This review was written for the U.K. broadcast of "Persuasion."
9-11 p.m., Sunday, April 1
LONDON -- The third and best in ITV's new season of Jane Austen adaptations is "Persuasion" thanks in large part to a beautifully measured performance by Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot, a young woman forced to give up the man she loves because he has no fortune.
Simon Burke's insightful adaptation allows Anne to share her heart's secrets as she writes her journal while now and then giving the camera a brief but knowing look. That device often doesn't work, but it does here as her confidences help convey the complexity of the world Austen describes in one of her most satisfying novels. The dialogue succeeds too in supplying exposition and keen observation, while some terrific actors aid director Adrian Shergold in capturing the social niceties and hypocrisies of the time.
Anthony Head is a sly delight as the self-absorbed widower Sir Walter Elliot, whose expensive habits force a move from the elegant family home, Kellynch Hall. He takes spoiled daughter Elizabeth (Julia Davis) and widowed companion Mrs. Clay (Mary Stockley) to fashionable Bath, sending Anne to live with her younger, jittery sister Mary (Amanda Hale) and her husband Charles Musgrove (Sam Hazeldine) in more modest lodgings.
The Musgrove family lives nearby, including Charles' sisters Henrietta (Rosamund Stephen) and the pretty but giddy Louisa (Jennifer Higham).
Typically in Austen, everyone is busy trying to arrange suitable marriages for all the young people, so it causes quite a stir when the new tenants of Kellynch Hall invite handsome Capt. Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) to stay. While Louisa literally throws herself at the now wealthy young naval officer, Anne is anxious because seven years earlier she broke off her engagement to the then-poor sailor under duress from her snobbish father.
Anne, who bitterly regrets her decision but is reconciled to never marrying, pays a little too much attention to her godmother Lady Russell (Alice Krige), who is caring but also firmly entrenched in the hierarchical rigidity of middle-class English life in that era. Anne keeps her feelings to herself, confiding only in her journal, especially when Wentworth behaves coolly and it becomes generally accepted that he will marry Louisa. She must also put up with the attention of her oily but well-off cousin William (Tobias Menzies).
Things never go smoothly in Austen's stories, however, and there will be missteps, mishaps and misapprehensions before love finds its way.
Cinematographer David Odd captures beautifully the locations at Bath and Lyme Regis, while David Roger's production design and Andrea Galer's costumes are equally handsome. Head's witty performance as Sir Walter is memorable, as are the contributions by Stockley as empty-headed Mrs. Clay, Krige as presumptuous Lady Russell and Hale as the crybaby Mary. "Snoops" star Penry-Jones makes a dashing and sympathetic Wentworth.
The film, however, belongs to Hawkins, who is soon to be seen as Colin Farrell's girlfriend in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" and is signed for Mike Leigh's next film. She makes Anne not only intelligent and wise but also beautiful, and it's impossible not to cheer her on when she decides to make a dash along Bath's Royal Crescent in order to win her love.
Clerkenwell Films in association with WGBH Boston
Director: Adrian Shergold
Teleplay: Simon Burke
Based on the novel by: Jane Austen
Producer: David Snodin
Executive producers: Murray Ferguson, Rebecca Eaton
Director of photography: David Odd
Production designer: David Roger
Editor: Kristina Hetherington
Costume designer: Andrea Galer
Composer: Martin Phipps
Anne Elliot: Sally Hawkins
Capt. Frederick Wentworth: Rupert Penry-Jones
Sir Walter Elliot: Anthony Head
Elizabeth Elliot: Julia Davis
Mary Elliot: Amanda Hale
Charles Musgrove: Sam Hazeldine
Lady Russell: Alice Krige
William Elliot: Tobias Menzies
Mrs. Clay: Mary Stockley
Admiral Croft: Peter Wight
Mrs. Croft: Marion Bailey
Louisa Musgrove: Jennifer Higham
Henrietta Musgrove: Rosamund Stephen
Mrs. Musgrove: Stella Gonet
Mr. Musgrove: Nicholas Farrell
James Benwick: Finlay Robertson
Harry Harville: Joseph Mawle
Mrs. Smith: Maisie Dimbleby