Friday, May 16, 2008

Pantheon movie of the month - PERSUASION (1995)

All the privilege I claim for my own sex is that of loving longest when all hope is goneIn some ways, I think PERSUASION is Roger Michell's best work. Certainly it is superior to the more superficial, conventionally staged British rom-coms, NOTTING HILL and CHANGING LANES. And if VENUS was more surprising, PERSUASION is more visually impressive and has no less of an emotional punch.

Instead of resorting to gimmicks such as breaking the fourth wall or hand-held camera-work, Michell makes his adaptation of my favourite Jane Austen novel feel contemporary by allowing his characters to look "normal". So if young girls go on a long walk on a blustery day they look red-cheeked, their hair is a mess and they sound exhausted. Costumes are worn rather than posed in. Everything feels real, but set two centuries ago. Moreover, the entire film uses natural light, giving evening dinner parties an intimate, relaxed feel, and nicely hinting at the passage of time as the seasons change from a wintry Lime to a spring-time Bath. John Daly perfectly captures the slightly wild beauty of the British sea-side amd Jeremy Sams' score is vivid and fresh, usin the piano to evoke military airs. It's a refreshing change from the typical orchestral score featuring gushing "romantic" strings.

Nick Dear's adaptation is faithful to the original - distilling all the major events and the character development without ever seeming rushed. What raises it to the level of greatness are the subtle performances from the entire cast. No line is uttered casually without due care for its satiric bite, emotional profundity or intelligence. Take Sophie Thompson as the vain, hypochondriac Mary Musgrove. In her fluttering high-pitched voice she torments her well-meaning relations with her acerbic comments on their poor relations. Or take Fiona Shaw - majestic as Mrs Croft, the Admiral's wife. She conveys a genuine warmth and empathy for Anne, but also a slight air of mischief as she speaks of her brother's impending marriage. Her voice is loud and strong - but see how she modulates it when she speaks of the one winter she spent apart from her husband. I could go on. The cast also includes outstanding performances from Corin Redgrave (Sir Walter), Simon Russell Beale (Charles Musgrove), Susan Fleetwood (Lady Russell), Phoebe Nicholls (Elizebeth Elliot) and Samuel West (William Elliot).

In the lead roles we have the consistently brilliant Amanda Root who manages to convey Anne's sincerity and integrity. Ciaran Hinds is also well-cast as the gruff, earnest, vulnerable Frederick Wentworth. By the end of the film we feel that they will be a well-matched married couple, well able to confront the hardships in life, in contrast to the typical costume drama couple that fades into the sunset and unreality.

PERSUASION was originally shown on TV but also played Toronto 1995 and went on limited theatrical release.

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