Jane Austen wrote only six novels in her lifetime and yet is regarded as one of the great English novelists of all time. Her last novel, Persuasion, only helped to enhance her reputation. A new BBC adaptation (directed by Adrian Shergold and recently featured in the United States on PBS) reminds us of why she remains such a beloved novelist.
Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) fell deeply in love with young, handsome, naval officer Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones). Unfortunately for Anne, Wentworth had neither social rank or personal wealth, both of which were considered essential for making a good marriage in early 19th century England. Anne's family intervened and they were separated. When the film opens, it is now eight years later and Wentworth has accumulated great wealth as a naval officer. Anne never stopped loving Wentworth but does he feel the same for her? Will they have any hope of reuniting when every young woman seems to be pursuing the handsome captain?
This wonderful adaptation captures the essence of Austen at every turn. Ms. Hawkins is a wonderful choice to portray Anne. More through her facial expressions than actual dialogue she offers the viewer a window into Anne's soul. We get to see the emotional turmoil that Anne goes through as she must wrestle her feelings for Wentworth while watching other women get in her way. In addition, she has another suitor of her own that she must fend off.
Rupert Penry-Jones makes a fine Wentworth. Like so many of Austen's leading men, Wentworth is an emotionally complex character. We see that he, too, has never entirely lost his love for Anne and has his own feelings to wrestle with along with the newfound social responsibilities that come with his elevated station in society.
The film is enjoyable but feels a little rushed. Although I'm not familiar with the source material, I suspect that much was left out of Simon Burke's screenplay. The end of the film feels a little hurried and ends abruptly. It seems that the filmmakers had all the right elements to make this into an excellent film and settled for being only good by cutting it down to 90 minutes.