DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)

“No-one wants to be in calm waters all their life”

Anyone who has read this blog for a wee while will know I’m a sucker for a thesp-heavy cast but not even could have come up with the manifold delights of the ensemble for this 1995 version of Persuasion. Directed by Roger Michell and adapted by Nick Dear, it features Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds as Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, a once-engaged couple who were pulled apart by societal pressure as he was but a penniless seaman. Eight years later, Anne’s family is struggling to maintain their aristrocratic lifestyle due to overspending but Wentworth is now a captain and highly sought after – might their love be reunited after all? Watch this space…

Root and Hinds are both excellent with hugely subtle performances suggesting the depth of emotion each holds, unable to express how they truly feel and buffeted around a range of alternative marriage proposals as everyone tries to secure the best possible situation for themselves. But real pleasure comes too in the supporting performances, seeing such fantastic actors earlier in their career and tracing something of a journey in their acting careers.

Fiona Shaw brings enormous empathy to navy wife Mrs Croft, her tales of married life on the sea are a spell-binding moment; a youthful Simon Russell Beale pops up as Anne’s errant brother and Sophie Thompson is deliciously comic as the highly hypochondriac Mary; Phoebe Nicholls is brittle brilliance as an increasingly embittered Elizabeth; and Sam West glowers handsomely as a cousin on the make, Richard McCabe’s poetic soul is touchingly done and Helen Schlesinger is also moving as Anne’s old friend Mrs Smith.

I could go on but I’ll leave it there. Michell’s production is beautifully constructed, natural light and handheld(?) work give it a unique feel that remains incredibly intimate and instant even now. And the screenplay sacrifices little of the bona fide Austen spirit, the whole thing really does hit the nail on the head.

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