Produced and directed by Howard Baker this TV movie was the first of six BBC adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The film was released in April of 1971 on BBC television in five 60-minute segments for a total of 225 minutes.
Adapted by Julian Mitchell, this is a fairly complete script that includes such overlooked scenes as the story of Dick Musgrove, Anne’s charming visit to Lady Russell and the Crofts at Kellynch, as well as including a rather long but wonderful explanation of the elusive Mr. Elliot. For his script Mr. Mitchell chose the originally published ending to Persuasion which features Anne and Wentworth’s explanation of their conducts and - hold on to you hats - two kisses in a public place! This general defect of propriety in Regency England is carried throughout the movie as we see bad manners exhibited by those to whom bad manners were never attributed to by Jane Austen. Men can be often seen sitting before ladies do or not even rising when a lady comes into a room and on two occasions servants can be seen handing ladies in and out of carriages while not wearing gloves of any kind! In the dialog also we see many defects as we hear the proper Lady Russell calling her baronet friend “Walter” at least five times and in return Sir Walter says “Penelope” when speaking of the widowed Mr. Clay! These instances along with dialog being allowed to fill in heavily for the narrative can leave one bored and dissatisfied with the film as a whole.
Original music arranged by Steven Hancock is often a bit dramatic but does feature fun, light, lively dances arranged by Litz Pisk and a fine Italian tenor.
Exterior scenes are few but feature lovely gardens, fields, and avenues painted in autumn colors. House exteriors display glimpses of grand manors and historic Bath buildings that appear lovely in the daylight but seem very dark in the evening. Interior scenes are filmed on soundstages that seem open and lofty and echo quite a bit. Wallpapers have funny 1970’s patterns, windows are large and fake, but furniture in these scenes is grand and quite nice. Character placements on these “stages” are very odd and the sound quality is poor as it shifts around quite a bit.
Designed by Esther Dean, costumes catch the style of regency with high waisted gowns and velvet jackets but are mixed with the colors of the 1970’s: bright shades of green, orange, and brown. The costumes seem to have been made and handed out at random, as they often don’t seem to suit the characters they are worn by. The simple, elderly Musgroves wear fancy styles in rich colors while the elegant, vain Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, who are in debt because of their love of finery, are dressed in simple styles of dull colored materials. Many costumes are worn several scenes in a row, for instance one dress that our heroine Anne is seen in repeatedly is a horrid green plaid that is so ugly one feels sorry for her.
Funny lace caps are worn by many of the women, married or unmarried, and the jewelry is tacky and out of place. The sailors in the film never wear their uniforms, bow ties can be seen on the men instead of the period cravats, and footmen very rarely wear gloves! The hairstyles are little better; the gentlemen can be seen in long mop like lengths, while the ladies hairstyles are pretty but simple and hardly decorated with anything like a turban, feather or beads.
- Anne Firbank as Anne Elliot at first glance is too old and has an elegant beauty that really doesn’t fit Jane Austen’s description of a heroine “past her bloom”. Despite her unflattering costumes I tried to like her but her acting is spiritless, her hair is too light, and her voice too deep and dramatic. She is too tall, too thin; also her attitude is too forthright and outspoken. She has such a commanding aspect as she argues with friends and family, speaks too freely of her feelings, and laughs her head off in a ridiculous manner. I can’t understand how anyone can like her at all – let alone the charming Captain Wentworth.
- Bryan Marshall does an excellent job of portraying Captain Wentworth. He is really quite the gentleman, humorous, well-breed and sociable. He seems truly concerned about the Musgrove’s dead son and about Louisa’s fall, and he is so romantic at the end as he tells Anne his feelings for her have never changed. The only thing that puts a damper on his performance is his shaggy brown hair and his never wearing a naval uniform.
- Basil Dignam as Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot is fine, handsome and believably vain and eloquent. Sadly his character seem under the regulation of a script that has him filling in the narrative, talking with his daughter of her feelings, calling a widowed friend too familiarly by her Christian name, and generally doing several things against his nature.
