Television: How Madge the bridesmaid helps Jane Austen
He began, for example, with a concise depiction of everything Jane Austen is not - the scene of men-of-war at anchor, with Jack Tars piping the Admiral aboard and manly talk in the officer's mess, was followed by creditors besieging Sir Walter Elliot as he returned home. There was an economy of scene-setting here, a pictorial equivalent for Jane Austen's brisk exposition at the beginning of the book, but there was also something else - a sense of taking a deep breath of fresh air before going inside to a far more stifling world, a place where the most important things are least explicit.
You need it too, because Anne, on whom so much of the narrative depends, initially has the charisma of a wet sponge - particularly when she has no medium to communicate her distress but her face. Amanda Root's performance at first looked as if it might founder into bathos. There was more than one moment when the wounded, enduring set of her mouth brought Madge to mind, Dame Edna's comically put-upon companion. But the risk turned out to be a good investment. As Anne's hopes mount, by those achingly tiny increments, her beauty grows, so that the scene in which Sir Walter suddenly notices her changed appearence required no suspension of disbelief on our part. Her transformation warmed the final scenes even before Wentworth's declaration brings the sun full out.
Nick Dear's script coped with this vacancy marvellously. Persuasion is a story of unspoken words and awkward silences, not the easiest thing for a writer to get to grips with, particularly if the possibility of a narrative voice has been ruled out. But the early scenes managed to turn Anne's subjection into a dark social comedy, in particular a montage in which she receives the whining confidences of everyone in the Musgrove household. It was beautifully paced and capped with a pert invention of Dear's - Simon Russell Beale slumping down morosely and condensing all these complaints into just two words: "Oh Anne!"
Roger Michell's direction, too, was prepared to trust the acuity of the audience's emotional eyesight, a virtue paradoxically emphasised by one of his rare lapses into cinematic magnification. When Anne first sees Wentworth, a moment in which she has to reconcile huge internal shock with external equanimity, he employed one of those Hitchcock zooms, in which the perspective skews queasily as you close in on a face. This is a degraded idiom, a stock shot from horror movies, and it was as jarring here as if Captain Wentworth had stuck his head round the door and said: "Yo, babe."
The film ended with its only other serious breach of good manners. When Anne encounters Wentworth in the street and their feelings finally become clear, Austen writes of "smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture".
Perhaps the long stretch of self-denial had exhausted them but the film- makers couldn't resist a cheesier form of consummation. You were given one of those slow motion lip-collisions so beloved of Hollywood romances. This was simply improper, an unnecessary addition to the infinitely more moving closure of Wentworth's glove around Anne's hand, and it showed a wilful indifference to the novel, which is absolutely not about the abandonment of social restraint.
Still, the mischief came too late to really matter, and the heart cheered even if the head didn't.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Paris attacks: Do not call Charlie Hebdo killers 'terrorists', BBC says
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
V&A removes depiction of Prophet Mohamed from website amid 'severe security alert'
Game of Thrones season 5: IMAX releases new trailer with first look footage of Tyrion Lannister
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks