September 23, St. Louis Meeting – Two Film Versions of Persuasion

On Sunday, September 23, a large gathering of members and many guests congregated at the University City Public Library to hear John Greenfield, Ph.D., give a wonderful and insightful presentation on two film interpretations of the novel Persuasion by Jane Austen. He compared and contrasted the 1995 film with the 2007 film.

The following are two responses by those in attendance:

At our Sept. 23 meeting, Dr. John Greenfield compared two movie versions of the novel Persuasion by Jane Austen, the 1995 version starring Amanda Root and the 2007 version starring Sally Hawkins.

Dr. Greenfield showed short clips of the movies, side by side.  This was a delightful way to lead to a discussion of differences in the interpretation of a novel.  It was interesting to see how two directors, working with the same book, can vary so much when creating a scene from the book.  Each director saw the same thing differently, and often both interpretations were very different from what each of us in the audience pictured as we read the novel.

Dr. Greenfield pointed out that the 1995 movie version of Persuasion had Captain Wentworth dressed often in a navy uniform, while the 2007 version did not.  This led to many observations from the audience on the inclusion of the uniform, or lack of it, and the resulting impact on the scenes.

To me, this is a salient point in the differences between the movies.  Captain Wentworth was attractive to the Musgrove girls, not only because he was good looking, but also because he was in uniform.  (Also, of course, for Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove, he was one of the commanding officers of their son, “poor Dick,” another attraction for the family.)  Resplendent in his uniform, Captain Wentworth created in Louisa and Henrietta a naval fervor, which in turn introduced the Navy List into their home.  The list brought about discussions on the many classes of ships that were part of the navy.

Jane Austen rarely alluded to historical English events.  Yet, the plot of Persuasion revolves around navy men returning from war and how they had forged lifelong friendships while under fire in distant ports.  They speak of types of ships and fast promotions from smaller to larger ships because of the war.  They laugh about calling in favors from each other to transport their families from one location to another, and about the underhanded tricks some captains use to lure better seamen from ship to ship, as well as about transferring inferior seamen.

The naval aura of the plot is continued on land, with officers moving into social circles they would not have attained during peacetime.  This is lamented by some characters in the book and lauded by others.

Mrs. Croft, an admiral’s wife, is quick to talk about life on a ship, and in the undercurrent of “how to be a good wife,” her subtle message is this: You cannot be an easily persuaded person.  You must be loyal and “stand by your man.”  This points to Anne, because she wasn’t, and she didn’t.  Mrs. Croft didn’t know that, but Anne did.

To wind up my point: The uniform was important to the plot of the movie to recreate the intent of the original feeling in the novel, of the navy back from the war.

R. Richmond

I loved the presentation, which was reflective and well-researched.  I am in the camp that prefers the 1995 version as it includes more context, but John did a great job of illuminating the strengths of the 2007 version.

As happens at most Austen gatherings, this one featured several instances of the informed laughter and spontaneous quoting of a favorite line that an Austen reference calls forth from her devoted readers.

Thank you for another wonderful St. Louis JASNA afternoon.

K. Cook