- Anne’s older sister, Elizabeth Elliot, is played by handsome and elegant Valerie Gearon. With her quiet, confident attitude she is a convincing Elizabeth, though she may have made a better Anne. Ms. Gearon’s talents however seem restrained by dyed jet-black hair, the same pink and purple gowns, and lengthy unreasonable discussion of women’s confinement.
- Charlotte Mitchell is Elizabeth’s friend Mrs. Clay who Jane Austen describes as a young, pretty, charming fortune-hunter but in this movie version she is depicted as an unattractive, simpering elderly lady who smiles funny and tries to please everyone but fails miserably. Her gowns are hideous green and yellow affairs with matronly caps completing the anti-temptress attitude.
- Her father, Mr. Shepherd, portrayed by the very talented Edward Jewsburry, is perfect as the Elliot’s persuasive and gentlemanlike lawyer.
- Actress Morag Hood portrays a very elegant and slightly flirtatious Mary Musgrove in rather low cut gowns and chokers. But she does a fabulous job of lying upon a sofa and complaining illness.
- Rowland Davies is a fine Charles Musgrove; he is definitely the picture of sportsman and can be seen frequently throughout the film with shooting rifle in hand or hunting dog at his heel. He is young, solid, amusing, brotherly, and affectionate even though he seems to be constantly carving some meat or other for a meal.
- Timid Henrietta Musgrove is played by the truly sweet and pretty actress Mel Martin. She is perfectly cast and dressed in clothes matching her character light, fresh, and blooming.
- Zhivila Roche is the impatient and giddy Louisa Musgrove. She is cute as a button and wears the most darling bonnets but really her giggle is over the top, her acting far too dramatic, and her gaga infatuation with the naval men so irritating that the viewer is extremely glad that she falls off the Cobb when she does because we’re not sure we can handle any more of the stupid girl!
- Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove are portrayed by actors William Kendall and Noel Dyson. Though perfectly friendly, old-fashioned and parental they appear too gentile and dignified.
- Actress Marian Spencer is Anne’s friend Lady Russell who in this movie is far too dramatic, homely, gray haired, friendly and agreeable. She talks a great deal and is too much Anne’s confidant, so much so that I believe she would have served much better as Mrs. Musgrove than the elegant, practical, rich noblewoman. Again the script plays a large part in my not liking her as it places her in scenes where she is waving her hand off while saying good-bye, pulling away in her carriage from the sidewalk before her friend is safely inside the house and wearing the same dresses frequently throughout the film.
- Georgine Anderson as Mrs. Croft is just as lovely and elegant as Jane Austen described her. She shows she has style by wearing lovely turbans and her warm sisterly affections almost put to rest the thoughts of her high pitched voice and over thirty-nine years.
- Her husband the seafaring Admiral Croft is the comic relief in this film. Actor Richard Vernon is tall and bearded, rather crusty and careless, and resembles in my mind a jolly Father Christmas. But again the technical aspect of the film has him always stoking a fire and sitting down before the ladies in a room have a chance too. I dearly love the scene where Anne and Lady Russell visit the Crofts at Kellynch where the Admiral laments the quantity of mirrors, it’s just so funny!
- David Savile as the fine mannered cousin Mr. William Elliot is totally charming, gentlemanlike, humorous, and fastidious with a slightly strange accent. The scenes between him and Mrs. Clay are perfectly acted though she is such a woman.
- Also of note are Michael Culver & Helen Ryan who are perfect as Captain Wentworth’s friends the ever hospitable, charming Harvilles; Paul Alexander who as Henrietta’s beau Charles Hayter, is rather stuffy, scholarly, funny-looking, and lovable; comedic actor Paul Chapman is a dark, lanky, somber, quiet, but kind Captain James Benwick; and Polly Murch serves well as Anne’s old school-mate Mrs. Smith, but wears ridiculous caps, is terribly pale and thin with big eyes and a fairly large nose. Her explanations of Mr. Elliot’s dealings with her husband are warm and convincing.
- While walking down a country lane, actors pass World War Two tank traps, quite out of place in Regency England.
- Captain Wentworth: I could think of you only as one who had given me up, who had been influenced by one other than me.
- Anne: “Oh, Frederick, Frederick, Frederick!”
- Admiral Croft: There’s no getting away from oneself!