It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least acknowledged here) that Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel.
Because of that long-held love, I have seen several movie adaptations of the book. And of course Anne Elliott is the star of the show, what with her tragic love affair, the feeling old before her time, the idiot father and sisters and family connections in general. But for today’s edition of a new featured called “Who Played It Best?” (examining different actors playing the same characters), we’re going to consider her love interest: formerly dashing young lover, currently successful naval captain and obviously a contender for the 19th century edition of The Bachelor, what with all the available females falling all over him. Namely, one Frederick Wentworth.
I’ve seen three adaptations* of this book, so here are the contenders.
1.The 1971 adaptation, done by Granada Television, and starring Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall.
2. The 1995 edition, produced by the BBC, shown in the UK on BBC Two, and released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.
3. The 2007 adaptation, made by ITV, starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones.
Let’s run down our choices. Now, that 1971 adaptation. It’s perfectly well done, perhaps the most true to the book, and Anne (as played by Ann Firbank) in this version actually seems to have a bit of backbone. (I know the whole point of Persuasion is that Anne Elliott didn’t have backbone, and let people talk her out of marrying her true love, but still. She wasn’t a complete pushover in the book.) And the 1971 movie has perhaps the best closing line, perfectly in line with the story (although it’s not in the original text): “You and I are going to have to make an agreement: Never to reproach ourselves, or each other, with what might have been. Or we shall make a sad pair.” Bryan Marshall’s a cutie and he’s suitably stern in the beginning, and nicely softened up by the end. A strong performance. But I’m a woman of the modern age and I must admit I like a fancy new production as much as anyone. So let’s give Bryan Marshall a prize for congeniality and move on to the two more recent shows.
I am perhaps swayed in my choice because my favorite adaptation of the three is the 1995 version. For sheer gruff and unconventional naval looks alone, I find it hard to better Ciaran Hinds as the real Wentworth. He also brings a bit of wry humor to the role, as well as the right touch of frustration with Anne’s idiot family members. And he beautifully combines a sense of confidence with a remaining bit of insecurity where Anne is concerned.
But then, of course, there’s the 2007 version. And here we all have to admit that if we’re just in the market for pure eye candy, Rupert Penry-Jones is going to win this thing hands down. Look at those big beautiful eyes! The tall graceful carriage! The strong and warm voice! The problem here, though, is that the Frederick that Rupert is given to play in this version is a bit of an idiot. He’s a bit too surprised, for instance, to learn that everyone thought he was falling for Louisa Musgrove. And then there’s the problem of the kiss at the end. Again, not Penry-Jones’s fault. But really. Is the man made of stone? He couldn’t lean in to Anne’s kiss a bit? Talk about making the poor girl work for it.
SO WHO PLAYED IT BEST?
I’m going with Ciaran Hinds, because as much as I love picturing Rupert Penry-Jones, Ciaran Hinds is who I see when I imagine Frederick Wentworth.
Which Wentworth do you think played it best?
*Evidently there was a 1960 adaptation as well; I’ve not seen that.