Persuasion (2007) is an adaptation of a classic Regency romance novel of the same name. Penned by the famous English novelist Jane Austen, Persuasion is another story of love and social follies but while all of Austen’s heroines go through this experience, none suffer to the degree that poor Ms. Elliot does.
Nor is she so well-loved. Anne Elliot’s mild, and honestly, infuriatingly passive personality leaves her paling in comparison to Austen’s sharp-witted heroines like charming Ms. Bennet and haughty yet endearing Emma Woodhouse.
It’s this difference in temperament to which we owe the book and movie’s title and the central tension of the story.
An Overview of Persuasion (2007)
Persuasion (2007) is a movie that starts eight years before the events of the film. Why? Because the main drama is that the female lead, Anne Elliot, once broke off an engagement with the male lead, Captain Frederick Wentworth.
Right off the bat, the film makes it clear that Anne Elliot’s haughty father, Sir Walter Elliot, has made the family near broke with his excessive spending following the death of his wife. This leads to the Elliot family having to ‘let’ their home of Kellynch Hall. ‘Let’ in Regency-speak means to put a property up for rent.
Except there’s a small problem. Aside from Sir Elliot’s annoying chagrin about not wanting to let his house to commoners, Anne now has to put up with the knowledge that her old beau will be in town since the family renting the house is related to him.
What Makes Persuasion’s Romance Utterly Delightful
Persuasion may not be as popular as some of the other movie adaptations of Austen’s work but it features all the hallmarks of a delightful period romance, complete with gorgeous settings and plenty of wistful longing.
The Gorgeous Setting
Like all of Austen’s novels, Persuasion follows a lady from the landed gentry which plops our story in the idyllic English countryside. But Austen’s settings are not just physical but emotional and social as well.
When we meet Anne, she’s still reeling from the emotional baggage of having been essentially forced to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth when she was nineteen. The story places us in Anne’s shoes, letting us take in the fact that she’s in a state of emotional stasis. Anne is often listless and melancholic, even when the events surrounding her don’t call for it.
Persuasion immediately gives us an idea of why her and Captain Wentworth’s engagement fell through when we see her close to fainting in private after receiving the news that the Crofts will be living in Kellynch Hall. From the outset, Persuasion shows Anne Elliot being talked over, ordered around, and sidelined by her more willful family members.
It also shows us why the Elliots turned against Captain Wentworth. While the young naval officer is, as Austen would write, now a capital gentleman, Anne’s father and aunt are snobbish people who look down their noses on the likes of Wentworth, who earned his money by actually working for it. Shocking, I know. No wonder Marx was pissed.
The Sheer Tension
The tension in social class and social connections is furthered in Persuasion by the personal tension between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
It’s no surprise that things are so awkward between them. It’s not like you can be all buddy-buddy with someone who broke your heart eight years ago. But at the same time, it’s painfully clear that the two of them are still pining for each other.
When she first gets word that the Wentworth sister and her husband will be renting Kellynch Hall, Anne is beside herself in shock and delight. She’s in utter disbelief and, while seated on her bed next to her overbearing aunt, she exclaims, “To think that soon he may be walking through this house!” as if she can scarcely believe it. When Anne does reveal that she second-guesses the decision her family pushed on her eight years ago, she looks almost angry, as if she might snap at her aunt.
But Persuasion‘s heroine leaves us disappointed.
Their meeting is, of course, inevitable. Anne and Wentworth are soon forced to pretend everything is hunky-dory when they’re re-introduced to each other. While Anne looks like she might faint, Captain Wentworth does the gazing equivalent of clenching his teeth.
Even when Captain Wentworth seems to start paying his respects to Louisa Musgrove, our Anne can only look on from the distance. But it doesn’t mean Captain Wentworth doesn’t do some pining of his own. An eagle-eyed viewer watching Persuasion will notice that his gaze lingers on her, especially when she isn’t looking, as if he’s reminiscing on the past.
This difference between the two brings us to the next reason why Persuasion‘s romance is so juicy: the couple couldn’t be more different from each other.
An Odd Pairing
Persuasion is made interesting by Anne Elliot’s sheer timidity. While it’s certainly not a character trait valued in female characters in media today and certainly not among Austen’s often strong-minded heroines, Anne stands out for her mild and pleasant personality. Perhaps you could say that she stands in sharpest contrast against Emma Woodhouse. Though both of them are unmarried women in their 20s from a wealthy background, Emma delights in the fact that she’s single and relishes in the freedom that she has as a woman who isn’t forced to marry a man just to survive.
Meanwhile, Anne Elliot seems almost ashamed to exist in her own home. Though she could well be one of the mistresses of Kellynch Hall, given that she only shares it with one other unmarried sister, her gentle nature means that she’s often not even the master of her own daily schedule.
In the story told by Persuasion, Anne is someone to whom life happens. Captain Wentworth on the other hand, by virtue of being a common-born man, is someone who happens to the world around him.
The big gap between their personalities is multiplied by their differences in life. The two just can’t seem to meet halfway. She was too rich for him when he was starting his career. Now he’s the richest eligible bachelor in the 500-kilometer radius. While she had once been a great beauty, Anne’s moment in the sun was quickly squashed, leaving her unmarried at 27 years old. Wentworth? All the girls in Persuasion gush that he’s the most handsome bachelor they’ve seen in a long time.
