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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Persuasion

Starring: Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Roger Michell
Rated: PG
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: September 1995
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Emma Roberts, Victoria Hamilton, Susan Fleetwood, Corin Redgrave, Fiona Shaw, John Woodvine, Phoebe Nicholls, Samuel West

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

PERSUASION is a perfect movie. It is based on Jane Austin's probably least well known novel, which was published posthumously. I have never read it so the story was totally fresh. On the other hand, this movie is so good that if I had read the book a thousand times, I would still have left me awe struck by the acting and the production. I do hope all of the Academy members see this show. It deserves awards in a myriad of categories.

PERSUASION tells the story of a large number of people in several families, but at the heart it is the story of Anne Elliot (Amanda Root). Root is a British Shakespearean actress, and this is her first film. It is one of the most auspicious beginnings for a movie actress I can remember. She is simply incredible. She is an actress on the plain side of homely who transforms every scene she is in into a magical moment and yet she spends most of the movie just listening and giving the most expressive, pensive, frequently sad, but always compelling expressions I can remember. All she need do is look into the camera with her big dark eyes, and she owns the scene. She says more by saying nothing than most actresses do with a whole movie full of dialog.

PERSUASION is set in England in 1814 as the first Napoleonic war has just ended. Anne Elliot's family lives on a large estate, but have to move out since they are broke. Against her father's, Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave), desires he agrees to rent their home to the riff raff of a navy family who are not of noble birth.

The navy family, lead by a war hero, Admiral Croft (John Woodvine), come and are gracious to Ann even though there is an old secret. It seems that eight years earlier, a nineteen year old Ann, on the advice of Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood), turned down a proposal of marriage by one of the Admiral's sons. Ann lived in misery after that, lamenting the decision. Lady Russell consoles her by saying that her suitor at the time had "no fortune, no connections. It was entirely prudent of you to reject him." The foundation of the story is unrequited love, lost opportunities, and subdued passion. If it reminded me of any movie it was probably the unforgettable THE AGE OF INNOCENCE.

Sir Elliot and his other daughter Elizabeth (Phoebe Nicholls - who was so excellent as Cordelia Flyte in "Brideshead Revisited") leave for Bath and cheaper lodgings. Ann leaves The Admiral and his wife (Fiona Shaw) to visit her cousins the Musgroves: Charles Musgrove (Simon Russell Beale), his wife (Judy Cornwell), and their sons and daughters. The Musgroves are a household of would be social climbers. When they hear that the Admiral's son, the famous Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), will visit then them, their life goes on hold. When one of the sons inconveniently breaks his collar bone and may be paralyzed for life, they go to the welcoming party for the Captain anyway and ask Ann to nurse their son who is in shock. The story takes numerous twists and turns from there.

The script by Nick Dear, based on the Austin novel, is full of memorable lines, but the great direction by first time director Roger Mitchell relies more on silence and on expressions than on the words to carry the emotion of the tale. The raciest lines are when Ann's cousin Mr. Elliot (Samuel West) is trying to woe her. She says, "You presume to know me", and he replies, "In my heart I know you intimately." We also have, a la THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, an extremely effective brief hand holding scene. The height of passion is reached in the show with a single, quick kiss. Fast it may be, the effect is total.

Besides Root's acting, which should put her on the short list for an Oscar, the performance by Hinds is almost as good. In fact, all of the rest of the cast are excellent. There is not even a mediocre performance.

The craft of the movie itself is phenomenal. If John Daly does not win an award for his cinematography then the entire Academy must be blind. Never has candle lit scenes been more effectively and lovingly done. Watch the extreme length of the candle flames and how the camera shots through and around them. Daly's technique of shooting indoor scenes closer up than normal gives an intimacy and presence that I have not seen before. In scenes that normally would have been filmed further back, like the ones of the indoor dancing, he uses handheld cameras and stays in tight on the faces and even uses panning without making the audience dizzy. Several times he lets the camera linger on a person photographic style even when the character has no speaking parts.

The set decoration (William Dudley) and especially the costumes (Alexandra Byrne) deserve awards. They add to the movie enormously without the usual in your face period pieces that are overdone. There are many fine examples of this but my favorite is the clothes and especially the navy hat that the captain sometimes wears. The look tells us more about his character than many pages of dialog would have. The music (Jeremy Sams) is well done with the best being the frequent use of the harpsichord. The make up artist is extremely talented. Watch carefully for the subtle but important changes in Ann's makeup as the story develops.

Although there are tragedies in the movie that will take your breath away, the story is one mainly of carefully controlled and checked emotions. Finally, the movie ends as well as it begins. The last line is by Ann's father. I can not use it here as it gives away a key fact, but it is a perfect statement to his obliviousness and an excellent end to the story.

PERSUASION runs a perfectly edited (Kate Evans) 1:43. It is a G movie that is rated PG since it will probably bore kids under 8. There is absolutely nothing in it to offend anyone of any age. I most strongly recommend this movie to you, and I give it my rarely awarded top rating of ****.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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