The movie Persuasion should enthrall even those who haven’t read the Jane Austen novel on which it is based. With its tricky tale of two 19th-century people who are clearly made for each other but almost fail to actually get together and get on with it, this Persuasion (a BBC production directed by Roger Michell) is in its way easily the most suspenseful movie I’ve seen since Speed.
At the center of Persuasion is Anne Elliot, played by Amanda Root as the very soul of common sense and unpretentious intelligence. With her small, downturned mouth and chocolate-chip brown eyes, Root radiates a lively curiosity mixed with shy restraint. At just 27, Anne is weighed down by her past: Eight years before, she fell in love with the dashing Captain Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds, who has a long, rectangular face — a handsome shoe box), a dashing naval officer. But Anne was dissuaded from pursuing a romance with Wentworth by people around her who thought the Navy man was beneath her social and economic status. Now verging on spinsterhood, Anne at the start of Persuasion seems resigned to a lonely fate.
As is true of most Austen heroines, of course, smart Anne is surrounded by fools, foremost among them her father, Sir Walter Elliot (the wonderfully sniffy Corin Redgrave), a snobby popinjay who lives only for social climbing. Director Michell has great fun with Sir Walter, dressing this vain man in gaudy suits and revealing the hard little heart that beats beneath them.
Persuasion has a straightforward plainness — the countryside colors are washed-out, the actors seem to wear little makeup, and Michell likes to zoom in for tense close-ups. (There are times when the camera has a handheld wobbliness to it, which is a bit much — as if Woody Allen had been put in charge of a David Lean film.) A clearheaded love story, Persuasion is the sort of passionate yet precise comedy that reminds me why Austen remains such a vital writer. A-