Both seem painfully aware of their differences, too. There’s a scene in Persuasion where all of the central characters are having dinner for the first time together at Kellynch Hall after the Crofts start living there. In a truly familial fashion, the crowd ribs Captain Wentworth about getting married and, when asked if he has someone in mind, he replies that he wants a woman with a strong will of her own because someone who can’t be persuaded to change her mind would make a reliable partner.
It’s a major character development moment for Anne who would later accept his second proposal by making a point about how she “could not be persuaded otherwise”.
So Much Longing!
“It is perpetual estrangement.” Anne writes, longing for the old days of when she and Wentworth were still together.
That’s another thing about Persuasion: the use of writing as a mode of expression. I know, I sound like I’m nuts. After all, why write if you’re not expressing an idea? But Anne’s passive nature and melancholic disposition have her often thinking of her personal life on the pages. She still has Captain Wentworth’s old letters and is on the verge of tears whenever she looks at them. Anne bears the world around her and her inner world in Persuasion through the written word. Without a single soul to tell about her pining for Wentworth, she cries while writing about what she thinks is Wentworth’s engagement to Louisa Musgrove.
Meanwhile, Captain Wentworth expresses his longing for her verbally, whether through tender words or scathing ones. It’s in his anger that Wentworth shows his love for Anne. It’s not like he’s a hothead, on the contrary, he’s quite composed and polite which is more than can be said of Mr. Darcy. But his only emotional responses to matters of love are either lovestruck happiness or searing, barely concealed rage. That said, it isn’t genuine anger. Beneath all his sharp remarks directed at Anne and her haughty father, there’s a slight twinge of hurt that betrays his more tender feeling for the leading lady of the film.
The Subtle Confessions of Love
But Persuasion is a story of misunderstandings and trying to meet each other halfway. What Anne initially thought was an engagement between Captain Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove was actually between Louisa and Captain Benwick.
Turns out, she wasted all those tears.
Towards the end of the film, Admiral Croft and his wife Mrs. Croft return and pay a visit to Anne who eagerly brings them to the drawing room. Pale and near fainting against the red walls of the room, our oft weak-willed heroine plucks up the courage to talk about the engagement. It’s here she realizes that she’s completely mixed up the two captains. She is, as Wentworth will later write, “half agony, half hope”.
Once Captain Wentworth returns, he comes to see her, too, and it’s in that scene next to the doorway that just leaves you wanting to scream at these two to spit it out. Persuasion, you see, is half romance, half noontime drama frustration.
He starts talking about Louisa Musgrove and Captain Benwick’s relationship while Anne Elliot watches him, enraptured and clearly trying not to kiss him. It’s evident in his words that when he speaks of Louisa and Benwick, he’s thinking of Anne and himself.
And Anne knows. The way she looks at him yet holds back tells it all.
“A man cannot recover from such a passion with such a woman. He ought not to.” Captain Wentworth breathlessly says, eyes on her alone, “He ought not to.”
Oh, Persuasion, how you make us swoon!
Yet in the End
Persuasion wouldn’t be a Jane Austen romance novel if it didn’t end in a happy marriage.
This time, it’s Captain Wentworth’s turn to go insane over a rumor from Admiral Croft that Anne Elliot already accepted a proposal from Mr. Elliot, her cousin. I know, ick. But these were different times.
When Wentworth shows up, he tries to hide his intentions behind the pretense of asking about when his sister and her husband will have to move out of Kellynch Hall, expecting that she and Mr. Elliot will be living there now as husband and wife. In keeping with the characterization that the film has given her, Anne looks like she might pass out. But she finds the strength to let him know that no, she didn’t accept the proposal.
It’s her turn now to pursue him as the story pushes her to show her love for him with the kind of courage and determination that Captain Wentworth needs from a wife. It’s quite a forward-thinking twist on the classic ‘man pursues woman’ trope.
To others, the shining romantic moment of Persuasion is the letter scene where Anne and Captain Wentworth are in a pub together as he pens a love letter to Anne while she hints that she’s still very much in love with him. It’s super tense, but if you ask me, the most romantic scene of the movie.
A hysterical Anne runs through the streets of the city in a desperate attempt to bridge the gap between her and Wentworth. For once, she’s the one making the effort to reconcile their differences in class and temperament all while trying to close the distance that eight years have created between them.
After missing him in two other locations, always coming late in a physical and emotional sense, Anne finally finds Captain Wentworth at the side of a road. Persuasion hands the active role to Anne, letting her be the one to speak.
Though Captain Wentworth is being spoken to by another man, Anne doesn’t hear nor pay him mind. It’s a genius moment that shows she’s done listening to other people and is instead ready to listen to her heart.
The drama of the story ends when Anne steps forward and proudly proclaims to Captain Wentworth that she’ll accept his proposal, promising that he’ll be the steadfast support he needs in his life by saying that her mind will not be swayed by other people’s persuasion.
Persuasion and the novel it’s based on isn’t for everyone. Pride and Prejudice‘s sparkling wit is sure to provide more entertainment. But if you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice and need more regency-era longing looks and dramatic confessions of love in your life, Persuasion (2007) can give you your fix.