots take at Bath.
- Cannot Spit It Out: It takes an hour and a half into the film for Wentworth to say anything about his and Anne's history that isn't veiled under a reference to more recent events. And even then it's only a tacit remark that she never did enjoy playing cards.
- Conspicuous Consumption: Baronet Elliot's primary occupation. Likewise, his heir, Mr Elliot.
- Continuity Nod: Admiral Croft and Anne at one point stroll down the street with a print shop in the background, undoubtedly an allusion to the book where Croft had stopped by one to point out all the inaccuracies of a painted ship to her.
- Double Meaning: The conversation Wentworth has with Anne when they meet in Bath. He's quite sorry for the shock she must have seeing him—because of Lyme. Everything is his fault and he's full of regret—about Louisa's fall. He talks about how heartbroken men live forever in mourning—as Benwick should have. Definitely not alluding to what happened eight years ago with Anne, at all.
- Funny Background Event: When Sir Walter's reply to Wentworth's application of permission to marry Anne is answered not with protest or assent but confusion, Wentworth's smile freezes. But Harville looks at Wentworth with an expression of utter disbelief, as though he's looking for confirmation that he heard right just now.
- Happily Married: Admiral and Mrs Croft are absolutely adorable old marrieds. With a tinge of bittersweet - Admiral Croft is noted as having a wife but no children. Mrs Croft (when Anne's horrifically spoiled nephews burst in and demand the Admiral's attention): "The Admiral is very fond of children."
- Hopeless Suitor: Every time Charles and Anne are alone together, he still seems to hold the affection for her which led him to propose. But Anne could never have married him—not because of Lady Russell's interference as Louisa assumes, but because she was still carrying a torch for Wentworth.
- Idle Rich:
- Very nearly every Elliot and Musgrove. Most of their time seems to be spent finding amusements.
- In the case of the Baronet, it's more like Idle Broke. A lot of effort is spent finding ways for him to amuse himself more economically.
- Parental Neglect: Mary and Charles for their son, especially after he falls and breaks an arm. Anne tries to make up for it.
- Shipper on Deck: Admiral Croft for Anne and Fredrick, the whole Musgrove family for Anne and Charles back in the day.
- Spoiled Brats: Mary & Charles Musgrove's children. They do nothing to check their behavior, and their grandmother resorts to stuffing them with cake whenever they visit just to keep them from making trouble, which doesn't help.
- Subtext: Apart from Wentworth's constant Double Meanings, there's the matter of Charles Musgrove and Anne. Whenever they're in a scene together, his expressions and body language make it plain that he would still rather have married her than her sister.
- True Companions: Wentworth and Harville. Wentworth considers a sixteen-mile drive (somewhat lengthy back then) to be no object and says he would make any journey in any weather for Harville.