Sunday, January 13, 2008

Movie Review: Persuasion

Editor's Note: Let me introduce our loyal readers to the newest member of The Pleasant Times staff, Miss dePoint, movie critic.
Miss dePoint will be giving us her opinionated critique of Masterpiece Theater's offering of Sunday night, "Persuasion," fresh from viewing it.

Ladies and Gentleman, after just finishing the newest take on Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, I find myself quite moved. Indeed, I was at times moved to tears. Tears of... well... I was not sure whether to laugh or cry over this new production. Perhaps one ought to cry when so much money was spent to film this and perhaps wasted; or else to cry over a favorite book has been disappointingly brought to the screen. But alas, it was at times so ridiculous that I believe I just laughed through it.

This is one film I am glad that my little brother was not watching with me. It would be too easy to lampoon. I do confess that I missed a few minutes of it. I got up to make myself a sandwich when I thought things were getting along well enough without me.

The leading actress, Sally Hawkins, who played Anne Elliot, did an admirable job in her role. I found myself quite liking her, and thought that- had she had a better script, and a little more time- her performance could equal Amanda Root's in the 1995 version of this film. Though to be sure, there was too much heavy breathing. But she could cry quite well, and that is something to be commended in an actress (Emma Thompson couldn't even pull that off in Sense and Sensibility.)

Captain Wentworth, I thought, was almost done rather well, and I was disappointed that he did not have more lines. He might have been one of the favorite heroes in Austen movies if the filmmakers had let him talk a little more. In my opinion his character was not developed well enough throughout the film. Unless one has read the book (or seen the other movie) I doubt they would have understood what was going on with him. His relationship with Louisa Musgrove was almost not there- and his growing interest in Anne was so subtle that the ending proposal seemed to come too soon.

The piano and sometimes orchestral music droning on in the background was surely to calm us all down so we wouldn't scream at the television set. It certainly wasn't for effect, except for the two or three scenes where it crescendos appropriately at the right moments. As for the rest of the film, the music seemed to me to be a CD the producers had bought at a gift shop for background music. One could hardly call it a "score."

Mr. Elliot (Baronet) was conceited and vain, to be sure, but rather harsh and scary in this version. Anne's sisters were really rather odd-- I could not quite make out what Mary was trying to be-- and Elizabeth looked as if she was wearing a wig. I thought these characters were overacted.

Lady Russell I liked, and the rest of the characters, well, they seemed to come and go so quickly that it was hard to even get to know them well enough to like them.

Anne runs around way too much in this film, and there is an incredible amount of heavy breathing, panting, gasping, and fake laughing. It was a bit overdone. Though it was nice to get a sense of the sounds of the surroundings-- the bustle of the move or the loud ocean, for instance-- I could have done with a little less heavy breathing.

I do appreciate (truly I do) the time restrictions put on the film makers and what they tried to squeeze in to their allotted time slot. However, there were some critical moments that were done so badly that instead of causing me to sympathise with the moment, I found myself groaning or laughing.

For instance, Mary's little boy falls and breaks a bone. The instant his little head lands on Anne's pillow, she touches him and says immediately "he has dislocated his collarbone" and before the family barely has time to finish saying "apothecary" to the servants Anne has popped it back into place.

Or the way that Captain Wentworth pops Anne up on the back of Mr. Croft's gig-- ouch!

Or take my favorite comedy moment-- excuse me while I get up and wipe away the tears-- of Louisa Musgrove falling off the stair at Lyme. We saw her jump, but then the camera focused on Captain Wentworth as he stared wonderingly at this blur going by. It all happened so fast (as accidents do) but compared to the 1995 film (remember the agonizingly slow-motion fall?) it seemed rather calm. Captain Wentworth seemed more interested in Anne than in the nearly dead body lying before him, and Anne sensed it and couldn't help looking pleased at the attention. Excuse me, er, sorry to interrupt, but what about the poor girl with the bloody head? What a time for them to start to fall in love!

There are many scenes in Bath that were laughable-- the one where Mrs. Croft informs Anne of the engagement of Louisa, seeming surprised that Anne had not heard about it. But Anne had just told her a moment before that she knew of an upcoming wedding but not who. And the scene where everyone come bursting in to Camden place, the relatives and the captain without ceremony, moved along quite quickly, and emphasized the confusion Anne must have felt, but it still seemed rather odd.

The climactic moment- the letter- was surprisingly under-emphasized. In the novel, I recall that there was a particular way this letter came into the hands of Anne Elliot. In this film, it is handed to her at a doorstep, and sets her running up streets of Bath, only to be to be turned around and run down the streets of Bath (didn't I say she runs too much?) in search of Captain Wentworth. Though I liked her acceptance of the proposal, the kiss was so odd that I am left wondering what the director was thinking. Was Anne trying to get something out of her teeth? Was she trying to say something? Gasping for air like a fish out of water? It wasn't very gallant of the Captain, who was much taller than Anne, to stoop over and try not to laugh as Anne struggled to reach him for this kiss. It also took too long to get there. Perhaps that was because Anne was taking so long deciding whether she should open or close her mouth for this one.

I must say, though, that even I do not like it when directors though leave out and re-arranged things in the novel, or put their own ideas and embellishments in, I rather liked the ending scene. I was finally warming up to the happy couple (and Anne Elliot proved she could kiss the man normally) and I thought it was just the kind of ending I should have made up for them myself. And there were some speeches that were very accurate to the book and I appreciated that.

All in all, though I would not mind seeing it again, it isn't a movie that I would voluntarily buy, or watch with my little brother.
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