BBC Persuasion (1971)

November 9, 2020

The 1971 BBC version of “Persuasion” is not a bad adaptation, even if it feels more like a play than a movie.  It’s faithful to the original story and it gets many things right, including Mrs. Smith’s role.  But I think Anne in ‘95 was a better characterization.  This Anne doesn’t seem heartbroken (whereas ‘07 Anne was too much so).  She seems at ease in all society, and emotionally settled – someone fully matured.  She’s played by Ann Firbank, who was already 38 then, and who portrays Anne as not merely self-controlled but also serene in her longing, rather than troubled by it.  Austen by contrast had made clear that Anne wasn’t merely a spinster who still longed for love, but that she was wounded and had made little progress in mending.

Ann Firbank is also the most attractive woman in all her scenes, which of course is not a surprise for the central character in any movie; but combined with her lack of visible brokenness, it makes you wonder how or why she’s remained unmarried.

Captain Wentworth is played by Bryan Marshall and he is better than the ‘07 version, more outwardly optimistic and as magnetic as Austen says he is.  But again I don’t sense any brokenness in him.  He speaks of carrying a wound, but I don’t see it.

On the other hand, I’m American and I have to admit, maybe I’m missing a lot in the sedate style and very quiet mannerisms of such British productions.

Austen writes that Anne, on the walk to Winthrop, is thinking of various poems describing autumn, though no poems are named.  In this movie’s walk to Winthrop, she recites out loud from this poem, James Thomson’s “Rambles in Autumn”:

But see the fading many-colour’d woods,
Shade deepening over shade, the country round
Imbrown; a crowded umbrage, dusk, and dun,
Of every hue, from wan declining green
To sooty dark. These now the lonesome muse,
Low whispering, lead into their leaf-strewn walks,
And give the season in its latest view.
Meantime, light-shadowing all, a sober calm
Fleeces unbounded ether; whose least wave
Stands tremulous, uncertain where to turn
The dewy-skirted clouds imbibe the sun,
And through their lucid veil his soften’d force
Shed o’er the peaceful world. Then is the time,
To steal themselves from the degenerate crowd,
And soar above this little scene of things:
To tread low-thoughted vice beneath their feet;
To soothe the throbbing passions into peace;
And woo lone quiet in her silent walks.
The pale-descending year, yet pleasing still,
A gentler mood inspires; for now the leaf
Incessant rustles from the mournful grove;
Oft startling such as, studious, walk below,
And slowly circles through the waving air.
But should a quicker breeze amid the boughs
Sob, o’er the sky the leafy deluge streams;
Till, choked and matted with the dreary shower,
The forest-walks, at every rising gale,
Roll wide the wither’d waste, and whistle bleak.
Fled is the blasted verdure of the fields;
And, shrunk, into their beds, the flowery race
Their sunny robes resign. E’en what remain’d
Of stronger fruits falls from the naked tree;
And woods, fields, gardens, orchards, all around,
The desolated prospect thrills the soul.

I can’t find this poem anywhere in Austen, but Thomson is mentioned briefly as a writer loved by Marianne, in “Sense and Sensibility.”

Literary References in Austen’s Persuasion

Links to “Persuasion” Parts 1 and 2 are below. 

Note: Ann Firbank turns out to be the old lady on Tatooine at the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which came out only last December IIRC.  I’m re-watching that scene now, and it’s a pity she has only two short lines.  But you can hear the old voice from ‘71.  Yes, to state the wildly obvious, and to quote Frederick Wentworth, she is so changed that I would never have known her.  But the old voice is still there. See 1:46 on the clip below.

On to Northanger Abbey.

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