Published posthumously, Jane Austen s novel Persuasion was written as the author s health deteriorated in 1815-16. She died a year later at 42, unmarried and still a virgin, with many interpreting the book as semiautobiographical. It rates as the most problematic Austen work to adapt into a feature, with a largely passive heroine and subtle story line about the participants in a courtship that ended badly meeting years later.
It s not hard to see why there was only one other significant attempt to film the book, in 1971 by Granada Television. But to one s complete delight, this latest English production of Persuasion, directed by Roger Michellcq ( The Buddha of Suburbia ) is spectacularly successful in every way. With more Austen adaptations due soon, Persuasion sets the standard and may be hard to beat artistically.
Perfectly cast and paced swiftly, and yet remarkably faithful to Austen, the Sony Pictures Classics release is one of the season s best offerings. A crowded marketplace and lack of stars means the word must get out via word-of-mouth and reviews, both of which should be smashing.
Although this is Amanda Root
's first lead role in a feature, she is outstanding as Anne Elliot, the quiet, intelligent, but often overlooked daughter of proud but financially and socially shaky Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave
), a widower forced to rent out the family estate. With few lines of dialogue in the film's first half, the fantastically expressive Root draws one into the poignant and delicately mannered drama.
As the film progresses and Anne comes closer to her true love, naval hero Capt. Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), it's wonderful watching her character transform from a pale, defeated spinster-in-the-making to a passionately aroused, assertive woman able to determine her own fate.
Years before the film's 1814 setting in post-Battle-of-Trafalgar England, Anne broke off her engagement to Wentworth under the ``persuasion'' of the family's cautious adviser, Lady Russell
). But she never recovered from the disappointment; he sought escape in the navy.
Playwright Nick Dear
's screenplay thrusts one into the narrative quickly, and introduces the many characters with relative ease. From Anne's younger married sister Mary (Sophie Thompson
) and gossipy friend Mrs. Smith (Helen Schlesinger
) to the worldly couple Mrs. Croft (Fiona Shaw
) and her husband (John Woodvine
), the admiral who inadvertently brings Wentworth back into Anne's life, it's a lively mix of personalities that navigate the story's deceptively choppy narrative.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the film is the unglamorous approach to the characters, with little makeup for the women and a leading man who is not a lantern-jawed poster boy. Indeed, Hinds (``Circle of Friends'') is compelling as Root, excellently conveying the jilted suitor's simmering desire to rekindle romance and genuine anguish when it looks as if Anne's scheming cousin (Samuel West
) might have the upper hand.
The re-creation of the times is worth the price of admission, including Alexander Byrne's lived-in costumes and the many sets and locations used by production designers William Dudley
and Brian Sykes
. Cinematographer John Daly's roving camera is well-suited to the film's energetic approach, which helps bring Austen's brilliant, timeless story to life in a fashion one previously could only dream was possible.
Sony Pictures Classics
BBC Films, WGBH/Mobil Masterpiece Theatre,
Millesime Prods. present
Director: Roger Michell
Producer: Fiona Finlay
Screenplay: Nick Dear
Based on the novel by: Jane Austen
Exec producers: George Faber, Rebecca Eaton
Director of photography: John Daly
Editor: Kate Evans
Music: Jeremy Sams
Production designers: William Dudley
Brian SykesCostume designer: Alexandra Byrne
Associate producer: Margot Hayhoe
Anne Elliot: Amanda Root
Capt. Wentworth: Ciaran Hinds
Lady Russell: Susan Fleetwood
Sir Walter Elliot: Corin Redgrave
Mrs. Croft: Fiona Shaw
Adm. Croft: John Woodvine
Mary Musgrove: Sophie Thompson
Running time -- 107 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
(c) The Hollywood Reporter